How to align your customer promise with your company culture


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Zappos, the world’s largest online shoe retailer, bought by Amazon for not far off a billion dollars in 2009, has 500 employees in a call center in Las Vegas who have all received seven weeks of intensive training on how to make customers happy.

The stories are legendary and include Zappos customer service reps doing everything from sending flowers to a woman who ordered six different pairs of shoes because her feet were damaged by harsh medical treatments to overnighting a free pair of shoes to a best man who had arrived at a wedding shoeless. There’s also the small matter of the longest ever reported customer service phone call coming in at 10 hours and 29 minutes.

The point of the story is that Zappos is a great example of a company who publish a customer service mantra – “to deliver WOW through customer service” – and who then align the organisation to deliver on it through comprehensive training, empowerment to act and customer metrics focused on ‘wow’ (i.e. satisfaction) not efficacy.

It takes more to make a success of Customer Experience than implementing isolated initiatives like a customer feedback process, responsive call centre staff, interactive technology or measuring NPS improvements. These things may seemingly allow improvements to the customer experience – but they are likely to be incremental and the customer may not even notice. Often what’s most important to the customer, what they really value and more importantly what’s of greatest value to the organisation, is missing. (Think back to our lady with damaged feet and our shoeless best man).

To be powerhouses in customer service, organisations need to explore how well positioned they are to deliver on their key customer drivers – in other words how aligned the needs and dreams of their customers are with the culture and capability of their company, now and in the future.

We’ve been Customer Experience practitioners for getting on 15 years now and have been involved in numerous Customer Experience design and change projects with many clients in various sectors all around the world. There’s usually two scenarios we come across.

1. Those at the very start of their Customer Experience journey – they know they need to do something but they’re not sure where to start

2. Those who have begun on a Customer Experience programme but are not seeing the improvements and value they hoped for

In the first scenario, we find organisations are usually overwhelmed with deciding on how to establish with absolute clarity what their customer needs and how well the organisation is currently set up to deliver it.

In the second scenario, we find companies have been quick to implement a whole host of initiatives based on customer feedback and NPS scores without taking a step back to look at what organisational factors are currently preventing them from delighting their customers.

In either case, we recommend the following simple principles:

1. Companies need a shared vision for what they want their customer experience to look like and an understanding amongst all employees of how that adds to the bottom line

2. All Customer Experience activities should fit within a clear framework that people can understand and relate to, with a line of sight from each initiative to the overall customer promise

3. Communicating clearly on how Customer Experience will be measured is key to driving the right behaviours. Remember our Zappos customer service reps on the phone for ten hours, delivering flowers and replacing faulty goods free of charge? Metrics are focused on customer delight and consequent loyalty not sales call volume and efficacy

4. Clear empowerment and accountability for customer smiles. This means motivating and empowering people to do the things you need them to do to make your customers happy, with clear accountability and recognition.

Developing a customer centric culture means nailing what your customers really want and responding to that in a way that your people can deliver. Organisational structure, processes, information and insight, people and critically, the overall vision all need to work together in one total customer experience. If just one of these elements is out of kilter, your customer will be too.

Amanda Davis

Amanda writes and shares Thought Leadership, drawing on her 15 years of coaching, guiding, mentoring and consulting for clients in various sectors and sizes around the world. She helps establish organisations understand how to connect to customers; find ways to align their expectations with the culture & capability of the organisation. She has a particular focus on customer experience transformation in the digital age, ensuring that technology development starts and finishes with the customer. Amanda has been a regular featured columnist and advisor for Customer Think since 2018.


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