Creating the Right Culture for Your Customers (and Your Team)

Steve Robertson

Establishing a company culture is an inescapable aspect of building a business — a culture will develop regardless of whether you intend it to.

Your company culture affects both employees and customers, and exactly how it affects them will be determined by how much you pursue culture, how you engage with it, and how proactively you nurture it.

If you don’t focus on culture (and depend instead on high pressure and stress to push employees to do their best), it can become a very expensive problem. When an employee doesn’t fit in with the rest of the team and decides to leave, it can cost the organization 50 percent to 60 percent of a person’s annual salary.

Furthermore, when employees aren’t happy at work, clients and customers usually aren’t getting the best treatment, either. So to keep both employees and customers happy, start by building a culture to thrill and delight customers — your employee culture will naturally be guided by it.

What a Customer-Focused Culture Looks Like

At Julian Krinsky Camps & Programs, our culture has been customer-focused for the last 40 years; it’s always been part of our core business. Over time, however, our team has become more deliberate about company culture by formalizing it and putting it into words for our customers and employees.

Of course, we’re far from alone. There are many other companies doing a fantastic job of building customer-focused cultures.

Trader Joe’s structures its workplace so that it focuses on harnessing the potential of each of its employees. The grocery store chain teaches its employees a variety of skills. Hourly store workers typically rotate between multiple jobs that include stocking shelves, managing the registers, and walking the floor to assist customers so their jobs stay interesting while learning more about how the store works. This, in turn, makes it easier for them to better help customers.

HubSpot created its own “Culture Code” to ensure culture remains an integral part of its core business, and the company explains on its website that the code is “not just a document; it’s a living, breathing commitment to our employees, candidates, and customers.”

Finally, the culture at Zappos is one that continually delights customers and team members. The e-commerce apparel giant’s mission to “deliver wow” is demonstrated through everyday interactions (like its now-famous customer service call that lasted almost 11 hours). Zappos’ employees are given the freedom to do what it takes to serve the customer, and there’s no doubt customers enjoy that kind of royal treatment.

Bringing Great Culture Into Your Own Office

In order to establish a customer-focused culture that fosters happy employees who are constantly growing, keep the following in mind:

  1. Know that the little things aren’t little.

    These are the things many managers overlook because they may seem like minor aspects of a company. These procedures include where you park, how you dress, whether you take a lunch break, how you respond to other employees and customers, etc. The most basic procedures are the foundation of your company culture and your starting point around which you’ll build a stronger culture.

    Values mean nothing unless they’re actually put into practice, so begin by determining what your core values are and how you can prove to employees that you practice what you preach. For example, if one of your core values posits that people are your greatest asset, show employees (and customers) that you’re willing to invest in them by providing flexibility, autonomy, and the tools needed to succeed.

  2. Know how customers want to be treated.

    Cater your culture to your customers by taking the time to study how they want to be treated and engaged with. For example, do they prefer phone calls or emails? Would they prefer in-person meetings or video chats via Skype? Are they the types to use Facebook or Twitter?

    Once you know how customers want to be treated, it’s easier for employees to engage with them and earn their trust and loyalty — this makes it simpler for the team to put your culture into action. Improved communication also helps a company grow, as customers are likely to share positive experiences with others.

  3. Revisit culture consistently.

    Culture isn’t something you can create once and then forget about. The best cultures thrive when everyone in the company is living it and using it every day.

    A Strategy& study via PwC revealed that, despite 84 percent of executives understanding the importance of culture in building successful companies, only 24 percent use culture as a driving force when implementing changes and new initiatives.

    Culture often comes across as an afterthought, even though a strong culture can help pull employees through tough times. Among companies that were able to successfully implement major changes in the study, 70 percent of employees across industries felt that the companies leveraged a culture of pride when driving change.

  4. Interview for culture.

    Skills can be learned, but cultural fit cannot. If you’re wading through hundreds of résumés and everyone is qualified for the job, it’s important to really think about who would best fit the company culture. Again, if you’re not hiring for culture, you might find that the results can be expensive and ineffective.

    Fitting in culturally also affects the employee. It’s a long-standing truth that workers who mesh well with their companies, co-workers, and supervisors are more satisfied with their jobs and more likely to stay with their organizations.

Culture is something that will happen naturally whether you get involved or not, and if you just sit back and let it happen, it’s not likely to flourish. A strong and successful company begins with a CEO who is involved in shaping and cultivating a healthy culture that focuses on customers just as much as it focuses on employees. Don’t simply leave it up to chance, as culture will inevitably define actions and attitudes.


Written by: Steve Robertson is the CEO of Julian Krinsky Camps & Programs, an organization specializing in youth-to-adult programming. In this role, his responsibility is to cultivate a culture that results in lasting memories.

Steve Robertson

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Originally from South Africa, Steve loves working with our international populations of students and staff as well as developing new programs. Contact Steve for employment and campus partnerships.
Steve Robertson

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