Marketing Mag Opinion Piece – Culture and Customer are Two Halves of the Whole

Alex Allwood Customer Experience

First published in Marketing Mag:

Alex Allwood makes it clear that happy, engaged employees create more happy and engaged customers.

As accustomed as marketers have become to executing experiences, what sets customer experience (CX) leaders apart from the laggards, is evolving the CX program from delivering the basics well – addressing touchpoint gaps and pain points – to focusing on cultural alignment where employee experience improves the customer’s experience.

These leaders have embraced the central tenets of CX strategy and have set about shifting their focus from product-centric to customer-first. They now realise the long-term benefits of sustainable business growth through higher revenues and decreased costs; reaping the rewards of customer retention, recommendation, and lower marketing and operational costs.

Great CX brands measure satisfaction and act on customer feedback. They’ve become adept at collaborating with internal stakeholders to align the organisation around sharing customer intelligence and developing internal systems to support customer satisfaction goals. Furthermore they’re prioritising the design of new touchpoints that satisfy customer needs and create emotional engagement.

Importantly, these leading brands recognise the fundamental relationship between customer and employee experience. Put simply, they understand that happy, engaged employees help create happy, engaged customers – and more of them.

Deloitte’s paper, Human Capital Trends 2015, points to the shift in employee motivation, where today there’s a greater focus on purpose, mission and work-life integration. The workplace is more complex and employees now work in cross-functional teams that bring together people from across the business at a rapid rate. They work longer hours and are more connected to their jobs through mobile devices. ‘Flexibility, empowerment, development and mobility all now play a big role in defining a company’s culture.’

Great customer-first organisations have engaged employees who are emotionally connected to the brand and empowered by the company’s purpose; it’s reason for being. They understand the company’s CX aspirations and the role they play in delivering the brand promise. Their voice is valued and contributes to improvements in customer interactions, their job made easier through investments in new technology and training.

Brands such as Airbnb – the 2016 winner of Glassdoors, ‘Best Place to Work’ – now look at their experiences through a cultural lens. Airbnb is one of few companies that do not to have a Human Resources department. In its place, a team that’s dedicated to employee experience, headed up by Chief Employee Experience Officer, Mark Levy.

In an interview with Forbes, Levy explained that with 2,400 employees in 22 offices across the globe, Airbnb’s people focus is directed at employee success and opportunity. That is across employee journey from the basics of pay, benefits and training, to facilities, food, fun and a way of working.

The brand’s mission is to ‘Create a world where you can belong’. Under Levy’s direction his team are integrated across roles with a shared set of beliefs and behaviours and are devoted to creating employee experiences.

The mission underpins Airbnb’s employee experience program initiatives. From workspaces and physical environments that feel like home and promote a sense of belonging, to community volunteering, travel opportunities, a healthy lifestyle program and co-creating the customer experience.

Annually, each employee receives a $2,000 travel allowance to experience Airbnb from the customer (host) perspective. Employees are encouraged to volunteer with Airbnb hosts to gain deeper insights and understanding of their experience. The company also runs an annual conference, bringing together employees and hosts from around the world to learn what experiences are working well and what the business could do better.

For companies on the path to CX maturity, one of the greatest challenges in CX management is overcoming their functional silos. Organisational alignment requires constant reiteration and high-level commitment across the entire company to ensure each area delivers customer value.

As with measuring customer feedback, organisations need to measure employee satisfaction too. By employing effective listening programs for both, companies can derive deeper understanding of how employee experiences directly impact customer experience and how the two are inextricably linked.

The imperative for brand leaders is to recognise that culture and customer are two halves of the whole – in the CX ecosystem one cannot continue to exist without the other. Crucially, a culturally aligned workplace with a shared set of customer beliefs and behaviours that empowers people to do their best work, promotes higher employee engagement. As studies show – happy, engaged employees help create more, happy and engaged customers.

About the Author

Alex Allwood

Alex Allwood’s focus is connecting customer and culture to empower customer-centric growth. Working with B2B2C, Alex helps improve experiences that enhance customer value and distinctively differentiate. With a 20 year track record in leadership, operations and marketing, Alex’s strength is developing customer experience strategy: customer understanding and empathy, experience vision and guiding principles and the customer narrative to enable collaboration and alignment. Alex is principal of the customer experience consultancy, All Work Together; has authored the book Customer Experience is the Brand, regularly facilitates Customer Journey Mapping workshops and is a speaker on customer-centric transformation.