The Challenge of Building a Stronger CX Culture

At this year’s annual client conference, the theme, Building a Strong CX Culture, resonated with our clients. Over two and a half days, we navigated the complexities of nurturing a culture that champions customer-centricity and helps move industrial businesses toward sustainable success. This blog delves into the nexus between culture and CX and the key learnings and strategies from industry leaders and experts at the conference.

The video below shows highlights from the conference.

Why Focus on Culture and CX?

While many of our clients have significantly improved processes and systems to create better customer experiences, one of the biggest challenges is transforming the culture to become more customer-centric. One quick observation from client comments is no surprise—transforming a culture is challenging. It doesn’t matter the industry; changing ingrained ways of doing things is hard work.

What Is Culture?

There are many definitions of culture and ways to think about it. For us, we think about culture as having five characteristics. They are:

  • Autonomy
  • Reward/Recognition
  • Collaborative Environment
  • Clear Direction
  • Accountability

The graphic below shows these characteristics on a scale of 1 to 5, with 5 meaning more of the characteristic and 1 meaning less. The graphic describes a collaborative environment with high autonomy, accountability, clear direction, and good reward/recognition.

First, consider what type of customer experience you might have if you interact with a company with this type of culture described by the graphic. It is likely to be quite positive. You deal with a person who works in a collaborative environment with good accountability, autonomy, recognition, and direction. Then, consider your experience if the accountability is poor and lacks a clear direction with few rewards. The experience is likely to be quite different.

As a thought exercise, download the culture framework graphic and use it to describe your company’s culture. Depending on where the points fall on the graphic, what does this say about the degree to which your customer can become more customer-centric?

Building a Stronger CX Culture: Culture Framework Graphic

Highlights from Keynote Speaker Arthur Greeno, Chick-fil-A

Arthur Greeno is a thirty-year Chick-fil-A multi-unit operator and has long been on the front lines of creating a customer-centric culture in his restaurants. His challenge is that he is largely doing it with teenagers. He shared some useful observations:

  • Changing a culture takes time. Truett Cathy, the founder of Chick-fil-A, talked about including the phrase “my pleasure” after the customer is served. It took twelve years to get this adopted throughout the enterprise.
  • One key to creating a better culture is to have a family environment for employees. This culture change happens through celebrating transitions and helping employees through difficult times. This approach is key to minimizing turnover. Arthur said, “It is easy to leave a job; hard to leave a family.”
  • When dealing with upset customers, he has a handy acronym to follow: (LAST) Listen, Apologize, Solve, and Thank when dealing with an angry customer. It works!
  • Attitude matters greatly. He noted, “The difference between a dream and a nightmare is in your head.  If you think you can, you will.  If you think you can’t, you won’t.  This message is one he constantly reinforces to his employees.

Considerations When Starting a CX Improvement Program

Nearly all clients have a CX improvement program in place, except for a few. These are some things they learned in creating a program:

  • Establish clear performance standards and expectations. The standards need to be designed to encourage consistency but still provide flexibility.
  • Use your organization as a learning laboratory. Identify the locations, divisions or areas is strong. Learn from these areas. Work closely with those performing areas and share internal best practices.
  • Clearly understand the customer journey and all their touchpoints with your company. One person noted that signage that provides clear directions is often a weak point.
  • For those leading the CX effort, they learned not to allow others to define the CX leader’s role.
  • When you start a program, gaining a seat at the executive table is critical. The senior levels of the organization must engage in this improvement effort.
  • Develop CX leaders/ambassadors across the organization. This is something several clients discussed. Ziegler Companies has done a great job of building a group of ambassadors across its multi-division operation.

Research Analysts

We had several of our Research Analysts join the conference for a Q&A with clients in attendance. The analysts explained how they interview client customers. The interchange helped our clients better understand ways they can help our team be more effective in engaging their customers.

Highlights from Keynote Speaker Benny Suggs, US Navy, Harley-Davidson, and NC State University

Benny Suggs is a retired Rear Admiral from the US Navy. He worked as General Manager of HOG and Rider Services, Harley Davidson. He later became Executive Director of the NC State Alumni Association, from which he recently retired.

Benny focused most of his discussion around his experiences at Harley Davidson and the US Navy. He particularly focused on the connection between culture and customer experience. His insights from Harley were especially interesting. A building block to culture is a company’s core values. At Harley, these are:

  • Tell the truth
  • Be fair
  • Respect the individual
  • Keep your promises
  • Stimulate intellectual curiosity

According to Benny, these values are lived out at Harley and help to shape the company’s CX approach. He also discussed how important leadership is to customer experience. He identified five traits that are critical: vision, passion, determination, keeping a sense of humor, having heart in all we do.

One of the most powerful parts of his presentation was a video from Harley Davidson. It is a marketing video designed to highlight the Harley culture. Click here to watch the video. It is well worth your time.

Davidson College Presentation

We are working with a team from the Jay Hurt Hub of Davidson College. They are helping us to understand our company culture better, especially as it concerns our research team. The project is not yet finished, but they provided some interesting insights into culture in general.

They briefly discussed empathy mapping, which is typically used in software design. As I have read more about it, it has great applications in the CX world. To learn more, click here.

They also identified three things to encourage in your culture. These are:

  • Get curious
  • Try things
  • Talk to people

They may sound simple, but they are effective. Getting curious is especially important.

Power of Recognition in Building a Stronger CX Culture

Recognition is too often overlooked as a lever to improve CX. The Thompson Tractor team shared what they are doing to ramp up recognition with their Spirit Awards program. One of the interesting aspects of this program is that recognition applies to internal and external customers. One of the points the presenters made is that meaningful recognition is critical to improving CX.

Tying CX Results to Compensation

When I began my CX work, I believed tying financial incentives was appropriate. I am less sure now as the wrong kind of incentives can create undesirable behaviors and discourage a focus on the customer (e.g., think about experiences when buying a car). If you choose to tie incentives and CX results, consider the following:

  • Connect with broader company goals, not just CX goals.
  • Have a longer rather than shorter timeframe. Lower-volume areas of your organization may have difficulty getting a meaningful number of completed surveys.
  • The incentives for CX should be a relatively small part of the overall incentive package.
  • Where possible, make the incentives more group-focused. This approach encourages more collaborative behavior.

Operationalizing Voice-of-Customer

When you get a CX improvement program off the ground, looking for ways to make it part of your operation is critical. Carter Machinery shared a couple of important ways they are helping to “wire voice-of-customer” into their operations. First, since the phone is an important way customers interact with Carter, the CX function now manages the phone system. The CX leaders can balance phone capacities to make the phone experience the best for customers.

The second way they operationalize CX is by creating more inviting retail environments. Even in heavy equipment, having an inviting retail experience is becoming more important, especially for customers in the market for smaller equipment. Sometimes, how welcoming that retail environment is matters to the sale!

In Conclusion: Building a Stronger CX Culture

Our annual client conference delved into the intricacies of creating a robust CX culture within industrial environments. From Arthur Greeno’s invaluable insights gleaned from his experiences at Chick-fil-A to Benny Suggs’ elucidation on the nexus between culture and customer experience, each session provided invaluable takeaways and actionable strategies. Our clients departed from this conference with renewed enthusiasm and confidence, with the tools and insights necessary to embark on this transformative journey. If you’re interested in accessing the slides from our conference or further exploring these topics, please don’t hesitate to reach out.

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