“Don’t try to change your culture. Exploit it.”

With this statement, the CXPA Insights Exchange was off and running.

This was just one of ten customer experience lessons learned that at Oracle shared by Jeb Dasteel, their Senior Vice President and Chief Customer Officer. But it’s the one that resonated with members, and was repeated throughout the conference. As just one bullet point in a longer speech, it didn’t get the attention it deserved. I would have loved it if he spent his entire keynote on just this one point.

Culture is a central customer experience challenge. You can’t seriously change your customer experience without factoring in your culture. We take on customer experience roles because we want to change the company – we want everybody to be as passionate about our customers as we are. And so we set about to change the culture. But perhaps we should focus more on exploiting what we already have.

Prime Therapeutic’s Chief Customer Officer Ingrid Lindberg indirectly spoke to this in my interview with her earlier this year. I asked her how she helps all of her employees understand her customers. But that’s not their culture, so rather than trying to change it, she instead focused on process change. She created a small design team with in-depth customer knowledge, and has them work closely with teams implementing new projects. As she puts it, “I need to be able to insert customer experience designers who live, breathe, and understand our customers into every design process for every product and process we have. I bring the voice of the customer into all of a company’s processes using that team. Our customer experience designers sit at every table, whether it’s a new product launch, a new line of business launch, or a process redesign.”

Does this mean she ignores culture in favor of process? Definitely not – her first activity upon joining Prime was to work on the mission statement, “To help people get the medicine they need to feel better and live well.” She definitely works on culture – it’s just that she focuses more on exploiting her employees’ strengths than trying to change who they are.

We heard another great culture presentation from Reginald Chatman of SanDisk. Reginald promoted the three Es: Educate, Engage, and Empower. While his title was Transforming Employee Culture to Become Customer-Focused, Reginald agreed that it’s more important to exploit your culture than to change it. It’s just that transforming culture makes for a cooler title.

Reginald leads a small customer experience team, and built a program to improve customer focus, helping employees apply their traditional product focus in a more customer-centric fashion. I really enjoyed his examples, how his team built a framework to name the feelings they were trying to create for each of the three Es, as well as the behaviors generated from each. The Educate focus would help employees learn to become more inquisitive about customers. SanDisk has a traditional engineering-led culture common to many tech manufacturers. Rather than trying to change that, he and his team focused on feeding their natural curiosity with programs to learn more about their customers such as a Customer Focus Day and a Customer Appreciation Forum. And it worked – the engineers loved to learn about customers as much as they loved to learn about technology,

Think about this as you build your customer experience program. Are you using the natural strengths of your employees to drive change? Or are you stuck trying to change something that you probably should not?

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