By Candace Coleman, CultureWise Content Manager
Customer satisfaction and loyalty are the keys to every company’s success. The million-dollar question is: How do you develop the edge that will make customers choose your business over others? Great products and services? Sure. Values and deals? Sometimes. But what have you got that your competitors can’t copy—if they haven’t already done so?
Product and service commodities are in constant competition in the marketplace, with companies jockeying to add the next shiny thing to attract buyers. But there’s one intangible thing that can’t be cloned or one-upped by your rivals: your corporate culture.
Culture? Isn’t that just an internal thing that benefits employees? What does organizational culture have to do with attracting and keeping customers?
A lot. Your company’s culture is defined by your employees’ behaviors and attitudes, and it’s displayed in everything your team members do. It permeates each customer interaction and is often more important than the product or service being sold. If your company has a reputation for an outstanding culture, it’s probably the “something extra” that draws customers to you in the first place.
Conversely, a customer’s radar will pick up poor organizational culture right away. No matter how great your product or service is, potential buyers will probably keep shopping if your employees radiate a lackluster culture.
Your company’s culture is at the core of what makes or breaks a customer’s decision to do business with you.
Customer Service Initiatives vs. Culture Initiatives
Since customer service is a key driver of success, many business leaders spend time and money on customer service initiatives to improve performance in this area. But without a vigorous culture, service improvements won’t stick or may even fall flat.
Employee behaviors and attitudes, your company’s culture, regulate the effectiveness of any new program or direction for a company.
Before you spend money on a customer service training program, make it a priority to strengthen your company’s culture first. Once you’ve done that, any new programs have the potential to flourish. Whether you undertake a culture initiative in-house or hire professional assistance, it will be the best investment of time and resources that you can make.
Employee Engagement = Customer Engagement
Engagement goes both ways: when your staff is engaged, they engage customers. As leadership coach and author Kevin Kruse writes in Forbes:
“Employee engagement is the emotional commitment the employee has to the organization and its goals. This emotional commitment means engaged employees actually care about their work and their company. They don’t work just for a paycheck, or just for the next promotion, but work on behalf of the organization’s goals. When employees care—when they are engaged—they use discretionary effort.”
That means engaged employees will go above and beyond basic expectations. When it comes to interacting with customers, that heartfelt enthusiasm registers high on the service Richter scale.
And nothing impacts employee engagement more than the cultural environment in the workplace.
Employees who are not engaged are more likely to job hop, and turnover also rings a bell with customers. Repeat customers like forming a relationship with company representatives and can find it unsettling to get used to new people—especially if it happens regularly.
Also, disengaged former employees probably won’t have too many good things to say about your company. Engagement, or a lack thereof, affects the way customers perceive your brand.
7 ways a Strong Company Culture Attracts and Keeps Customers
The behaviors and attitudes exhibited within a robust organizational culture have the power to make your company’s customer relations unmatched in your field. The culture drives what customers see, what they hear, and how they feel when they interact with your company—and it can make a significant difference.
Here are seven culture-driven behaviors that help attract and retain a loyal customer base:
- Creating a great impression
- Finding a way to deliver results
- Making it easy
- Practicing the human touch
Creating a Great Impression
The first chance to win over a customer is the initial interaction. And first impressions can make the difference between a one-off buying experience and a long-term relationship.
When employees operate in a great culture, they’re proud of their employer, and it shows. They radiate that enthusiasm when they meet customers and sustain that positive attitude with every touchpoint because they care about how the company is perceived.
Customers have a sixth sense about the integrity of companies they do business with. Honesty and the commitment to doing what’s best for the customer are high on the list of a buyer’s priorities. And it only takes one instance of being taken advantage of to destroy a customer’s trust.
A great company culture builds and nurtures character and ethics. It provides a framework where everyone knows that consistently doing what’s right for others is “the way things are done around here.” Companies with cultures that make integrity the house standard build what Steve M.R. Covey calls “marketplace trust.” That trust becomes part of the company brand, and it’s a major factor in what attracts as well as retains customers.
