Building a Customer-centric culture: Identify the right levers to stay the course


There is no denying the fact that every successful business prides itself on the people in it who make things work from day to day. Right from the organizational pivot to the average ‘Joe’ everyone takes some credit for the impressive outcomes acknowledged by customers. A well-organized business where employees have a good hang of customer needs is always ideal for a great customer experience.

By creating a culture of engaged, and happy employees you set your company up for growth and success. Research shows that companies with highly engaged employees outperform their competitors by 147%. Customer experience is a direct result of employee experience. Companies that excel at customer experience have 1.5 times more engaged employees than companies with a record of poor customer experience. It is also clear that companies who invest in employee experience can see a higher ROI than those who don’t. These revelations attest to the fact that the envisaged growth from an internal culture supportive of employees’ experience is the way to go.

The story is told of an Indian Call Centre where employees receiving calls from English-speaking countries had been coached to ‘rephrase’ every statement of especially their American customers. Additionally,   they were given text templates to read out, the goal was to soften the effect of strong Indian accents however as it turned out the move woefully backfired leaving customers confused and frustrated.  Internally Indian colleagues were also very frustrated by the outcome. The company addressed this by abolishing ‘rephrasing’ and the effect was profound, customer satisfaction scores skyrocketed as a result. HR even discovered that employee turnover improved dramatically as a result. The lesson here is that customer satisfaction and employee satisfaction are two sides of the same coin.  Stefan Osthaus, a proponent for customer-centric culture, has said that ‘just as inflated tyres make cycling easier, motivated employees reduce the effort for every customer experience initiative.’

According to Stefan, if you look at what makes your customer experience successful, you will find 5 things. First a clear idea of your strategy – which role should customer satisfaction play in your company? Second, a culture that supports your strategy – are your employees empowered to do what it takes? Third, a solid organizational set-up for customer experience – orchestrating your customer experience initiative matures from a somebody’s hobby to a full-time leadership role with the right team. Fourth, effective governance – the right attention for the initiative everywhere in your organization. Fifth, Great data – analyzed for profound insights leading to swift action. This underscores the need for leadership in organizations to ensure that the customer experience agenda is pursued at both ends with clarity such that employees are well informed of the external customer’s needs, and committed to them with no equivocation.

The key is to listen rightly, this means having the right structure, the right methods, and the necessary endurance to deal proactively with the needs of your employees as a precursor to managing the experience of your customers. Some recommended ways to addressing employee experience in this regard include (and not limited to) the difference in listening, listening to employees, getting employee feedback with the right stamina, data insight and, blowing up a silo.

The difference in listening

The role of a customer journey map in customer experience is very clear to the customer experience practitioner. Employee experience in an organization is not necessarily such a journey. Experts point to the 4 Ps to explain this. They are pay, play, productivity, and purpose. Pay encompasses all elements of the remuneration, play is about the quality and convenience of the workplace, a great example would be Google. Google’s unique culture is not the typical corporate culture as seen in pictures of the Googleplex, looking more like a playground than a place of work. The company focuses solely on keeping employees happy and maintaining productivity.  The third P is productivity, the ability to grow and work freely, this is evident in a company culture where employees feel respected, and trusted, and valued. The fourth P purpose focuses on the match between company and individual values extremely important to find alignment here. Consider this experience of mine in London years ago where a shop attendant blatantly advised that I go to the shop next door to buy what I was looking for. It underscores in no small measure the damning effect of the negative sentiments of a disengaged employee. Therefore listening to your employee at your various touchpoints is much the same as listening to your customer and this must go beyond focusing only on employee surveys.

Listening to employees

Surveys tell a story however the practice in most cases is that new surveys are created to replace existing ones thus expunging the feedback from previous surveys and focusing on new data. Experience initiatives which come with new surveys are generally unhelpful. A best practice here is to pick the most relevant data sources and aggregate them this way you can pick employee sentiments more accurately. Recent research on employee experience reported that 79 percent of employees at companies with above-average customer experience are highly engaged in their job compared to 49 percent of companies with average or below-average customer experience scores, this confirms the assertion that ‘happy employees equal happy customers.’

