Culture Clash: Why Customer Experience Improvements Fail

John Aves of CP2 Experience discusses some of the common pitfalls that prevent CX leaders from incorporating change into their organisations.

Blue and red powder colliding

Published: December 14, 2023

John Aves

John Aves

When customer experience improvements run into trouble, the problem isn’t necessarily rooted in strategic thinking, but because the CEO is often detached from the plan (if there is one).

This is a big problem.

To successfully change your CX, you must create the right culture and climate to effect the change. You can’t do this without your people changing their behavior. Without leadership from the top, it is difficult to champion a clear path for improvements, set the tone, and role model new behaviors.

There are no two ways about it, involvement at the top is tied to CX’s success. With this in mind, one would think that most leaders must be rolling up their sleeves – not quite.

  • 59% of companies with a CEO involved in customer experience report higher revenue growth than just 40% of companies reportIng growth without a customer-focused CEO.
  • Just over half of the CEOs (56%) are involved in CX activities.

Just think about it for a moment. Successful strategies are driven from the top. But just half of the CEOs are actively involved. Which side of the divide do you fall on?

Ask most CEOs how they see customer experience, and there is a consensus: “we want to use it to effectIvely drive growth. It’s our best route to get ahead of our competitors”. These words rattle around the boardroom.

There is confidence in customer experience as a differentiator. More investment is secured. Budgets for  next year are expected to hold steady or increase even as economic forecasts go from bad to worse.

But there is an iceberg ahead …

Let me explain. Customer focus is an organisation-wide model (not just a mantra) which requires joined-up thinking and execution across the below aspects of the company:

  1. Culture, climate, and people.
  2. Products and services.
  3. Processes and technology.

There’s an iceberg ahead for those businesses that skip, or seriously underinvest in (1), and concentrate all  their efforts on (2) and (3). Especially (3).

Digital transformation has become a byword for CX transformation. Businesses are plowing billions into enhancements and new offerings. But many are left scratching their heads when customer take-up is sluggish and feedback is tepid at best.

The companies running out of room on their mantelpiece for CX awards are hyper-focused on point 1. There is an unbreakable link between the transformation and culture change. Let’s bolt on climate here too – the two-go hand in hand.

Culture essentially boils down to “the way we do things around here”. But it’s also important to think about organisational climate – the feeling people have about their workplace.

Avoiding a culture clash

Culture and climate affect the behavior of every employee. The behavior of every employee affects the experience of every customer. Your people throughout the business – at all levels, from leadership to the frontline – need to be equipped to deliver a new and different experience to customers.

To change culture and climate, two things need to happen:

  • As mentioned earlier, CEOs need to be able to champion a clear path for customer experience  improvements. They need to take responsibility for rallying their people and managing the ambiguity in transitioning from today to tomorrow. They set the tone and role model new behaviors.
  • The right culture/climate needs to be in place for employees to feel empowered and have the skills to change their behavior to deliver the change.

It’s difficult to change a culture. You can’t force it. The starting point is to think about the behaviors, attitudes and underlying assumptions that have become ingrained in your business.

Most employees think they are already doing the right thing for customers. So changing the way you do things will require vision, purpose, energy, and empowerment. People are often resistant to change if they do not understand the positive part they play.

Below, I have outlined some of the ways in which leaders can get buy-in from their employees:

  • Build a coalition: build a critical mass of senior customer experience advocates to help lead the change in  culture.
  • Pick your battles: focus on a few critical shifts in behavior.
  • Be visible: successful leaders create the belief, the permission, and the capability for employees to work in new and different ways. Be visible and role model new behaviors. As we discussed earlier, leaders set the  tone.
  • Revisit capabilities and skills: make sure your people are empowered and have the capabilities and skills to deliver the improvement and support customers (and each other) in the new way.

Finally … if they haven’t heard it, you haven’t said it

Communication has an outsized impact on success. Your people are ground zero here. Below are some examples of ways in which you can effectively communicate with your team during this period of change:

  • Share a consistent change story to align everybody in your organisation around the changes you are implementIng.
  • Openly communicate progress and wins. This will have the biggest impact on whether you make a success  of your plan.
  •  Let your people know how the new way of working impacts their day-to-day work.
  • Actively seek feedback.

Learn more by downloading our guide: An Inconvenient Truth: Why Creating Customer Loyalty Starts With You.

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