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A guide to building a customer-centric organizational culture

Your company’s organizational culture is its identity. Learn how to build a culture that’s all about your customers.

Por Molly Murphy

Última actualización el March 23, 2022

Do you know what the No. 1 consideration for today’s job seekers is? Surprisingly, it’s not cash; it’s not the benefits, either. It’s culture fit.

Fifty-six percent of people think finding the right organizational culture is more important than money in choosing a job, according to Glassdoor. And having a culture that inspires your workers is key for long-term retention, too.

But company culture differs from industry to industry, and in the world of customer support, you need to build your culture around your customers.

Job seekers in customer service roles want to know that the work they do makes people happy. Show them your organization is committed to that same goal by building a customer-obsessed culture.

Cultivating the right organizational culture is critical for attracting the right employees, and making that culture customer-centric is critical for keeping buyers happy and employees engaged.

What is a customer-centric culture?

Culture = Beliefs + Norms + Behaviors + Practices

A stuffy definition of organizational culture may be something like, “a set of values, actions, and beliefs shared by individuals in an organization.” But really, it’s your company’s vibe. It’s not just what you say, but what you do—and how you do it. Your culture is the secret sauce that makes your company unique.

“Culture is your organization’s personality,” says Fidelma Butler, Vice President of Talent & Organization Development at Zendesk. “It permeates how people relate to each other, how decisions get made, what work gets done and how, and how it feels to be there.”

In a customer-centric organizational culture, a company’s values, actions, and beliefs directly tie back to the ultimate goal of customer satisfaction. A customer-centric company will often go above and beyond to make its customers happy. Think of companies like Zappos, who are even more famous for their customer service than what they sell.

Why is being customer-centered important?

Having a unique culture that inspires your employees and attracts top talent is a noble goal. But focusing that culture around your customer experience instead of happy hours or office layout is more impactful for long-term happiness—for both your team and your buyers.

Here are two major benefits that customer-centric companies enjoy.

  1. Higher employee engagement

    Research suggests that employees are more engaged when your company culture is customer-centric and vice versa—they feel as though their work is more meaningful. Plus, a more engaged employee will work harder for your customers, leading to higher customer satisfaction. It’s a win-win.
    “When employees are more engaged, customers are more engaged too,” explains Butler. “That’s logical—the happier your employees are, the better the interaction with your customers, and the more likely those customers are to be satisfied and remain loyal to the company.”
  2. More agile company model

    Your company culture can dictate your team’s ability to change with the times. A culture centered on customers will inherently be more flexible than one that isn’t, because evolving to suit buyers’ changing expectations is necessary for a customer-centric organization.
    “If your industry demands agility as it is changing rapidly, but your organization is rigid and not open to continuous improvement, you will suffer,” says Butler.
    Today, many companies are having to adapt their procedures and models in favor of remote-first work. The agility that comes from a customer-centric organizational culture can make this transition easier than traditional, less flexible cultures.

Bottom line? Culture matters and affects your customers, both directly and indirectly.

What are the most common types of organizational culture?

Before you can build customer focus into your culture, you need to identify what kind of culture your company has right now.

The Organizational Cultural Assessment Instrument (OCAI) is a popular research model that breaks up workplace cultures into four types. The types are based on a Competing Values Framework. Your company’s unique mix of the four values fits in with a corresponding culture type.

Regardless of which cultural model you identify with, know this: It is possible to put the customer at the center of any of these models.

Good employee experience is the backbone of good customer experience

Though the “right” employee experience is unique to each company, these universal best practices can help any company take good care of its workforce and, in turn, help it deliver on the company's promise to its customers.

How to keep a customer-centric organizational culture alive in changing times

A lot has changed in 2020, including company culture. Many businesses are adjusting to a fully-remote workforce, often for the first time, and struggling to carry a brick-and-mortar culture online. The good news is you’re not alone.

“We’re reorganizing how we work, as a large number of our workforce is becoming fully remote,” says Butler. “Part of that is reimagining the culture and employee experience of Zendesk, so we can continue to hire and retain great talent.”

These challenges are affecting us all. Luckily, we’ve got some expert advice to help you transition.

  • Treat customers with extra empathy

    Be prepared to adapt to customers’ changing needs in the face of the pandemic. This may mean offering extra support hours, providing your team with additional remote training to support customer needs, or looking for creative payment solutions for struggling businesses.
    In order to make this time a positive experience for your customers, double down on empathy. Proactively look for ways to support your buyers.
    “Many of our customers are in dire financial situations right now,” says Butler. “At Zendesk, we assembled a special team to support these customers with favorable payment terms.”
    Other customers, especially those already offering remote software, have experienced unprecedented growth during the pandemic. Caring for those customers’ growing businesses is equally important.
    Having a company that can move quickly with your customers’ changing needs is critical during unprecedented times.
    “At Zendesk, we realized a few years ago that agility was a key competency we would need to develop,” says Butler. “In 2020, we have really seen that come to fruition.”
  • Support employees so they can continue to support your customers

    Survey your employees regularly to gauge worker engagement during the pandemic. It’s the remote version of sticking your head in their office to check-in on their well-being.
    Employees can’t give exceptional customer care and be empathetic to their customers’ needs if their own personal and professional lives aren’t being cared for first—a challenge in a post-pandemic world. Keep tabs on your employees’ health and development so they can do the same for your customers.
    At Zendesk, we’re handling this issue by surveying employees every eight weeks, asking questions that ensure they’re properly supported in both their personal and professional lives. It’s an easy way to hold yourself accountable for investing in your people, and it gives employees a private way to start the conversation.
    “We’ve used employee responses to evaluate the initiatives we are bringing in, and we’re offering additional resources for support and wellbeing,” Butler adds.
    Zendesk also launched a 24/7 internal feedback platform, making performance reviews unnecessary during remote work. With the platform, managers and employees can have a continual, two-way conversation about areas of struggle and success. Staying informed of employees’ stumbling blocks helps you solve issues before they carry over to your customers’ experiences.

    Build the customer-centric culture you want

    At Zendesk, we celebrate a culture of empathy. We invest in our people because it’s the best way to ensure our people invest in our customers—and customers are at the center of everything we do.
    What kind of culture does your organization have? Does it do right by your employees and, ultimately, your customers?
    Regardless of which OCAI culture your team most identifies with, there’s a way to make it customer-centric. One great way to do that is to make sure you’re using software that is designed for real-time customer feedback and analytics. If you want to check out a customer-focused support solution, get started today.

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