When you think of company culture, what comes to mind? Free lunch, ping pong tables, onsite gym, slide in the lobby? I consider these perks, which are certainly an expression of a company’s culture, but not the actual culture in itself. So what, exactly, is company culture?
I recently stumbled upon this statement, which I think captures the essence well. Company culture is “an invisible force that creates shared attitudes and values among its workforce, defines the nature with which it reacts and engages with the outside world, and gives the brand a distinct personality.”
Now think of a great place where you’ve worked. What did you love about it? The way people banded together in challenging times, the trust you had in the company’s leadership, how wins were celebrated, the respect team members had for one another?
Whether your current company culture sounds like the above or is far from it, this invisible force has a profound effect on your customer’s experience and your CSM’s ability to “practice” Customer Success.
Take a moment to review your values as an example (the statements hanging on the wall, likely outside the boardroom). Are they centered around delighting your customers and/or providing rock star service? If not, it’s likely that the entire organization is not as customer obsessed as your team is, which presents challenges if the customer is not at the heart of company decisions.
A customer focused value statement is not enough. Is every department actually living by this particular value in the way they interact internally as well as externally? It is common for there to be a mismatch between written values and observed behaviors. What started as a well-intended purpose, mission, and value statements can quickly fall to the sideline when competition heats up and profit margins begin to be squeezed.
I know I’m preaching to the choir with truths such as:
Happy employees = happy customers
Empowered employees = better-served customers
A culture that encourages feedback = better products
But what if these aren’t beliefs in your current organization? What if people outside of your CS team just don’t “get it”?
Great company culture comes down to great leadership, leaders that recognize the value in culture and invest time and resources into building and maintaining that culture accordingly. You may be thinking “well that’s all fine and dandy but I’m not in the C-suite and can’t affect that kind of change”. Have you ever had a really negative coworker? A coworker who’s able to sour things for everyone? If one person can bring the entire team down, then one person can bring it up as well.
Now let’s say you don’t currently manage anyone but yourself, how else do you make an impact on culture? Ensure you know and fully commit to your company’s values - deciding each day to live by those values in the way you interact with external customers and the way you provide internal customer service. You may be surprised how far merely role modeling values can go in influencing those around you. The essence of leadership is influence, so don’t discount your ability to be an informal leader.
Now, let’s think a bit further down the road. It’s likely that if you are reading this article you will one day move into a more formal leadership role. When you do (or if you are already there) be willing to zealously hire and fire by your company’s mission and values to ensure that your team is tightly aligned to your company’s culture (study Zappos’s pay to quit offer as an example of the level of zealousness you should consider).
The higher up you climb at an organization, the broader the influence you will have, so continue to keep a spotlight on culture - always iterating towards stronger and more awesome organizational culture by empowering employees, embracing transparency, celebrating successes, providing training to leaders at all levels, instilling trust, ensuring you have the right policies in place, and helping team members to find pride in the work they are doing.
If you happen to already be in the C-suite (or when you get there), invest in culture. Things like culture audits, employee pulse surveys, studying benchmark data, putting corrective actions in place all take time and money but the ROI of great culture is becoming increasingly clear - customer satisfaction soars, employee retention increases, and brand reputation is elevated. And keep investing! Culture has to be an ongoing effort, as left unattended you risk it declining/derailing overtime. If this occurs, reset the culture immediately before it gets too far off track. Remember culture is one of your key differentiators for both customers and employees, so treat it accordingly!
Now go forth and level up your company’s culture!
About the Author
Lindsay has a passion for wowing customers and leading world class teams that do the same. She has spent the past decade partnering with customers across several industries in both small and large organizations always with goal of exceeding client expectations. In her current role as Director of Customer Success, she oversees all implementations and business development activities, for BestCompaniesAZ, whose mission is to connect the right people to the best companies.More Content by Lindsay Smith