The relationship between your brand and your culture must be frictionless. Your employees’ interactions with customers and with each other need to be like a well-oiled machine. The way your employees interact with customers and fellow employees is indicative of your company’s cultural health. If internal and external interactions are not lubricated sufficiently with a healthy cultural perspective, then there will be friction between the engine parts. And friction between your employees—and especially your customers—will cost you money.
Your marketing messages and your employee culture must be in alignment. If they are not in alignment, then your customers will be confused. And confusion kills branding.
If your culture in your organization is not optimal, then you cannot optimize customer retention. Until the culture improves, there will be customer churn. And that friction in your brand-culture relationship will cost you money. And you especially cannot afford that friction in this difficult economy.
Here are three points to remember in reducing friction in your organization’s brand-culture relationship.
1. Customer Experiences must exceed Customer Expectations
Customer experiences must exceed customer expectations. If your marketing messages foster customer expectations that don’t match their experiences with your employees, you will have problems with customer retention. Your customers can feel your brand promise being delivered—or broken—through their interactions with your employees.
I talked with the president of a hospital about their stellar service capabilities: they had the state-of-the-art equipment with highly skilled staff. And yet they received poor marks for customer satisfaction. They could not reach their potential for market share because of friction between their brand and their culture. Even though the hospital patients received outstanding care, they did not feel that they did. The president explained that, prior to his arrival, the hospital culture did not accentuate the warmth necessary to transform a sterile environment into a healing center. The employees at the hospital were able to give the patients only what they themselves received from the hospital’s organizational culture. And, he said, that culture had to change.
Only through focusing on the connection between brand and culture can you create the environment where you can produce consistently positive customer experiences.
2. Customer Experiences will never exceed Employee Experiences
The essence of customer experience flows out of the day-to-day interactions employees have with each other. Your customer experience cannot exceed what your employees experience every day. Your employees cannot give what they do not have.
In interviewing dozens of CEOs for the first article in The Nexus of Leadership, Brand, and Culture series—Producing Consistently Positive Customer Experiences: Four Strategies to Reinforce Your Brand through Your Employees’ Actions—I was surprised how few CEOs implemented all four strategies. Most were content to implement only one or two. Without using all the tools available, those CEOs were not fully connecting their brand and their culture. As a result, they were throwing money away.
Make sure your employee interactions will back up what you tell your customers. This is not just about customer service: customer experiences are affected by how you do what you do. Think through the impact you want to have on your customers, then think through how to operationalize your values to bring about that kind of impact. If you say it, you must live it.
3. Positive Employee Experiences will produce Positive Customer Experiences
In order to produce consistently positive customer experiences, it is important to design your employee culture with intentionality, clarity, and consistency. You must be intentional about creating a positive customer environment: good culture doesn’t just happen. It’s also imperative to provide clear definitions of what you want the culture to look like. And it’s essential to be consistent in fostering that culture, day in and day out.
The CEO of a credit union explained to me how they not only established a compact for customer experiences but also employee experiences. They identified the values they said would be characteristic of their customer interactions as well as their employee interactions. As a result, all employees knew how they were to interact with each other and what they can expect from each other.
Implementing a comprehensive strategy of communicating, demonstrating, celebrating, and curating your brand within your culture will help you live your brand.
Friction at the intersection of your brand and your culture will cost you money. But you don’t have to settle for that. You can empower your employees to foster a healthy culture perspective. If you will be the leader to set that process in motion, then you, your employees, and your customers will reap the benefits.
So how much friction exists between your brand and your culture?
Robert McFarland is the author of the bestsellers, Dear Boss: What Your Employees Wish You Knew and Dear Employee: What Your Boss Wishes You Knew. Robert is also President of Transformational Impact LLC, a leadership development consultancy helping companies make ideals actionable.