Transform Your Workplace to Create a Great Customer Culture

I work with leaders to create more positive workplace cultures that attract and retain the right people – not just the right employees, but the right customers – and today I want to talk about customer culture.

Wal-Mart Chairman, Sam Walton nicely sums up one of the reasons that this is so important:

“Never lose sight of your client and their significance. There is only one boss: the customer. And he can fire everybody in the company from the chairman on down, simply by spending his money somewhere else.” – Sam Walton

Creating a great customer culture is not just about where your clients spend their money though, it’s about creating the best experience possible for them.

Think for a moment about the customers that you serve (or want to serve). Whether you’re a workplace of one or ten-thousand-and-one, you have a customer culture – a “way things are done at this organization” and an experience people have when they work with you. If a customer likes the experience and returns time and time again or only uses your service once and moves on, he or she will be talking about you. What is it you’d like them to be saying?

The culture of your organization comes through every time people connect with you in person or by phone, email or social media. Think about Starbucks as an example. You can recognize the culture as you walk into any Starbucks by the way you are greeted, the speed you are served, the consistency in your drink, the music that is playing, and the atmosphere in the store.

Creating this great customer experience really starts with how employees are treated. But let’s be clear – this is not about putting a wellness program in place. It’s about shaping your culture. Too often, in an attempt to create a healthier, more positive workplace, companies take a program approach. But as countless reports on the lack of return-on-investment of this approach show, creating real wellness in your organization requires shifting and shaping culture.

Years ago, Hal Rosebluth and Diane McFerrin Peters got it right as they described their company culture at Rosenbuth Travel in “The Customer Comes Second: And Other Secrets of Exceptional Service”(1992).  This organization had a 7,500% growth in revenue over a 15-year period, and started getting asked the secret of their success. The secret, according to Rosenbluth was their belief that companies must put their people – not their customers – first. Their customers were still priority number one, but the company understood that if employees did not know how it felt to be treated well, how could they turn around and treat customers that way?

Over a decade later, Baptist Healthcare told a similar story in “The Baptist Health Care Journey to Excellence: Creating a Culture that WOWs!”  By working with their employees to determine just what they wanted their culture to be, they experienced a transformational change that not only cut their staff turnover in half, but increased their customer (patient) satisfaction from the 18th percentile to the 99th percentile! This has put Baptist Health Care in the top 20 of America’s Top 100 Places to Work (Fortune Magazine) for 13 consecutive years.

Thomas Schneberger, who keynoted at The Better Workplace Conference 2013, said,

“You can’t create culture, but you can influence it.”

A culture will develop no matter what you do (or don’t do) but there is a cost to doing nothing. So, what can you do to impact culture in a positive way so that work is a healthy life experience for your employees, and that this in turn creates a great experience for your customers?

Here are a few ideas to get you started:

Ask Transformational Questions. Transformational questions can really get people engaged in a new vision. Baptist Health Care used the simple question “What do we want our culture to be?” to move toward their new vision. Every challenge needs it’s own question, but other questions that have transformed people’s thinking include:

  • Who are we when we’re at our best?
  • What does the world need from our organization now?
  • How can we make a difference?
  • What kind of experience do we want to create for our customers?

Start Creating a Learning Organization Culture. When challenges arise, what can be learned from these and how can the “learnings” be applied to the way you do business? Ask the same question when you have big wins.

Self-Transformation is Key to Organizational or Team Transformation. As Dr. Robert Quinn describes in “The Deep Change Field Guide: A Personal Course to Discovering the Leader Within” (2012) it is impossible to expect change from others unless you can change yourself. What is the change that needs to take place in your organization or team to create a great customer culture, and what can you change personally to move in that direction?

What tools and strategies do you use in your organization to shift workplace culture in a more positive, healthy direction? What has worked well and what hasn’t? Let us know, and if you try any of the above ideas, come back here and tell us how they worked!

Deborah Connors

Deborah Connors teaches leaders to radically shift culture so that people can flourish. She is an engaging speaker, storyteller, author and coach.

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