Want to Improve CX? Don’t Overlook Your Culture


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There’s no way around it: simply finding and fixing customer problems is not enough to create a truly customer-centric organization. A customer’s ultimate experience with a company is a reflection of both its culture and operating processes. So to truly excel, companies need to look at what’s happening internally and then purposefully create a culture that will sustain long-term customer experience (CX) success.

So let’s take a closer look at what culture is. Culture frames what employees do, even when no one is looking. Temkin Group describes culture as how employees think, believe, and act.
Think: Employees need to be intellectually bought-in and understand the CX vision and why it is important to the company.
Believe: Employees need to see that leaders are truly committed to what is important to the company.
Act: Employees need to adjust their behaviors to align with what is important to the company.

It’s important to remember that culture:
Is as much about individuals as it is the organization. When it comes to culture, it is both about the company as a single entity and about employees as individuals who bring their own needs, interests, and motivations to the workplace. Ultimately, success lies in aligning each individual with the organization’s goals and letting go of those who do not adjust.
Appeals to people both rationally and emotionally. Any effort to induce a change in the mindset and behavior of employees cannot rely solely on presenting them with research findings or financial projections. Successful companies also build commitment by touching employees’ hearts and appealing to shared values, intrinsic rewards, and the impact the new culture will have on customers and fellow employees.
Includes things that are both seen and unseen. While employee behaviors are easily observed, culture is also made up of tacit assumptions about what the company really values or how work actually gets done. Changing how employees think, believe, and act must take into account what messages are being implicitly communicated by how processes are defined, how performances are measured, and how employees are promoted.

An organization has two options when it comes to changing culture. First, it can attempt to prescribe certain employee behaviors and then put mechanisms in place to control them. However, this takes a lot of resources and effort to manage. Instead, the company is more likely to succeed with the second option, creating a culture that encourages employees to act in concert with the organization’s objectives. Although this approach is ultimately more successful, it is still not easy. Creating this culture requires a different view of organizational change; one that Temkin Group calls Employee-Engaging Transformation (EET).


To succeed with EET, organizations must master five practices:
Vision Translation: Connect Employees with the Vision. The organization clearly defines and conveys not only what the future state is, but why moving away from the current state is imperative for the organization, its employees, and its customers.
Persistent Leadership: Attack Ongoing Obstacles. Leaders realize that change is a long-term journey and commit to working together until the organization has fully embedded the transformation into its systems and processes.
Middle Management Activation: Enlist Key Influencers. Middle managers are invested in the transformation and understand their unique role in supporting their employees’ change journeys.
Grassroots Mobilization: Empower Employees to Change. Frontline employees operate in an environment where they both help to shape and are enabled to deliver the change.
Captivating Communications: Share Impactful, Informative Messages. The organization shares information about the change through a variety of means that balance both the practical and the inspirational elements for each target audience.

In Temkin Group’s recent research on how organizations are creating and sustaining customer-centric cultures, we found a number of different ways companies are combining the practices of EET to impact how employees think, believe, and act. Here are a few examples from a collection of case studies we compiled:
Hagerty: When Hagerty was ready to share the new maxims that define its culture, it started with its CEO, McKeel Hagerty. Mr. Hagerty facilitated the entire launch meeting held at the company headquarters and simulcast to its other locations. He personally spoke to why the company’s culture was important for its future and what each maxim meant to him. Following the rollout, the company held an employee contest where individuals or teams could submit a video highlighting any combination of the maxims and how exactly they applied it to their jobs. After 30 days, the company shared around the video submissions, and employees voted on their favorites. Hagerty celebrated the winners at the next company-wide quarterly meeting. Mr. Hagerty and the company’s other leaders continue to steer the company’s culture through Quarterly Rollouts, company-wide meetings for reviewing Hagerty’s One Page Plan. The plan incorporates the maxims along with the company’s short-term and long-term goals and metrics measuring progress.
Transamerica: To help employees understand “why” customer experience is important, Transamerica uses top-down communication—starting with the President/CEO and cascading down through other leaders on an on-going basis. Those messages are reinforced by its Real People, Real Stories program. For this program, Transamerica interviewed customers to learn about their real goals for working with the company and then shared these stories with employees through short videos. These videos help employees tie their work directly to the end customer. To keep these stories top-of-mind with employees, Transamerica created desktop displays and photo galleries in offices with pictures of the customers featured in the videos. When an employee scans one of the pictures with a special smart phone application, the video associated with that customer launches and plays.
Oxford Properties: To help employees adjust their behaviors to deliver on its customer service commitment, Oxford Properties created the Dialogue Series. The series consists of guided, interactive conversations around the topics employees believe will help them best deliver excellent customer experiences. At these sessions, participants discuss the topic, talk about the roadblocks that exist, and share their ideas for how to make things better, all of which ultimately results in a set of actionable recommendations. Oxford emphasizes the behaviors it wants to see from its employees through a variety of recognition programs, including its oPositive intranet site. Here employees can submit, share, and celebrate customer success stories on a platform that allows for “likes” and comments. oPositive stories get used in site meetings and other sessions to emphasize what customer experience excellence looks like in action.

The experience customers have from the outside of the company is entirely based on what is happening inside the company. If customer experience is important to an organization, it must engage its employees in its customer-centric culture by ensuring that they all think, believe, and act in the same way.

Aimee Lucas
I am a customer experience and employee engagement researcher, advisor, speaker, and trainer. I focus my work on guiding clients on how to optimize their employee and customer experience management programs, identifying and publishing EX and CX best practices, and shaping the future of experience management (XM). I have over 16 years of experience improving service delivery and transforming the customer experience through people development and process improvement initiatives.


  1. Delivering good customer experiences really does start at the grass root level. Until and unless each employee, each manager and each leader has it in him or her to cater to the needs of customers, the company will fail to realize the true power that customer support actually has!

  2. Zeeshan, Yes! One of our “6 Laws of Customer Experience” is that unengaged employees don’t create engaged customers. A critical element of that is that employees (from bottom to top) understand the mission of the company and have the knowledge and tools they need to be successful. Leaders have to clarify what’s important to the company and reinforce that through both what they say and what they do. Employees have to be in an environment that enables them to deliver on what’s important – from what’s communicated, to how they are trained and coaches, to how their input is gathered and used, to how they are recognized and rewarded for behaving the right way. It’s a lot – but it’s important in order to realize the power and benefits of a customer-centric culture.

  3. You’re absolutely right Aimee. I couldn’t agree more. I just wish more people and organizations were open to this concept!

  4. Nice post Aimee! 🙂
    I absolutely agree that what is on the inside eventually shows on the outside as well. This means that if an organization has employees that are motivated and a culture that has a shared vision and promotes the whole concept of customer support, this will eventually be depicted in the type of support the organization’s customers receive. Hence, it goes without saying that customer experience starts from the organization itself and how it treats its ‘internal customers’.


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