Align CX Culture with Organisational Culture: Ensure that your values are the ‘ground truth’ and not ‘aspirational’

the Customer Experience Agenda
Kojo Manuel

Deciding on and deploying a successful Customer Experience (CX) programme hinges on a culture that embraces the customer mindset wholeheartedly. Experts opine that this culture should exist (ground truth) as opposed to what it should be (aspirational). The Miriam-Webster Dictionary has a very detailed definition of culture: in one of the definitions it states that culture is ‘the set of shared attitudes, values, goals and practices which characterise an institution or organisation’.

Bruce Temkin of XM Institute – ‘The Godfather of Customer Experience’ – has said: “The CX you deliver is a reflection of your culture and operating processes. Who you are externally is a manifestation of how you operate internally – if you have jumbled processes, mixed-up reporting lines and a culture of blame, then there’s no way you’ll be able to consistently deliver great CX”. Customer behaviour, preferences, and attitudes change constantly. Thus, to serve them effectively in a competitive environment, you need to pay constant attention to these changes.

You must be prepared to make quick adjustments to engage them proactively, identifying opportunities for improvements and translating insights into action with your CX programme. A few important elements in this process are, for example, the orientation of your employees and leadership. How ready are they for the change? The truth is change is likely in almost every organisational context: such as systems and capabilities, priorities, employees, leadership – the list is endless. Your willingness and preparedness to respond to the signals for change are profoundly important.

Jeff Sheehan, a CX Advocate, has this advice for us. According to him, as a CX leader your goal is to establish a CX programme that fits into the organisation’s culture and at the same time nudge that culture along with the CX maturity journey toward customer-centricity. CX maturity is a framework that helps your business determine different areas of development which contribute to your overall customer experience, along with critical milestones in each area so you know where you stand and where you need to go.

To align CX culture with that of your organization, you must deploy some key initiatives. These include guiding the organisational culture from being product-centric to one that is customer-centric; identifying and deploying special forces to influence the customer-centric thinking among your employees once they have ownership of that mindset; rallying the troops to embrace customer-centricity; and ensuring that you get your timings right.

Product-centric v Customer-centric

As mentioned earlier, is your organisational culture one that reflects the current reality; or is it one that is aspiring toward customer-centricity? One of the dangers faced by the average business is that they focus on navel-gazing rather than needs of the customer. Navel-gazing is when you are fixated on measuring in department silos – a situation that creates poor experiences across end-to-end customer journeys which cross silos. If your customer journey sends you to different departments, you get different reactions because they are not talking to each other.

Note that the customer is a holistic concept. Both internal and external customers come in varieties, hence the need to define persona. I walked into a bank some months ago to cash an open cheque. It was my name on the cheque – however, I understood perfectly that the bank needed to carry out their checks to ensure that I was there for a genuine transaction. I had no problem with that; if I were a customer of that bank, I would be happy with such checks as they protect me from potential fraud. The way they went about it was my worry. After they had asked for my ID, the teller then directed me to one of the front desk managers. As I sat in front of him, he picked up the phone and called the issuer.

I felt like a criminal in the charge room with a policeman behind the counter taking my statement. Now, had the issuer been unavailable what would their reaction have been? Deny me the transaction until they verify its authenticity? Did they care how I felt when all this was going on? So I asked the manager “why all this fuss?”, and his response was “Oh, our customers are happy when we do that”. Fair enough, how about me, did he think about how I felt – I almost asked. They could have performed all this at the backend and asked me to wait. Somewhere in our universe, they might even have offered me a cup of tea.

Experts advise, wisely, that as a business you need to get past your beliefs about your organisation’s culture and go outside the organisation to see what customers see. Build empathy, put yourself in their shoes and know how they feel. This way, you transition from measuring customer engagement solely on transactions as opposed to having a centralized view of the customer. Be customer experts by focusing on their needs. Know the ‘ground truth’ and let that inform how you engage your customers.

Special Forces

Carefully think through solutions and initiatives that will exert ‘special forces’ on the organisation’s culture and a CX programme. Introduce incentives that are both financial and non-financial to impact employee behaviour positively. Be prepared to work collaboratively with stakeholders and learn what their incentives are, and how CX programmes can accelerate achieving their goals.

