The Value of Developing Corporate Culture

What can you do to encourage the culture you want to develop in your business?

When you walk in the doors of a great company, you can feel it. There's a kind of electricity in the air. Everyone is going about their work with sense of purpose and pride, working toward something they believe in and want to be a part of.  What you're experiencing is the outcome of a great culture, and to an entrepreneur, it's poetry in motion. 

Culture is the set of shared values, goals and behaviours that characterize an organization. It’s the glue that bonds people together for a common purpose. However, if you ask that same entrepreneur to explain it, they’ll often have difficulty. They might tell you about the outstanding men and women who work for them or about the amazing culture that binds them, but rarely can they explain how or why it works. Only that it does.

Sometimes a corporate culture is shaped unwittingly by the natural charisma of a strong leader who promotes and encourages a certain type of behaviour. Unfortunately, when a culture is driven by only one person, their influence can be diluted as the organization grows. Should that leader move on, the culture may leave along with them. To avoid this, a culture must be valued and developed as its own entity.

A strong and independent culture will be built on the foundation of a set of clear corporate values. Corporate values are intended to shape the behaviour of all stakeholders. They help keep a company pointed in the right direction and perhaps more importantly, help attract and identify the right employees. If your employees don’t share your corporate values, the environment at your company will be unlikely to reflect your principles.

As important as the right people are, it’s not enough just to hire well. What makes a culture truly effective is the value of continuous improvement. The result is an environment where everyone takes an active daily interest in making the company better than it was the day before. Whether you want to build a culture of innovation, customer service, or hard-driving sales, the core value of continuous improvement will take you there.

The good news is that you don’t have to go that far to make an impact. Start small and go from there. Something as simple as a fresh coat of paint, for example, can have a positive influence on the care your employees put into their work. A simple litmus test is to ask, “Does this positively influence the culture of our organization?” If the answer is “yes,” the employees involved are more likely to act as internal champions, helping you achieve the great culture you’re striving for.

You already know that there’s a culture that exists in your business. There are parts of it that you love, and parts that you would love to do without. Consciously watch for positive aspects of culture in your business. Build systems that support and encourage those aspects when you discover them. Often the best ideas will show up on their own. In fact, they probably already exist within your company. You just need to recognize them and capture them through documented systems. Otherwise they may fade away as quickly as they showed up.

Your corporate culture will reflect itself in your employees’ attitudes toward each other, their jobs and your company. You will be grateful for the investment you put into building your corporate culture and it will pay dividends in the long run. Not only will it have a positive impact on your employees and the environment at your business but your customers will feel the impact as well, increasing your bottom line for years to come.


Handling Customer Service Problems


“If we don’t take care of our customers, someone else will.” –Edgar Mitchell

Despite your business’ commitment to 100% customer satisfaction, things will occasionally go wrong.  People have bad days, employees make mistakes, and communications break down.  This being the case, you need a contingency plan that will kick into action when all else fails.  You need a safety net to catch any unhappy customers that might fall through the cracks.

What’s your contingency plan?

Always have a safety net to catch any unhappy customers that might fall through the cracks.

Regular mistakes can cause you to lose business, but the occasional honest mistake shouldn’t drive your customers away.  In fact, handled properly, a mistake can create an opportunity to show your customers just how much you care.  The way your company deals with the things that go wrong often makes the difference between a loyal customer and an ex-customer.

Although most unhappy customers never complain, 90% of dissatisfied customers never buy the product again.  Furthermore, an unhappy customer will typically tell at least 9 other people about their bad experience.  That’s why it is always the best policy to take a proactive approach by immediately correcting any mistakes that you catch, rather than letting the little ones slide.

Recurring problems can be managed through systems and policies.  Following your customer service systems, providing customers with more training or answering FAQs can help reduce issues from cropping up regularly.

Random situations, on the other hand, are too unpredictable to fully plan for.  These must be managed on a case-by-case basis.  This doesn’t mean that these problems can’t be solved using systems, but it does mean that the appropriate flexibility must be built in.

Consider the following concepts to reduce the impact of your random customer service problems:

1. Preventative Action

To head off customer service problems before they have a chance to grow, regularly initiate contact with recent customers to find out if they are still happy with their purchases.  A quick follow-up, be it by phone, email, or survey, is often all it takes to draw valuable feedback from customers and enable you to reach out if they are unhappy. 

2. Communicate Bad News Ahead of Time

When you’ve got bad news, it is always better to let your customers know in advance, rather than let them find out on their own.  They may still be upset, but the after-effects will be much less damaging.  Letting your customer know that their order is delayed but that you will personally drop it off the moment it is ready, for example, will cause much less damage to your customer relations than simply letting it arrive late and apologizing for it later.

3. The Customer is Right

Begin your problem-solving process from your customer’s perspective, with the assumption that the customer is always right.  This can be hard to do, but assuming that they are wrong will only make you appear condescending.  This will get their backs up and they’ll dig their heels in that much harder.  Your goal is to diffuse the situation, not inflame it.  Your customer believes they are right, so start there and work towards a solution.

4. Apologize

To show your customer that you understand their point of view you need to empathize with them and you need to apologize.  If you are in the wrong, quickly admit your mistakes and begin the process of repairing any damaged trust.

