Just How ‘Cultural’ Is Customer Focus?


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Those of us in the customer experience ‘business’ often reflect on how frequently, and in how many ways, organizational customer-centric culture influences the performance of individuals. Here’s a real-life example. My wife and I recently returned from a multi-week tour of Israel and Jordan. We had a terrific time; but, inevitably, folks with whom we travel lost or misplaced personal items, left at a store, restaurant, or in a hotel room.

Two such incidents involved the loss of a wallet, complete with passport and a large amount of cash. This is certainly scary when you’re traveling out of the country. Early in our trip, the first wallet was left at a hotel where one member of our group thought he took it when we left the hotel. He noticed it was missing almost immediately after we checked out and were on our way to the next destination. Our tour guide, a Palestinian by the way, quickly called the hotel and had the staff comb the room in search of the wallet. It had fallen off the desk, and was in a spot which made it difficult to see. The guide stayed in contact with the hotel all the time that the search was being conducted, and acted as a liaison between the tour member and the hotel staff. The wallet was found within minutes, and the group was able to swing back to the hotel to retrieve the wallet, with little loss of time.

The second wallet recovery was even more impressive. It was left behind at a store during one of our meal stops. This wallet also had the owner’s passport, and contained even more cash than the first one. The wallet’s owner was obviously concerned to the point of distraction. The tour guide called the store, spoke with the shopkeeper (in Hebrew), matched the identification of the wallet with the tour member, and then had a friend (another tour guide) a) connect directly with the shopkeeper and b) bring the wallet to a meeting place where our guide could pick it up and return it to the tour member – – all without having to backtrack or slow our trip. The passport and all the money were still in the wallet.

In both instances, the level of proaction and cooperation between diverse groups of players – all in the desire to minimize any inconvenience or worry on the part of tour members – – was truly memorable. The third instance of property loss, however, was not so fortunate; and it illustrates the importance of enterprise culture with respect to customer value delivery.

Another couple in our tour group left a very expensive digital camera at the hotel on the last day of our final Israel stop, Jerusalem, before we crossed the border into Jordan. This particular Jerusalem hotel was a new one for the tour company. Neither the guide nor the people on the trip gave it more than two or three stars, and no one could figure out why it was selected (all of our other hotels on our two-country tour were four and five star facilities). The tour members were almost certain that they had left it on a window sill in the Jerusalem hotel. When our guide called the hotel manager, he refused to have a member of the housekeeping staff inspect the room (the number of which the tour member remembered because we had stayed there for several nights) because it would impair their room cleaning schedule.

Disappointed, and caught in the middle between the tour members and the hotel, the tour guide went further. He called the tour company and asked that they keep contacting the Jerusalem hotel. After four more days of contact by the guide and the tour company while our travels continued, the couple was no closer to getting their camera back. As a result, they missed taking pictures of all the amazing sites we visited in Jordan: Jerash, Petra, Wadi Rum, and Madaba. We’re sending them a CD of our shots, but it’s not the same as having the pictures they would have taken in Jordan, or the ones they took in Israel.

The hotel in question is part of well-established medium-sized chain in Israel. Despite its boasts of excellent services and facilities, the chain had clearly failed to recognize the role, and value, of employees as ambassadors to their international guests. As a result of this incident, and related experience issues (small and dark rooms, unimpressive food, etc.), they will likely lose all future business with the tour company – and this is the appropriate outcome.

Michael Lowenstein, PhD CMC
Michael Lowenstein, PhD CMC, specializes in customer and employee experience research/strategy consulting, and brand, customer, and employee commitment and advocacy behavior research, consulting, and training. He has authored seven stakeholder-centric strategy books and 400+ articles, white papers and blogs. In 2018, he was named to CustomerThink's Hall of Fame.


  1. Michael, Good points. I agree with you.
    I would differentiate between great service and great service where the provider can make money by not providing the service…that is keeping the wallet other then returning it.
    You could have gone further and talked about bribing. Some companies have a rule about not bribing (culture?). Yet when the persona stakes are high, what happens…Walmart in India?


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