Organisational Culture in Defiance of authentic Customer-centric Strategy

Strategy and culture are among the primary levers that top leaders in any organisation have at their disposal to propel their organisations forward in their never-ending quest to maintain organisational viability and effectiveness.

Organisational Culture in Defiance of authentic Customer-centric Strategy

In the last article titled “Pursuing Customer Centricity as a Business Strategy,” we defined customer-centricity as a differentiation business strategy that is focused on placing the customer first and at the core of the business in order to provide positive customer experience and build long term relationships.


Furthermore, in an article published by   Harvard Business Review authored by Groysberg, the authors argue that organisational culture is the collective effect of the common beliefs, behaviours, and values of the people within an organisation. The norms within any organisation regulate how employees perform and serve customers, how they cooperate with each other, whether they feel motivated to meet goals, and if they are sincerely into the company's overall mission.


The definition further incorporates the aspect of how employees get their work done? Independently or collaboratively? Do employees feel inspired, committed and engaged, or they are annoyed, overworked and under-appreciated? These are the questions that all C-level executives should ask themselves as a quick acid test of their organisational culture. It has also been proven beyond reasonable doubt that it is the very organisational culture that differentiates between extraordinarily successful companies and the rest.  Organisational culture can be a competitive advantage that is difficult to copy, unlike products and services. It is   organisations which make culture a priority that always win big in pursuing their strategies.


Executives are often confounded by culture because much of it is anchored in unspoken behaviours, mind-sets, and social patterns. Many leaders either let it go unmanaged or relegate it to the Human Resources Department where it becomes a secondary concern for the business. This is a very serious mistake because culture can become poorly managed and thus the very ingredient that can help the organisation achieve and thrive even in the most trying times goes unchecked.


The mantra by Mark Fields is culture eats strategy for breakfast (and) comes into play if a bad culture exists in the organisation. It does not matter how strong the strategic plan may be; its efficacy will be held back by members of the team if they don't share a common desired culture. Company culture happens whether you work on it or not. Strategies are only successfully implemented and executed if people do what is required. Employees are wired towards living the organisation's values, it’s mission statements and in solid support of the execution of the strategy will propel it forward.


Unfortunately, in most cases, customer-centricity is always on a knife’s edge if the culture in an organisation is undesirable and does not regard a customer as an important stakeholder. The pursuit of customer-centricity will not be achieved and the strategy set to achieve excellent customer experience will fail. The frontline staff and their supporting cast behind the scenes must ensure that high customer satisfaction levels are achieved.


Is this possible if the organisation has a bad customer service culture? It will be impossible.  If promises made to the customer are not honoured, turnaround times are not met or at least respected, no one takes responsibility for any wrongdoing and no one cares about the customer in that organisation. In fact, there are a quite a few establishments that I can mention and you are probably thinking about some at this very moment. However, the aim of this series is to share best practices and exchange experiences and ideas and not to name and shame.


The reality we see is that most organisations don’t seem to care much about the importance of the customers or how they touch the customer.  Many times you will hear expressions such as the customer is king/queen or the customer is always right. Nice to say this or see it on a golden frame, but let us be real: How many establishments, public or private, shops, takeaways or even financial institutions are not practising what they preach? It is solely due to the organisation’s culture having gone terribly bad?


Bad customer service is encouraged and even sanctioned by those who should be dealing with bad elements who are renegades and frustrating the company’s good intentions. Without advocating for people to lose their jobs or face punitive measures, some organisations have realised that a great service culture is the only thing that differentiates them from the rest and have adopted serious service standards that have far-reaching consequences, should one demonstrate that they are in defiance of the culture. It is a fail safe environment where mistakes are allowed to happen and will be tolerated, but it should not become a habit or something often repeated. Some organisations unfortunately don’t care and yet wonder how customers’ attrition rates are high. Customers have multiple options at their disposal. They hold the power and will vote with their feet, especially if the switching costs are very low.


The history of an organization can also define culture and strategy. It is extremely vital for every organisation to encourage beliefs, values, behaviours and paradigms that will support its strategic intent. This should even start the hiring process. A bank that places customer-centricity at the forefront should identify candidates that will help it push this agenda unapologetically. Similarly, those already in the setup and are thwarting the efforts of achieving customer-centricity or any strategic intent should be respectfully and professionally dealt with. Culture cannot be taken lightly. A great culture in line with the organisation’s long term direction should be encouraged and even rewarded.



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