The Impact of a Healthy Organizational Culture on Customer Service
written by: Mike Sweeney•edited by: Ginny Edwards•updated: 7/14/2011
What does your company culture say about your organization and how it treats its customers? Is it vibrant, healthy and results-oriented? What would your customers say? The importance of developing the right internal atmosphere and workforce culture should not be minimized.
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Cultures can be an interesting thing inside companies. What one employee understands as being important, another employee doesn’t. It’s not like the employees completely disagree, it’s just that each employee brings a different set of personal experiences and a variety of backgrounds to the company that sometimes don’t completely mesh. Very often, the best of intentions leads to misunderstanding and disagreements.
So why is this important when it comes to customer service?
Well, for a couple of reasons. Providing excellent customer service is hard enough on its own, regardless of the industry. Add to the customer service mix the variety of company procedures and processes that must be adhered to, and you’ve made it even harder for employees to provide quality service to their customers.
And this is where the relative health of the company’s culture will impact the quality and timeliness of customer service.
It is tough to provide consistent, companywide customer service if the perception of the company’s culture is understood differently by employees. This can have a dramatic effect on the caliber of service a customer receives from employees, especially if the customer contacts and interacts with different employees at different times for assistance within the company.
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A strong, vibrant company culture will generally attract the same type of employee to the organization. Conversely, the same is true. A company trying to find its way in their industry will also have a tendency to hire in its own image.
One of the most often overlooked aspects of excellent customer service is the talent, drive and ambition of the employees who provide it. And it’s important to remember, customer service is not only the responsibility of the employee in the customer service department, it’s the responsibility of every employee in the organization, regardless of their title in the company.
Employees at all levels of the company, and with any job description, may need to interact with a customer or prospect. And because of that distinct possibility, it becomes even more important to create a company culture that encourages and embraces the value of excellent customer service.
Companies that struggle with finding their internal culture, or are unsure of what it should be, will very often place less value on their customer service departments. The cultural focus may be on keeping the company finances under control, or generating the most amount of revenue each month.
Depending on the business, senior management or ownership will set the tone for the culture, and ultimately, how well customers are treated by the employees when there are issues. Even seemingly minor items such as the vocabulary that is used with customers and employees, how the phone is answered - no matter who is calling, and how people are greeted in-person, will go a long way toward identifying the prevailing culture that is accepted and perpetuated.
Think of those companies that you believe have great customer service. Maybe it’s a local business in your community, or a national retail chain. Some common examples you may recognize are Southwest Airlines, Nordstrom’s Department Stores, or Disney World Resorts. In each of these cases, their employees are known for providing exceptional customer service. And if you’ve flown on Southwest, or shopped at Nordstrom’s, or visited Disney World, you know first-hand the level of service the employees provide.
The company cultures of these companies are great models of talented and well-trained employees all focused on a common goal – exceptional customer experiences. From senior management to the high school or college graduate working full-time with little or no experience, customer service is the driving force for each of the company’s successes. Internal employees are treated as well as external customers, thus reinforcing the importance of treating customers with the highest levels of respect.
These healthy company cultures encourage career growth, cross-training and provide employees with a high level of decision-making authority with customers. You can find the same types of businesses in your local communities as well. It may be a primary reason you shop at a local retail store or eat at your favorite restaurant. Healthy, vibrant, fun and quality-oriented companies are easy to spot, and generally attract the same types of customers.
The challenge for many companies is not to allow their culture to become stagnant and the employees complacent. Complacency breeds mediocrity which ultimately will have a negative impact on the caliber of service provided to customers.