"Culture eats Strategy for breakfast" How it applies in Customer Service.

Culture and vision meeting cartoon

If 'Culture eats Strategy for breakfast' in business...

Then Values should eat Policy in Customer Service.

 

I recently had a couple of encounters which highlighted the importance of staying true to your company culture and values in building processes and systems, and how important actively and consistently communicating those values is.

 

One was a chance meeting with a business owner, the other was a talk at the Calgary Chamber of Commerce by Mike Williams of Encana outlining their strategy for a pretty remarkable turnaround which they achieved rapidly, and in some difficult conditions.

 

Both the discussion and talk highlighted how Culture and Values need to drive the systems within your business. I'm not talking esoterically here, it has far more to do with clarity and process than you might at first think.

 

At a petroleum show evening event, desperate to take a load off my well used feet, I sat down next to another business owner looking to do the same thing. We talked a bit about what we do and the topic turned to customer service. He shared a recent story of an encounter he had.

 

He bought a pressure washer from a well known company and after about a half hour of using it, the hose broke.

 

The pressure washer in question had nothing wrong with it. It was now full of gas and oil, and he knows it was the last one in the store. He doesn't need or want a new pressure washer, he just needs to replace the hose. So he heads to the store with hose in hand.

 

You can probably see where this story is heading... We know he is going to have trouble returning just the hose, even though it is the most logical thing to do in the situation.

 

 

Policy and values.

 

Mike Williams, in the talk I was at the following day, quoted Peter Drucker saying 'Culture eats strategy for breakfast.'

 

And it should.

 

He outlined how at Encana they isolated three main values based on how they had been successful in the past, and then used those values to outline their strategy and set policy.

 

They then communicated those values throughout the company through storytelling. Change events were communicated in terms of them, and employees were (and are) encouraged to talk about how they are using these core values to drive business where they are.

 

He fully recounted how, by applying these values to strategy, and consistently being clear and transparent with that information, Encana was led to the remarkable turn around they were able to achieve, from a company in deep trouble, to the highly valued and well positioned company they are today... even in this low oil price environment.

 

 

So what about the pressure washer situation? I am sure that company has a customer focus. I am sure they want this client to walk away happy from what has already been a rather inconvenient experience. But we know this isn't likely to happen easily... why?

 

I would wonder if the systems are as connected with core values as they could be. It really isn't any customer service reps fault they are likely to deny him his request. They are just trying to avoid repercussions. The system, which they have been taught, will take precedence.

 

Back to the story...

 

Our hero has managed to talk one on one with some representatives and explained his situation, creatively they figure out that there were spare hoses in the back that belonged to the display models which are displayed without the hoses.

 

Great work on the part of those employees!

 

Hose and receipt in hand, he heads to the counter.

 

What he encounters there is along the lines of

'No I'm sorry'

'We can't do that'

'You need to return the whole thing'

'I have to call a manager'

 

Again, it has to do with the policy. In this case: 'We will only take a full return'

 

With the only thing he needs in his hand, our protagonist is not about to let the hose go. It becomes an exercise in patience and holding his ground. After several calls, interactions, floor managers, stressed and worried employees, the store manager finally comes in person to listen to the story and allows him to take the hose and keep his receipt. So yes, in the end it worked out, but that experience could have been easier.

 

It doesn't always work out that way, sometimes you get stonewalled on a simple solution. I have dropped businesses due exactly to that kind of hassle, and I'm sure you have too.

 

If the process comes from values (culture), this is less likely to happen and you can create a policy that any time that the policy or process comes into doubt, those values should take precedence. It is more than a 'The customer is always right' it is more along the lines of 'We will do whatever we can to increase customer satisfaction and retention.'

 

The message, and being clear on how it affects things in regards to the values and vision, helps to reinforce it.

 

Application

 

So, a couple of tips on how you can apply this:

 

  • Really set out what the company's values are.

 

  • Make sure the policy and processes align with the values.

 

  • Communicate those Values with everyone... and continue to do so.

 

  • Make sure that discussions with your staff about all of your systems are framed in terms of values. Everyone wants to know why they are doing something and why something is happening. Values and vision are something we can all understand as a base to get where we want. When people know the why, they are far more willing to perform the duties necessary and to accept change when needed. Why gives us purpose. Why is a driver.

 

  • Empower your staff to take action when policy threatens values. Not only does this result in a better customer experience, it also reinforces vision, values and accountability. This is employee engagement in action.

 

Just imagine one morning your customer service reps coming to you telling you how they were able to solve a customers problem by dealing with a process roadblock on the fly and framing it terms of the company's values, culture, and vision.

 

Sounds like a good hearty breakfast to start the day.

 

-Mark Dawson

 

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