A great first impression can be eroded if team members fail to respond quickly to a customer’s requests.
We’ve all been in the customer role of contacting a business about an issue and getting a sluggish reply—or no reply at all. The work it takes to get a timely answer is enough to make us look elsewhere the next time we’re in the market for whatever that company sells.
Responsiveness is infused into a strong culture from the inside out. When employees experience the impact it has on team performance, it becomes second nature to respond quickly to customers. They understand that prioritizing response time on service issues makes customers feel heard and appreciated.
Finding a Way to Deliver Results
Being responsive to customers is the first level of service to them. The second is doing whatever it takes to meet their needs. How many times have you encountered a salesperson who answers your question with an apology: “Sorry, that’s all we have at the moment.” Or: “That’s not something we normally handle.” The response may be an honest one, but it’s also a disappointment to the customer.
What if the salesperson instead said, “Sorry that’s all we have at the moment, but I’ll find out how we can get what you need right away.” Or: “ That’s not something we usually handle, but I’m going to find a way to make this happen for you.” A strong company culture will reinforce a can-do attitude throughout the organization, and that’s never more important than when dealing with customers. Culture drives team members to go the extra mile to meet customers’ needs.
Working as a team may seem like an internal priority that doesn’t affect customer relations. In fact, when employees support one another and efficiently collaborate, the customer experience is greatly enhanced. No matter how great a sales representative is, he or she doesn’t operate in a vacuum. They’re effective because everyone else is doing what it takes to make the operation run seamlessly.
The customer is the final and most important beneficiary of great teamwork.
The basis of a good culture initiative is to strengthen how people work together to enhance overall performance. It helps eliminate silos and the “me first” competitive mentality that can be poison for an organization. And a strong team that shares knowledge and expertise is the rebar supporting people on the front lines dealing directly with customers.
Making it Easy
No one enjoys dealing with a company that makes it hard to do business. It’s exasperating to be transferred from department to department on a call and being asked to repeat information each time. Or filling out numerous forms asking for the same information. Processes like these may be designed to make internal systems work more smoothly, but they are real headaches for the customer.
The right kind of culture flips that paradigm. It changes an organization’s behavioral response to one that includes the customer’s perspective instead of maintaining an inward focus. The emphasis shifts from “What makes this process easier for us?” to “What makes this a better customer experience while also meeting our needs?” The culture drives win-win solutions that make doing business easier for everyone—especially the customer.
Practicing the Human Touch
One of the most important qualities of great service is making customers feel like people instead of treating them like accounts or sales. There are two primary reasons that companies fail at this.
- They define and therefore teach business processes in terms of transactions instead of human connections. Employees learn to accurately perform the steps of their job but not interact with customers while they’re doing it.
- They’ve created an orientation toward efficiency to handle as many sales in as little time and cost as possible. While volume is important, it’s unsustainable unless customers are inclined to come back.
Great cultures promote connecting with people on a personal level while maintaining the efficiencies that help drive profit. They incorporate individualization into their processes, like making it a standard practice to record a customer’s personal preferences. This habit allows them to deliver a level of service that makes customers feel special.
This is invaluable in a world where people are often treated like numbers. Practicing the human touch can distinguish your company from a competitor that is merely doing business accurately and efficiently.
Does Your Company’s Culture Measure Up?
Behaviors that boost organizational success—and that have the power to build customer satisfaction and loyalty—are the building blocks of a strong culture. If you think your team needs to hone specific behaviors to improve your customers’ experiences, it’s time to work on your culture.
Many companies create in-house culture initiatives if they have the internal resources to do it effectively. If your company has this kind of capacity, a great resource is Culture by Design by CultureWise founder and CEO David Friedman. It offers a step-by-step process that will help you transform your culture into one that inspires customer loyalty.
If your management team doesn’t have the time or means to rejuvenate your culture, CultureWise is a great option. This complete operating system for culture has helped hundreds of companies become more successful and stand out in a crowded marketplace.