Different teams like HR, IT, Sales, Procurement may typically express sentiments that may have links with customer engagement however not much of a story can be told if data from responses are represented in silos. The key in optimizing data from organizations is to build on the history. Follow up on aggregated outcomes by sitting down with employees and holding a personal meaningful conversation in group sessions or a handful of interviews to get to the root of the issue.

Getting employee feedback with the right stamina

What is your company suggestion system like? Is it just a box hanging on the wall somewhere in your company that is hardly opened? What happens to all the suggestions thrown in regularly or even periodically if you may? Making good use of your suggestion box can give you great insight from within your outfit. Additionally, you may design in collaboration with your HR team an effective system of exit interviews with leaving employees. This can be a great source of insight delivering on a plethora of ideas for improvements. Furthermore, good listening is very useful just call together a round of employees and conduct a group interview based on a customer-related topic. This might sound a bit out of place for our organizations for obvious reasons.

Years ago while on a duty tour in Norway I sat down at lunchtime with the Group President in the canteen. This was possible because the canteen was for all grades, unlike the different shades we see in our businesses. So at lunchtime, I always enjoyed the experience of a good conversation with key people such as the Africa Rep for the group, Group Finance Manager, HR, and a host of others. Those were valuable conversations as I learned first-hand how much they knew about Africa in general and particularly Ghana. Why wouldn’t they succeed in running a business here in my own ‘backyard’! The key is to develop feedback muscles and make it shared accountability. By delivering and receiving feedback through the quality of our connections and conversations, we can create distinctive employee experiences. It is asserted that organizations with better employee experiences see:

  • More engaged workers, which improves performance and boosts team morale. The Harvard Business Review found that happier employees have an average of 31% higher productivity and 37% higher sales.
  • A strong company culture that attracts new employees based on shared values and job satisfaction.
  • A decrease in employee turnover or human resource churn– one study found that employees who don’t like their organization’s culture are 24% more likely to quit.

It is believed that great employee experiences start from the day of onboarding to the day of departure, with many experiences centered around the physical, mental, financial, and spiritual health and wellbeing of an employee.

Turn data into insights

Building your employee experience initiative requires a listening culture and an avowed readiness to act on what you hear. This is because collecting feedback and not acting on it is worse than not collecting any feedback at all.        `The key is to tune everyone’s mind to eagerly await feedback from customers and teams and proceed to act on them immediately. This will in turn lead you into improvement activities. This way everyone listens to what employees and customers are saying, from here opportunities for continuous improvements are identified, prioritized, and implemented. Ultimately you create an organization that is permanently getting better based on feedback.

A recommended tool for measuring employee satisfaction is known as the Great People IndexTM an index-based metric made up of several KPIs that already exist in your organization. They are categorized into the 4Ps of employee experience (mentioned earlier), these contribute to forming the Great People IndexTM. Alternatively, the Employee Net Promoter Score (eNPS) is used however proponents of the GPI argue that the eNPS fails to measure employee satisfaction as it does for Customers using the NPS, therefore the GPI is strongly recommended for internal use as it provides a more granular assessment of employee satisfaction.

Blowing up a silo

This thinking emphasizes the need for HR and CX to work collaboratively to determine how much time and resources are realistically available for joint optimization of customer and employee satisfaction. This must be started advisedly on a small scale and increased over time rather than to commit immense resources and be forced to abandon mid-stream a resource-intensive initiative. By working together they could both put together a pragmatic initiative with their teams for good effect. The objectives of this joint initiative must be precisely defined to make success measurable. It is the fuel that makes the initiative grow and gain momentum.

There is more to gain from great employee experience! First, employees are motivated to improve the customer experience if the initiative also offers improvement for them. Second, team suggestions do not only create job satisfaction, but often also make products or processes better, faster, or cheaper. Third, happy employees are a pleasure to deal with – ask your customers. Fourth, being a great place to work will be noticed! You will be able to hire faster and with better quality. Stefan says, your efforts of combining customer experience and employee experience are creating a virtuous cycle, no matter how humble your initial initiative is. A good call to make is to take your HR out for lunch. You have a lot to talk about!

The Writer is trainer with a passion to support organisations in Customer Experience, Change Management initiatives. He can be reached on 059 175 7205, [email protected]/


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