At the recent CXSF event in San Francisco, Forrester Research experts stressed the importance of uniting employees around strong values. Could this be the recipe for success when it comes to the customer experience?

Customer experience inextricably linked with company culture

Forrester Research’s US Customer Experience Index 2016, published in July, reveals that 82% of US companies attain only a passable score, and many lower than that, when it comes to customer experience (CX). Champions in the CX field all share a common trait: they are customer-centric companies. “All companies that are successful in terms of customer experience can be seen to have a highly customer-centric culture, which all staff share. And this culture is often enshrined in the basic corporate principles drawn up when the firm was founded,” Samuel Stern, a Senior Research Analyst at Forrester, who specialises in Customer Experience, told the audience at the CXSF event held in San Francisco on 20-21 October. Stern pointed to the key role the company culture plays in a firm’s success. “Company culture isn’t just about paying lip service to the strategy. It has a considerable impact on how the company works – including its processes and its results. Moreover, it’s a determining factor for creating a high-quality customer experience,” he underlined.

Customer experience begins with company culture

The Forrester report highlights differences in the approach to company culture between those that are leaders in customer experience and those that do less well. Companies which are CX champions tend to have a culture based on human values such as integrity, transparency and generosity. By contrast, at companies which perform less well, company culture is frequently geared to financial goals, with profit top of the list.

To help take an in-depth look at this subject, Forrester draws on data from California-based startup Glassdoor, a rising star in the world of recruitment. In the same way that a customer can rate a restaurant and leave a comment on Yelp, Glassdoor platform users are invited to anonymously rate companies where they have worked. The Forrester report demonstrates a clear correlation between a successful customer experience and the employee experience. On Glassdoor, companies placed near the bottom of the customer experience ranking – what Forrester calls the ‘laggards’ – are rated less highly by their own staff than companies which perform well in this regard. They attain an average overall score of 3.0, whereas the CX leaders achieve 3.4. And when it comes to recommending the company, the gap widens further: Glassdoor users recommend 70% of CX leaders but only 53% of the CX laggards.



Applying the stated values in practice

So what are the initiatives practised by customer experience champions that should inspire us? First and foremost, these companies make it a point of honour to really live their values. Samuel Stern cited the example of major U.S. air carrier Southwest Airlines, where strong emphasis is placed on the human, emotional aspects. Among the company advice to employees we find such guidance as ‘Don’t take yourself too seriously’, ‘Enjoy your work’, and ‘Be a passionate Teamplayer’. Not only are these values proudly displayed on the Southwest website, the airline has also incorporated them into its selection criteria at recruitment interviews and SouthWest has trained its Human Resources staff to spot people who possess these personality traits. These values are also taken into account in the annual staff appraisals.

In addition, customer experience leaders handle storytelling – an art in which Silicon Valley firms tend to excel – with aplomb. Nordstrom, a US department store chain, places great importance on providing high-quality customer service. The company has for instance a very flexible policy on returning goods purchased.  At Nordstrom, staff responsible for customer service are encouraged to trust their common sense in all circumstances, a rule that is actually laid down in the company’s staff manual. “There’s no strict code of conduct for staff at Nordstrom. They’re encouraged to follow their own intuition. Companies such as Nordstrom and Southwest are really committed in both word and deed. They live their values,” Samuel Stern told the CXSF conference.

Well-being at work and employee engagement both underpin CX

In addition to drawing on case studies, Forrester also looks at the correlation between customer experience and employee experience. Firstly, the market research firm points out that the efficiency of the product or service is a key component of a good customer experience.  Staff need to work within a framework which – through a mirroring effect – enables them to develop the required skills and know-how to create a positive customer experience, so that they get to feel they are in control of what they are doing.

Absence of friction and ease of execution are also key success factors with regard to customer experience. This means giving employees autonomy and the space they need to deliver a good experience. Lastly, the emotional factor should not be underestimated. Customers must derive their satisfaction from the experience in the moment. Forrester underlines the importance of staff having an end-goal here. In working towards providing customers with a good experience, staff come to understand the importance of their role within the organisation.

Readers may be reminded here of the employee engagement app developed by Californian startup Emplify, on which L’Atelier reported recently. Staff at companies which decide to use this app will be provided with all real-time information regarding the vision and mission of the company and its targets – both overall and broken down by department – thus enabling a constant flow of information across the organisation. Emplify’s approach is in the same vein as other innovations designed to improve employee experience – such as Slack, Facebook Workplace and Microsoft Teams.

The Employee Experience best practice points identified by Forrester – i.e. ensuring that staff are on top of what they are doing, autonomy and the feeling of having a goal to aim for – have also been identified as factors contributing to well-being at work among startups. And well-being at work in turn helps to further boost employee engagement.


By Pauline Canteneur