How To Build The Most Customer-Focused Culture In The World

Culture is the secret sauce for some of today’s most innovative and competitive companies.

For hospitality company Airbnb, culture can best be summed up by these three surprising things: Elephants, Dead Fish, Vomit.

Elephants, Dead Fish and Vomit provide the structure for a key employee engagement and culture strategy from Airbnb. Here’s why. Airbnb did a survey with Culture Amp to get a pulse on its internal culture. What they learned was employees didn’t like some aspects of the culture of the company. The tone didn’t quite match what the company set out to create. And so Airbnb’s co-Founder and Chief Product Officer Joe Gebbia decided to do something about it at Airbnb’s global bi-monthly meetings where employees have a chance to share their thoughts.

Gebbia introduced these three new areas for Airbnb employees to share their thoughts.

*Elephants*  This is the big thing in the room that nobody is talking about.

*Dead fish* The things that happened a few years ago that people can’t get over.

*Vomit* When employees simply need to get something off their chest and they need someone to listen.

And so elephants, dead fish, and vomit are the things that shape one of the strongest company cultures in the world. Most companies would never be this raw or honest. But it can be very beneficial to have such a transparent culture. Like the canary in the coal mine, your employees often are privy to information that could shape your company in a very positive or very negative way. They also need to be heard by you. And it could help you. Elephants. Dead Fish. Vomit. Could make you or save you millions of dollars. Sometimes billions.

Culture is a huge aspect of customer experience.  

Often the main hindering block for customer experience is company culture. Fortunately for some, and unfortunately for others, the root of customer experience is a company’s culture. Without a customer-focused culture, organizations can never truly achieve a strong customer experience. It’s often the missing component for companies that continue to miss the mark on customer experience.

A customer-focused culture puts the customer as the center point of everything the company does. More than profits, shareholder expectations, or growth, the main goal of these companies is customer satisfaction. Instead of relying solely on a strong product, a customer-focused model is much more sustainable because it is built to move with the changes and trends of the customers. Without a culture firmly centered on customers, great customer experience can never be achieved. It can ebb and flow depending on the employee who customers interact with, but it needs to be engrained in the culture to be a consistent hallmark of the organization.

You can’t put customers first if you don’t know who they are or what they want.

How do organizations go about shaping a customer-focused culture? It starts by developing strong relationships with customers. Instead of simply sending out satisfaction surveys once a year, customer-centric companies are in constant contact with their customers at every step of the journey. They understand what they are looking for, what they are buying and why they are buying it, and what it will take to make them customers for life. A strong understanding of the customer is the foundation of a good culture; after all, you can’t put customers first if you don’t know who they are or what they want.

A customer-focused culture involves everyone in the organization, not just the employees who interact directly with customers. The example needs to start from the top with direction from the CEO and other executives. Involving all employees in a culture change is key. Each person needs to see how their role affects customers.

The CEO’s role

Amazon is one of the largest and most customer-centric companies in the world and does a great job of starting from the top. CEO Jeff Bezos famously leaves an empty chair at every meeting to represent the customer as the most important person. Every employee, including Bezos himself, also has to spend time working in the call center so they can communicate with customers and have a better understanding of their experiences. Much of what is developed by Amazon comes from feedback and desires of the customers instead of the development team simply creating whatever they want or whatever is trendy.

Culture can also be spread through training, and the importance of creating a strong customer experience should be discussed in every training if possible. This is especially important in organizations where employees aren’t directly seeing customers on a regular basis and may need more of a reminder.

USAA builds a culture of empathy for customers

USAA is known for its leading customer-focused culture, and much of that comes from building a culture of empathy for customers. Employees go through a series of training to better understand the customers and where they are coming from. USAA has built one of the best customer-centric cultures with a foundation of innovation and transparency so all employees are equipped to meet customers’ needs.

Changing a company culture takes time. Small steps can gradually move the company in the right direction. With dedication and regular communication with customers, customers really can become the heart of the organization. Culture also spreads as new employees join the organization who are excited about the customer-centric attitude and can spread their attitude and fresh ideas to others.

Intuit “find creative solutions and put yourselves in the customers’ shoes”

Companies can learn from the examples of the most customer-focused cultures in the world. Business software company Intuit has always put customers first. The company encourages employees to find creative solutions and put themselves in the shoes of the customers. Intuit regularly tests its software with customers in a variety of real-world scenarios to see how people respond to the product and what can be improved. Employees put the company’s values to practice by immersing themselves with customers to build strong relationships and truly understand their needs and wants.

Building a customer-focused culture isn’t something that can happen overnight, but with dedication and a concerted effort, organizations can put customers first in everything they do to build loyalty and increase growth.

Blake Morgan is a customer experience futurist, author of More Is More, and keynote speaker. Sign up for her weekly newsletter here. Go farther and create knock your socks-off customer experiences in your organization by enrolling in her new Customer Experience School.

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