How Customer Focus Drives Culture Change

How Customer Focus Drives Culture Change

This article is part of a series that explores the four Culture Focus Areas of the Culture Impact Framework for measuring and managing culture.

Those four Culture Focus Areas are:

1.      Performance

2.     Engagement

3.     Agility

4.     Customer

We start the series by examining the Customer focus area and how customer engagement is linked to strategic culture change.

The Four Culture Focus Areas - Focus on Customer

To see how your organisation’s culture maps to each of the four focus areas, complete the short Culture Focus scorecard here.

First, a brief overview of Culture Impact

In 2014, my co-founder Dr Martin Egan and I launched the Culture Impact Framework to help make it easier and more effective for organisations to measure and manage their cultures.  

Prior to that, we’d led many workplace culture assessments with organisations worldwide. What we found is that existing frameworks for organisations to measure and manage their cultures were complex, difficult to understand, and required training before they could be used.

As a result, many organisations struggled to effectively identify the aspects of their cultures that were impacting their businesses performance and results.

Culture Impact comprises:

·        Culture Focus Areas which are linked to the strategy of the organisation

·        Culture Levers which are the ‘internal’ pillars of the organisation

·        Culture Values which drive the activity and direction of the business

Click here for a full explanation of the framework

Definition of a Customer-Focused Culture

The degree to which your culture focuses on caring and responding to meet customers’ changing needs and expectations.

We all know the experience of the impact of a bad customer experience.  Usually these days, poor customer experience is due to systems issues. For example, while a call handler may have been great with you on the phone, the waiting times, procedures, and times to complete could be onerous.  

So, what does a strong Customer-Focused culture look like?

When an organisation is customer-focused, they look externally and draw from their true customer feedback to improve their service offering. They improve their business and processes, and how they care for and understand their customers from start to finish. In short, all customer insights are used to genuinely care for and respond to customers.

To be truly customer-focused, not only are customers actively engaged and valued, but employees are too. For example, employees are given trust and autonomy to make improvements on the customer experience to bring a deeper connection. When they have done well, they are recognised for it publicly.

Customer feedback is actively encouraged, listened to, and analysed constantly (not just quarterly or annually). That is then fed back between employees and leadership and through departmental collaboration. This helps the business to truly understand customers’ needs and wants. That allows for more accurate and detailed customer segmentation to better align product and service offerings.

A common mistake is to try and solve customer problems through the organisation’s own product lens, rather than from the customers perspective. That can lead to dissatisfaction and the customer de-valuing the product or service. The opposite of that, for example, is when a business ensures that customer views are more critical than the perception of the designer or engineers for new product features.

This is all facilitated through cross-functional collaboration within the organisation when sharing information and customer understanding across departments. Systems and processes are streamlined – with silos avoided – to make the customer experience easier, faster, and more satisfactory. For example, a customer call would be managed from end to end by the first contact rather than deferring the customer issue to further calls to different departments.

Outcomes of a Customer-Focused culture?

·        Increased customer retention through customer loyalty

·        Increased revenue and profit

·        Streamlined customer experience saves time, money and improves efficiencies

·        Point of differentiation and competitive advantage for attracting new customers and employees

·        Empowered and engaged employees enable more responsive customer experiences, differentiated customer value, and the delivery of outstanding products and services.

·        Customer-driven innovation rather than product and company-driven

·        Attract external awards for customer service and innovation

Example of a Customer-Focused Culture

Case Study: Southwest Airlines

Southwest Airlines Logo

Southwest Airlines in the USA has over 11 million passengers a month and flies to 45 states. As well as being successful financially and commercially, Southwest is known for its excellent customer service.  

Southwest has actively built a remarkable reputation by putting customers first. They empower all employees in the business to ensure the needs of the customer come first.

How have Southwestern become so successful?

·        Herb Kelleher, the CEO of Southwest put Customer Service at the heart of the company. He showed it is possible to value employees and customers alike, have fun and make money simultaneously.

Herb said, "I'd rather have a company bound by love than a company bound by fear." Southwest has 46 consecutive years of profitability to show for it.

·        Looking after employees with leading remuneration, benefit, and pension packages

·        Empowering employees to make decisions for the company. Traditionally frontline employees have been muted by policy or practices. for example, the inability to give refunds to irate customers without lengthy authorisation waits.  At Southwestern all employees know they're empowered to do the right thing, regardless of policy or practice, employing lightning-fast and innovative thinking to save the day for customers. Examples include, ground staff halting planes to pass over lost mobile phones and pilots buying pizza for customers who have been delayed waiting for connecting flights.

To have employees as brand advocates. “You have to treat your employees like customers,” Herb Kelleher told Fortune magazine in 2001.“When you treat them right, then they will treat your outside customers right. That has been a powerful competitive weapon for us.”

·        By bringing “the highest quality of Customer Service delivered with a sense of warmth, friendliness, individual pride, and Company Spirit” explicitly into the company mission statement.

·        Impeccable customer service and customer experience. In the Temkin’s group on customer satisfaction functionality (how well experiences meet customer needs), accessibility (how easy it is for customers to do what they want to do) and emotion (how customers feel about the experience), Southwest Airlines has earned the highest score every year since the Temkin Experience Ratings began in 2011, except for 2015.

·        Customer experience is not a phone call, but now online, in live chat and each touch point the customer has with the company, including the pilots.

How does Customer Focus express itself in culture?

The following table shows the aspects of leadership and the three channels that send the strongest messages about culture – Behaviours, Symbols, and Systems.

Table 1. How Customer Focus is Expressed in Culture

Table 1: Leadership and Behaviours, Symbols, and Systems

How does your organisation score across the Customer Focus Area? Discover here


Written by:
Matt Burdock

Executive Coaching, Culture Measurement, Leadership Development.

September 5, 2022