How to Build a Successful Customer Support Culture

Jayaram Bhat | January 11, 2019

Five customer support agents put their fingers together to form a star

Over the past several years, “culture” has joined the ranks of “mindshare,” “synergy,” and “wheelhouse” on the list of top corporate jargon. Unfortunately, just like those other words, the more popular the term has become, the less meaning it seems to have.

As one management consultant put it, “[T]oo often it is simply a misunderstood buzzword that companies easily throw around in boilerplate speeches while concurrently failing to truly address culture head-on.”

What Is Corporate Culture?

So what is the true meaning of “culture” when it comes to businesses? “Culture is the set of behaviors, values, artifacts, reward systems, and rituals that make up your organization,” explains Forbes. “You can ‘feel’ culture when you visit a company, because it is often evident in people’s behavior, enthusiasm, and the space itself.”

Harvard Business Review echoes this sentiment, breaking company culture down into six components:

  • Vision
  • Values
  • Practices
  • People
  • Narrative
  • Place

Why Does It Matter?

It should be obvious that corporate culture involves a lot more than having a foosball table in the office or providing free lunches or beer to employees. But why does it matter? While having a healthy corporate culture can produce a variety of benefits, the reason to care ultimately boils down to one thing: culture directly affects the bottom line in a big way.

According to former Harvard University Professor James L. Heskett, “[E]ffective culture can account for 20-30 percent of the differential in corporate performance when compared with ‘culturally unremarkable’ competitors.” A study by Duke University, along with research from Bain & Company, McKinsey & Company, and Gallup, provides further evidence regarding the link between culture and business success.

“A culture is not a by-product of a company’s strategy, brand, or products,” writes Joshua Seedman, founder and chairman of PNI Consulting. “Instead, success, including product innovation, customer loyalty, and profitable growth are all byproducts of a company’s culture or lack thereof.”

Customer Support (CS) Culture

But what about CS culture? What is it, and why does it matter? As customer experience (CX) consultant and trainer Micah Solomon explains, “Building and nurturing your customer service culture should be the foundation that supports and sustains superior customer service. It’s the bedrock upon which a properly designed and focused customer experience should rest.”

To put it simply: CS culture matters because it serves as the foundation for a company’s CX, which substantially affects a business’s bottom line.

When Building CS Culture, Connection Is Key

At Squelch, our mission is to empower the support and success heroes who serve on the front lines helping customers day-in and day-out. We know that happy customers are profitable customers, and happy agents help get you there. Accordingly, we want to explore how to build a CS culture that will benefit both customer-facing employees and customers themselves.  

According to Michael Lee Stallard, author of Connection Culture: The Competitive Advantage of Shared Identity, Empathy and Understanding at Work, the critical aspect of culture for both groups is connection. “Brands want their customers to be engaged and feel connected to the company. But it’s hard for employees to give customers what they themselves don’t have. A company won’t have energetic and enthusiastic employees who connect with customers if those employees don’t feel connected to the company.”

Stallard identifies five key benefits of this so-called connection culture:

  • Employees have cognitive clarity.
  • They give their best effort.
  • They align their work with the organization’s goals.
  • They communicate more.
  • They engage in creativity to fuel innovation.

Stallard sums it up: “A connection culture builds long-term, sustainable performance, which creates a high-quality customer experience.”

Successful CS Culture Requires Developing Connection Throughout the Organization

Stallard primarily frames connection culture in terms of an individual employee feeling connected (or not) to their company. But in order to truly create a positive environment for both customer-facing teams and customers themselves, it’s important to foster a sense of connection throughout the organization.

Specifically, companies must develop and strengthen connection:

  • Among members of the customer support and success teams
  • Between customer-facing teams and other departments at the company
  • Across all levels of the organization, including executives

Bringing Customer Teams Together

At the most basic level, companies must ensure that all customer support and success employees are on the same page. One way that organizations — particularly call centers — can accomplish this is by instituting a “customer support huddle” in which employees begin each day (or each shift) by coming together to discuss one principle related to customer experience.

Also, “By having a different employee leading your huddle every day, this ritual becomes a multi-pronged catalyst of culture,” explains Forbes. “It directly provides learning to all who attend. It develops leadership skills among the employees who lead it. It fosters togetherness and team spirit among the attendees. And, if you make a point of backing up customer service principles with examples of superior service as provided previously within your company, it provides an opportunity to recognize employees for the great service they’ve provided.”

Creating a Customer Mindset Across Departments

In addition to achieving alignment among members of the customer support and success teams, companies must work to deepen connections between these teams and other departments across the organization. One approach is to focus on lateral or internal service, which Forbes defines as “when we provide customer service to the people we work with, helping them to do their best to serve external customers and promote the interests of our company.”

Other ideas for aligning internal teams to better serve your customers include:

  • Share information. Silos often exist because employees in each department don’t have a clear understanding of other teams. So it’s important to make open communication a priority.
  • Hold weekly stand-up meetings across departments. A weekly check-in of 30 minutes max will allow each department to share pertinent information that’s valuable for others to hear and help ensure everyone is on the same page.
  • Select one person from each department to be responsible for communicating updates and issues to the point-people from other departments. Making this the responsibility of a single person helps ensure that information gets shared and that each person brings relevant knowledge back to their team.
  • Consider setting goals across teams. Maybe sales and customer support have a shared mission around customer churn or customer satisfaction. Or perhaps product development, customer support, and marketing have joint goals around client education.

To learn more about this topic, download a free copy of “The Value of Customer Support Across Your Organization.” This eBook takes a deep dive into the various ways in which your support team impacts your business as a whole and also offers suggestions for achieving closer alignment between support and other departments across your company.

You might also be interested in viewing a webinar that Squelch co-hosted with the Technology Services Industry Association (TSIA), which offered advice on “How to Align Customer Experience Across Your Company to Achieve Business Success.”

Ensuring Customers Are Prioritized at All Levels

The final aspect of building a successful CS culture is to ensure that customers are prioritized at all levels of the organization. Mark McClain, founder and CEO of SailPoint, explains how this is accomplished at his company: “To this day, we literally go through every significant customer concern as an executive team, not only to understand the health of our overall customer base but to quickly address each customer concern in-depth.”

Depending on how large the customer base is, it might not be feasible to review every customer complaint at the executive level. But regardless of size, the underlying principle remains true: a CS culture will only succeed if it is embraced at every rung of the organizational ladder.

As McClain concludes, “[P]utting customers first and leading by example as a business leader is crucial, leading to an important trickle-down effect throughout the rest of the company. This is the only way to become a customer-obsessed organization.”