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The Reflection of Internal Culture

By Tim Bailey

"The way a customer sees your business is a direct reflection of your internal culture," according to Ken Schmidt, former Director of Communication Strategy for Harley Davidson. That is a powerful statement, which should ultimately lead every organization to question: "How does the reflection of our company's culture look to each and every customer at every possible interaction?" Or, even more personally: "if I were a customer of my company, what reflection would I be viewing throughout my customer journey?"

Culture Defined
Culture is a blending of beliefs, values, attitudes, knowledge and experience shared by a group. It provides individuals in the group with a frame of reference for expectations and actions. Culture is transmitted through a variety of mechanisms including language, behaviours and habits and is most often learned from individuals that are respected by the group. New members in a group will often model or emulate the actions, habits and behaviours of leaders or influential members in a group and those characteristics will continue to multiply.

Brand DNA
In home building, a company's internal culture is a critical component, the DNA of the brand. Competitors can copy a product or replicate a technology but no competitor can ever duplicate a culture. The internal culture of an organization provides the company with the opportunity to leave its own unique fingerprint on the customer experience and that is the ultimate value differentiator in today's competitive world. Culture grows organically and is as unique as the collective attributes that emanate from the group of individuals involved. It is alive, dynamic and ever evolving. In today's society of mass production, culture remains one of the few things that can't be manufactured.

Benefits of Internal Culture Excellence
Organizations with deficient internal cultures are filled with employees that are often fearful, inefficient, disloyal and lacking motivation. These organizations are generally mired down with heavy burdens of policies, procedures, and protocols, which stifle initiative and negatively impact the customer experience. Consumers interacting with culture-deficient companies, not surprisingly, tend to differentiate on tangible factors such as price, forcing those businesses into a race to the bottom to acquire sales.
In contrast, companies that have vibrant internal cultures foster an environment where employees feel empowered, engaged and inspired. The internal culture in these organizations is an ecosystem where individuals are nurtured, encouraged and most importantly, confident with the "customer promise" that is to be honoured and delivered. These cultures acknowledge and reward individuals in the group for creative and innovative successes, while leveraging failures as learning opportunities for all to grow. Seeds of criticism and reprimand can't take root in these types of ecosystems, providing abundant room for creativity, collaboration and innovation to grow.   

Building the Culture for Building Homes
Today's new home buyers have overwhelming choice available to them. Differentiating between numerous high-quality builders is complicated. In many cases, features and benefits from builder to builder are barely distinguishable by the average home buyer. The array of options and upgrades available blur the lines even further. Leading home builders are leveraging emotional connections to transcend features and benefits and engage home buyers. People don't do business with products, they do business with people. Forming positive emotional connections with customers is essential. These emotional connections begin within the organization and then extend outward to customers. An internal "culture of caring" is the foundation needed to build a strong customer community filled with brand evangelists.
A strong internal culture is one that can be trusted by both employee and customer. A site supervisor that acts in the best interest of a customer when faced with an issue that could jeopardize the customer experience does not fear being reprimanded in a strong culture of caring. A warranty service representative that spends a bit more time or money to create a customer "win" during a tough service call is excited to share the story in a strong culture of caring. These actions may not strictly adhere to the "paperwork or policies" but if they fulfill the "customer promise" they are in keeping with the expectations of a strong, customer-centric internal culture.

The Mirror Is Clear
What a company is on the "inside" is what a customer will experience from the "outside." While many organizations are busy gilding and polishing the mirror, leading companies are working diligently to ensure that the object in the mirror-the company's internal culture-is in fine form to provide an exceptional reflection to each and every customer.


Tim Bailey is Division President of Avid Ratings Canada, a leading provider of customer loyalty research and consulting to the home building industry. Through the Avid system, industry-leading clients improve referrals, reduce warranty costs, and strengthen their brand. He can be reached at tim.bailey@avidratings.ca.



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