Saying you are sorry doesn’t necessarily mean that you admit that you made a mistake.  If your customer is in the wrong, don’t go out of your way to prove it to them.  Instead, try saying something like, “I’m sorry this happened to you, I’d feel exactly the same way if I were in your shoes.  What can we do to make it right?”

When you admit your mistakes and commit your resources to resolving them, your customers will respect and appreciate your honesty and integrity. 

5.  Solve the Problem

Focus on solutions rather than on blame. Take the attitude that every problem has a solution, and you will not give up until you find it.  Think of solving your customer’s problem as a joint mission, taking your customer on a search for the solution to their problem.  Solve the problem by offering a fair resolution.  One way to do this is to ask your customers what they feel would be fair.  Given the choice, most customers will respond with a fair and reasonable request.  Acting on your customers’ resolutions goes a long way towards re-establishing trust.

6. Mend the Relationship

When your customer feels injured in some way as a result of their complaint, it may be appropriate to try to mend the relationship by offering something that is of value to them.  A free dessert or appetizer at a restaurant is a good example, but the concept can be applied to any industry.  Set some parameters and empower your employees to follow through.  In most cases the atonement doesn’t need to be overly substantial in order to have a positive impact.  Showing your customers that you care is often more important than the amount that you spend.

7. Use the Information as Feedback

Customers with legitimate complaints are your best sources of information about your company.  They let you see your most pressing problems, up close and personal.  Remember, most customers who are unhappy with your business don’t complain.  They simply don’t come back.  You are then left with the difficulty of guessing what went wrong.  Luckily, complainers are willing to let you know right up front.  It is amazing how many companies hire consultants to tell them what they would have already known if they had only listened to their customers in the first place.


Going forward, you may want to consider some of the following to enable your team to effectively respond to unhappy customers:

Customer Service Training

Teach your employees basic customer relations skills and explore various methods of handling complaints.  By training your employees to problem solve “on their feet,” they will be better prepared to diffuse customer service problems quickly.

Empowered Employees

Customers never like to wait, especially when they are upset about something.  Give your employees the authority to make decisions on the spot and they will be better able to take care of your customers’ concerns without delay.

Corporate Values

An understanding of your basic business values gives everyone on your staff a place to start when faced with an issue.  It will also inform your employees’ decisions, actions and attitudes towards customers.

As Sam Walton says, “There is only one boss.  The customer.  And he can fire everyone in the company from the chairman on down, simply by spending his money somewhere else.”

In today’s competitive marketplace, outstanding customer service is surprisingly rare.  This makes customer service one of the best opportunities around for adding value.  Responding well to an unhappy customer plays a big part in customer satisfaction: how your company handles problems can be a game-changer.  Become a frontrunner in customer service and your company will stand out from the pack in a big way.  

How to Gain a Competitive Advantage in Any Market

Many business consultants will encourage you to keep your focus on the customer, which to a large extent is good advice. After all, you can’t build a business without customers, but is it really as simple as that? What is equally important is to focus on your core competencies: to identify and develop the things your business does particularly well. Your niche, if you will.

Ask yourself what your business does particularly well. Is it the way you manage customer relationships? Is it your ability to innovate in a particular area? Or is it a unique specialization of skills within your industry? Think about the people who work with you. Why are they there? Do they share any unique qualities? If your employees are few, or non-existent, think about yourself, your partners, or the people you would like to hire and consider the same questions.

Your core competencies are not simply your ability to produce a particular product or service, it is the one or two outstanding abilities of your business.

It is better to be outstanding in a few areas than to be average in many. In other words, focus on what you do well.

Building on your strengths can also be an effective way to distinguish and distance yourself from your competition.

For instance when Megan Driscoll founded EvolveMKD, a New York public relations firm, she carved out a niche by specializing in two subjects she knew well: beauty and health care. Driscoll’s decision to specialize led to so much growth in her small company that she had hired 10 employees within its first 6 months to keep up with demand.

Of course, you don’t like to brag, but if you were pushed, you would be able to come up with a few things that your company does very well. You may be masters of marketing, or you may have a secret blend of 11 herbs and spices that really set you apart. When people talk about your company, they talk about these things. These are your core competencies. They are the thing you do that makes you the most money. They make your company special, and your products desirable in the eyes of your customers. You will know you’ve landed on a core competency that can be developed into a competitive advantage if it is:

1. Valuable – it allows your company to exploit opportunities or neutralize threats in the business environment.

2. Rare – it’s a capability that few, if any, competitors possess

3. Costly or difficult to imitate- it’s a capability that competitors can’t easily develop either because they don’t have the ability, depth of understanding, or corporate culture to support.

4. Non-substitutable-Your offering can’t be replaced by another.

According to Leslie Balmorth, COO of Tauber & Balser, “Today, firms need to become famous for the specialized services they provide to remain competitive in the business marketplace.” A core competency especially has the potential to give you a competitive advantage when it is valuable and unique from your customer’s point of view.

Just remember to hold back from developing too many core competencies! You can get stretched thin, and have your focus divided. As Marty Neumeier says, “The three most important words in differentiating your brand: focus, focus and focus.”

Invest your resources into a few areas where you know you can make a good return on them. Identify and develop your company’s niche offerings and watch as you distinguish yourself from your competitors and gain the advantage in your market.

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