Though the idea of culture has been around for centuries, it is only in recent decades that corporations have begun to speak of the notion of corporate culture. Probably the best way to define corporate culture is as the deepest thoughts and beliefs a company holds about itself. This includes what it considers to be its most important goals, how it treats employees, and how it feels about its customers. In short, corporate culture is complicated and often laden with contradictions.

Today, I’m going to talk about the power associated with corporate culture and how it can impact the customer experience that a company provides, both positively and negatively. Let’s start by unpacking the notion of corporate culture, and then explore how it affects the customer experience.

Corporate Culture Unpacked

The key to understanding corporate culture is the idea of deepest thoughts and beliefs. Take a minute and reflect on your own deepest thoughts and beliefs. Quickly you realize that sometimes it is not easy to articulate what those thoughts and beliefs are. Then too, there are those annoying contradictions: I want to lose ten pounds but I also want to make numerous trips to the all-you-can-eat buffet; I want to get some dental work done but I also want to go somewhere tropical for a vacation.

Corporate culture has the same complexities. Even large corporations have limited resources, and leaders must decide how those are to be allocated. This is typically a balancing act. Companies generally want to achieve financial success, provide a good customer experience, treat employees well, and be good corporate citizens. However, executing all of these objectives perfectly would take more resources than most companies (if any) have. Even within one area, customer experience, there are often competing claims for resources. The net result is that competing claims confuse the relative importance of companies’ most deeply held thoughts and beliefs.

The Plot Thickens

In thinking more specifically about the connections between corporate culture and the customer experience, we need to make a further distinction. In MaritzCX’s CXEvolution Model, we contend that the cultural aspect of the customer experience contains two different competencies: belief and commitment.

Belief in the customer experience consists of a shared understanding that providing an excellent customer experience is important to the company. In fact, when you ask most people if this is something they believe, most would say that they do. Many might look at you strangely if you said otherwise, as this is a such a deeply-held belief that saying otherwise would be heresy.

Indeed, many companies espouse a culture that believes strongly in the importance of the customer experience. MaritzCX has conducted interviews with companies where the belief in the customer experience is very strong. Even as a consultant who deals with these issues all of the time, and who should know better, it is hard not to walk away from such conversations and feel like you want to become a client of this company as soon as possible. It sometimes just sounds that good!

Still, evidence suggests that the level of belief is not always as important to companies as many would suspect it to be. MaritzCX’s CXEvolution Study, which assesses organizational CX maturity, and contains a database with over 5,000 individuals’ responses, clearly shows that not all companies consider belief in the customer experience extremely important. The chart below shows that roughly one-third of respondents claim their companies have an almost universal belief in the customer experience, while one-fourth report that their companies’ belief is fairly strong. This means that nearly half of companies fall below these two highest levels of belief in the customer experience.

However, belief in the centrality of providing a great customer experience, though a necessary foundation on which to begin promoting an ongoing practice of improving the customer experience, is not in itself sufficient to bring change about. This is where commitment, the second key cultural competency in our CXEvolution Model, comes in.

Commitment is generally even more difficult to establish than belief. Commitment is where the rubber meets the road, in that it involves taking action to make beliefs a tangible part of the organization’s CX culture. It involves committing financial and human resources to the belief that the customer experience is important. This usually involves movement from C-Suite executives, and is not easily accomplished.

MaritzCX’s CXEvolution Study shows that only roughly four in ten companies either have all their decisions filtered by CX impact or make large investments in CX. This suggests that the level of cultural commitment to CX is in fact quite low.

So Where Does This Leave Us?

Getting culture right is only one of six dimensions to getting the customer experience “right.” The CXEvolution model posits that in addition to culture, an organization must handle its customers well, and also employ the right people and train them well. In addition, the organization must achieve success with its overarching structure, the flow of information, and the processes put in place for a company to provide the highest levels of customer service must function at the highest levels.

Still, there is much that can be done to improve an organization’s standing on the cultural dimension. With regard to belief, an organization should seek to strengthen and unify its core beliefs. Sometimes, organizations simply take beliefs for granted, only to discover that they are not universal, and in fact may differ widely. Similarly, different parts of companies may hold sub-cultural beliefs that detract from a unified core belief system. This is not usually simple to fix, but awareness of the challenges can take an organization a long way in this direction.

Concerning commitment, the major thing an organization needs to do to move forward is to commit resources to operationalize beliefs. As noted above, this can be a very difficult task for an organization to accomplish, as parting with financial and human resources hits directly at a company’s bottom line. But consider this: even a relatively small commitment of resources, with appropriate communication and on-going follow-through begins to send the right message. In short, commitment does not need to be huge; it just needs to be done.

Not to end overly philosophically, but the Buddhist tenet that “The journey of a thousand miles begins with the first step” is not a bad mantra here. It is probably the best way to think about making any changes to a company’s customer experience. Trying to run before you’ve gotten good at walking simply will not work.