A significant force behind this move is the orientation of leadership. Where there is leadership buy-in, the CX culture and that of the organisation resonate perfectly. I read a story in the US of a lady who had spent a whole day trying to get home to pick up her 12-year-old daughter attending a camp. At the airport, when trying to get on an airline she was told that the earliest flight home was fully booked; however, eventually she was told that they had been able to make room for her.

This happened because the airline’s CEO who was also on that flight heard about her predicament and offered his seat to her so she could go home to her daughter. She found this out much later when it was announced on touchdown; so she later posted a comment on Facebook about how the CEO, and by inference all the airline staff, had made her trip possible.

She wrote: “Because the airline is led by you, a dedicated and inspiring leader who demonstrates at his very core that he leads by example, and does not set himself above all those who allow this airline to exist”. When CX leadership along with corporate leaders are in sync, the effect is phenomenal. CX leaders must find stakeholders who embrace customer experience management and integrate it into their mission, goals and timing. This way, CX is well-placed to support business unit goals and ultimately influence a customer-focused culture.

Rallying the Troops

Organisations don’t engage with customers – people do. Therefore, employee experience is critical to the success of any customer experience management programme. CX leaders are better able to champion the cause of customers by working closely with other customer-facing employees. Frontline employees hear directly from customers and are the first point of call in developing customer empathy. By talking to them frequently and relating with them, you learn from them significant details about the customer.

Leveraging these customer insights will provide leadership with the anchor they need to influence customer-centricity in the organisation proactively. Leadership can intuitively link employees’ great work to testimonials of customers. These insights when linked with other customer-led processes, such as CX metrics and business outcomes, the intersections will ultimately result in a brilliant CX programme.

Specifically, when CX is in tune with the thinking of the organisation great things happen. Customer feedback can be used verbatim when a customer mentions an employee’s name. I have shared this example before, of my own experience working for the IT department of a multinational in London, when a client whose computer I had just built sent a beautiful email to my manager. Boy, did I feel good that day; it was heartwarming to learn that what I felt was just my responsibility had been recognised as spectacular.

A plethora of approaches are recommended, including the use of employee feedback on issues impacting their work. It is very possible that what frustrates or annoys your employees is also annoying to your customers. Ensure that your employees are well-resourced to deliver in their roles by equipping them with the right tools and technologies, and supporting them to deliver excellent service levels.

Host regular recognition programmes around service excellence which are both internal, including peer-driven, and external with professional customer awards associations. Recognising those who serve your customers will do magic for your impact on customers.


Culture does deal with time. According to some CX experts, one aspect of culture is its ability to rhythmically influence the pace at which things are expected to move. It affects such things as decision-making, project execution, quality, communication and the entire culture. The longitudinal outlook of the organisation could be short-term and fast-paced or a longer-term focus with a more deliberate pace to fulfil strategic objectives.

The CX leader’s ability to understand the cadence of operations and expectations of the tempo for CX accomplishments in the organisation is critical in achieving significant outcomes. One way around this is to focus on quick wins in a fast-paced environment. Projects must be managed in chunks to ensure that there is a high degree of responsiveness and alertness to customer issues, both internally and externally.

An understanding of how stakeholders use their time is also useful in maintaining alignment with their needs. A good example is with the timing of your voice of the customer programme. By getting the timing right with product, programme or project teams who can benefit from the customer insight in their planning, you set the scene for ‘inch-perfect’ and timely interventions.

That culture is a powerful contributor to organisational success is not in doubt. Zappos, the American online shoe and clothing retailer, takes culture very seriously. The business has developed a document known as The Oath of Employment. It encapsulates the core values and what is expected of employees to live and support those values. It has included this in its hiring process: such that when a recruit discovers during their 4-week orientation s/he is not happy with the organisation, they are happy to let you go with a US$4,000 pay-off after the training.

Be determined to influence organisational culture and tactfully navigate the organisation toward a customer-centric orientation. Be patient about the process and be prepared to share the challenge across the organisation. When everyone has ownership of customer issues, the customer feels it – and duly acknowledges it by coming back for more and becoming an advocate for you.

The Writer is a Management Consultant (Change and Customer Experience). He can be reached on 059 175 7205, [email protected], Manuel


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