The Impact of Company Culture on Customer Experiences

When we think about a company’s culture, we’ll often consider how it feels to work there. We will sometimes refer to a company’s culture as being political, but in reality, politics is a symptom of cultural discord, not interpersonal challenges or a reflection of cultural values. Some situations in which politics arise include:

  • Inconsistently executed brand values
  • A misunderstanding among teams of a company’s mission, vision, and brand
  • Conflicting perception regarding how success should be rewarded
  • Unclear roles and responsibilities among teams (often expressed through duplications and overlap)

So, what really is a company’s culture?

When we focus on creating a brand, identifying brand values, and developing a corporate culture, we sometimes forget that there are baseline culture “types” defined according to the organizational culture assessment instrument (OCAI). This is a “validated survey method to assess current and preferred organizational cultures. The OCAI is based on Quinn and Cameron’s Competing Values Framework Model, which has been used by over 12,000 companies worldwide.” (see this blog post about the OCAI)

You have probably heard about this framework before. It is based on the impact of leadership styles, employee interactions, if the company culture is focused inward or outward, the company’s level of competitiveness, and their perception of the customer’s role in the company.

According to the OCAI website, the original study identified and tracked six factors regarding company cultures:

  • Dominant characteristics
  • Organizational leadership
  • Management of employees
  • Organization glue
  • Strategic emphases
  • Criteria of success

After results were gathered, the data started to fall into clear patterns and categories. The quadrants for the framework were defined using “internal focus and integration vs. external focus and differentiation, and stability and control vs. flexibility and discretion.” (see this blog post about the OCAI)

This is why there are four core cultures for the OCAI. Let’s go through them.

The first is the Collaborative or Clan culture, which is focused on collaboration and teamwork. It is flexible and internally focused. How the OCAI online defines the culture is “People have a lot in common, and it feels like a large family. The leaders are seen as mentors or maybe even father figures. The organization is held together by loyalty and tradition. There is great involvement. They emphasize long-term Human Resource Development. Success is defined within the framework of addressing the needs of the clients and caring for the people. The organization promotes teamwork, participation, and consensus.” Essentially, teams and people matter in these cultures and the team needs to come together to get work done. Consensus is valued, important, and required for decision making. 

The second is Create or Adhocracy culture, which focuses on energy and creativity. It is flexible and externally focused. This is defined by OCAI online as “a dynamic and creative working environment. Employees take risks. Leaders are seen as innovators and risk takers. Experiments and innovation are a way of bonding. Prominence is emphasized. The long-term goal is to grow and create new resources. The availability of new products or services is seen as a success. The organization promotes individual initiative and freedom.” This is a culture that enjoys creation and seeing a new future. It’s a culture that many companies try to emulate because such cultures are the hotbeds of innovation.

The third is Compete or Market culture, which is focused on competition and achieving concrete results. It is stable and externally focused. This is defined by OCAI online as “a results-based workplace that emphasizes targets, deadlines, and getting things done. People are competitive and focused on goals. Leaders are hard drivers, producers, and rivals. They can be tough with high expectations. The emphasis on winning keeps the organization together. Reputation and success are the most important. Long-term focus is on rival activities and reaching goals. Market dominance, achieving your goals, and great metrics are the definitions of success. Competitive prices and market leadership are important. The organizational style is based on competition.” This is a very driven culture that sees the bottom line of success.

The fourth is Control or Hierarchy culture focused on structure and control. It is stable and internally focused. This is defined by OCAI online as “a formalized and structured workplace. Procedures direct what people do. Leaders are proud of efficiency-based coordination and organization. Keeping the organization functioning smoothly is most crucial. Formal rules and policies keep the organization together. The long-term goals are stability and results, paired with an efficient and smooth execution of tasks. Reliable delivery, continuous planning, and low cost define success. The personnel management has to guarantee work and predictability.” The focus is internal on smooth process with rules. People do what they need to do in their daily tasks and deliver results like the compete culture, but at the same time, there is a more formal structure with management guiding the way.

All companies fit into one of the four culture types. A company may exhibit traits that combine two of the types, but that is rare; usually there is one dominant type that describes a company’s core culture.

Your company’s culture has many impacts upon how you implement a customer experience. A clan culture may influence teams to create experiences that support customer collaborations and value those bonding customer experiences. Adhocracy cultures may encourage customer creativity and find ways to allow customers to achieve that. Market cultures may create experiences that help customers achieve specific results and key metrics. Hierarchical cultures may focus on creating digital processes and streamlining experiences. These cultures guide employees to use a particular focus or approach to solve customer problems and achieve results in a better way more suited to their environment and encourage other employees to help too. Employees create a customer experience unique to their culture, leveraging such specific qualities and strengths, which help build better customer relationships that are unique with that organization. (read more)

It would be rare to see a hierarchical company create something for customer creativity or building connection. Same with a collaborative culture—it may not be able to truly streamline customer experiences or focus exclusively on bottom line results, but it builds great relationships with customers that last for years. Notice how Apple doesn’t produce workflow products, but they create products to support and promote creative projects. Hardware IT companies are focused on improving system performance of their customers as well as optimizing their own performance internally. Hierarchical companies often streamline processes—for themselves and customers. It’s rare that they encourage customers to create.

The value a company offers customers, it’s approach to solving a problem, and its brand are all tied to its culture. It’s a package that produces results when all is working in harmony, and if one element isn’t consistent or aligned, disaster is bound to happen. This is why some companies that produce a product or service that is uncharacteristic for them fail. The solution may employ a different approach that is inconsistent with how the company works, its product offering, or approach to business. In such a case, this product or service isn’t reflecting the brand and the employees can’t support it because it’s not part of their experience or culture. Together, this means the solution isn’t right for the company.

If we look at the Xbox, Microsoft needed to separate that brand from its main brand identity not only because the product was not consistent with its competitive workflow offerings, but it had a highly innovative product—and culture. Not only was the product a video game, the Xbox team had a very different approach to the market, it’s video game solution, and how it worked internally. Now, the Xbox team is blending with Microsoft to spread the Adhocracy cultural elements, but this isn’t an easy task and a long-term goal. Microsoft’s culture is innovative and creative, but not to the level of Xbox.

We don’t realize that our company’s culture reflects our company’s brand, defined by our company’s vision and mission statements, and impacts how we interact with customers. And although a customer experience is an extension of a company’s brand, it is also an extension of a company’s culture. Does this OCAI framework mean that there are four basic ways to interact with a customer? In a way, yes.

Company cultures will favor approaches for interacting with customers and messaging their solutions. But the complexities of a brand and its cultural expression can be found in how it is executed by the values expressed and the communication approach used.

So, there aren’t just 4 types of brands; it’s infinite. Just like how there is an infinite variety of company cultures based on these four categories. But the OCAI cultures can provide you with some insight into who your company is, allowing you to create solutions that more fully leverage its brand and cultural elements. Such insights will also allow you to create more authentic conversations that support your brand and ultimately, build better customer relationships.