The term ‘company culture’ is often used by management gurus who stress that without an idealised version of this ephemeral term, a company is rudderless and doomed to flounder on the competitive shores of today’s fast paced business environment.
But what exactly is company culture and how does a company use the concept to maximise customer experience?
Dave Benjamin, CEO and founder of Interact RDT says that the idea of company culture and its very foundations were built in the industrial revolution and that a coherent company culture today bears very little resemblance to the process and task driven origins of the term.
The Dawn of a New Age
“During the industrial revolution it was all about increasing efficiency on the factory floor – time and motion studies were developed to make sure that output was optimised. The approach developed to the point where the science “business process re-engineering” became the guiding principle, Michael Porter, the famous Harvard strategy guru defined business process re-engineering as a “technique involved analysing a company’s central processes and reassembling them in a more efficient fashion.”
According to Dave this continued push towards efficiency and ultimately the acceptance of business process re-engineering has simply turned people into pencil pushers.
“The emphasis on process has resulted in people coming to work in the morning, but leaving their personalities at home – this is where we start to see an erosion of the customer experience and this is exactly where company culture plays a huge role in maximising the customer experience and therefore in ensuring that the company does what companies are designed to do – turn a profit.”
Bringing People Back
“For me company culture is about bringing the human back to work. A lot of what companies have done is remove the humanity from their businesses by making processes so robust. Although business process re-engineering was extremely important during the industrial revolution now that we’re in the customer experience economy it may have become passé.”
Dave’s belief is that in today’s business environment, people need to be provided with the tools that they need in order to deliver a consistent customer experience.
“This is what the company culture revolution is all about. The challenge is how to equip people with the knowledge of what the business needs to succeed, while at the same time avoiding the temptation to control them. People hate the idea of being managed, they want to be led. Once you can find the correct balance I think that you begin to unlock the creative instinct inside every employee.
We need to reach a situation where employees understand that they will be given responsibility and that management trusts them to execute that responsibility to the best of their ability and with due care. That’s the culture of Interact and we believe that the results speak for themselves.”
Measurement is Key
According to Dave, the key to getting the best out of staff is to make the measurement variables extremely explicit.
“With sales it’s about bringing in turnover, with professionals it’s about delivering quality work – delivering 100%. If those professionals can deliver in only 40% of their time, they need to know they’re in control of the other 60% of their time; they can make more money or spend that time in other ways. With creative people it may be all about the awards they receive, but in the end it’s all about a culture of responsibility – and this is the key to creating customer experience excellence.”
Dave believes that getting the right culture is also a function of having the right systems in place so that people are able to govern themselves and measure their own performance. Until an organisation has those systems in place, people will not know what is actually expected of them. This ,he believes, is an evolutionary process.
“It’s not just a process of ticking a box, the process needs to be revisited again and again based on a continual feedback loop.”
The Death of the Product Centric Organisation
He also maintains that the company placing the product or service that they sell above its people or customers is heading for trouble.
“In the customer-centric organisation, the customer is at the top of the pyramid and the people that service the customers are more important than the product. Organisations need to recognise that.
Dave maintains that this inversion can be a very difficult pill for the traditional CEO to swallow, in effect it turns the traditional organisational pyramid on its head. The implications are profound. In most traditional organisations, the CEO is the most important employee. In the customer centric organisation the only role of the CEO is to promote his or her employees as customer facing assets.
Dave’s philosophy is that company culture is best served by rewarding good work, and that this doesn’t necessarily mean monetary reward – this is especially true of the new millennial generation. An optimised company culture should be about alignment between reward and delivery.
“An ideal company culture revolves around a triad, a highly cohesive employee, employer and customer relationship – this triad of relationships is at the heart of building a cohesive and coherent company culture. You cannot design the business’s operations without understanding the employee’s role without understanding the customer experience.”
Organisations that have better customer service are inevitably better companies. It’s all about getting employees to understand their importance as customer service agents and empowering them to do their job.