Think about a memorably fantastic experience you’ve had with a frontline employee. What was it that made the encounter so special?

Chances are, it was something more than just having your expectations met. Perhaps the employee helped you through a challenging situation, or anticipated a significant need. Perhaps they simply showed through their actions or demeanor that helping you out was their number one priority, regardless of everything else on their plate.

This kind of behavior can transform even the simplest encounter into something special. And it’s  not something employees typically pick up from a rulebook. Great customer service stems in large part from an employee’s attitude — and from the broader environment that provides the context for their attitude.

So what can companies do to encourage such customer-centric behavior?

A recent Medallia Institute study investigated the issue, asking 1000 frontline employees across five industries about their on-the-job behavior and their companies’ norms and values. In particular, the study examined which cultural factors (i.e., company’s norms and beliefs around customer experience) and day-to-day management practices tend to drive five key customer-centric behaviors on the frontline: ownership, initiative, persistence, proactivity, and adaptability.

At Experience 2016, Medallia’s customer experience conference, Medallia’s Senior Director of CX Research, Beth Benjamin, shared the study’s findings:

Culture study findings 1

While the presence of either strong customer-centric culture or strong management practices was found to drive customer-centric behavior on the front line, the real magic happens when culture and practices work in tandem. Medallia’s study measured what happened when companies ranked in the top 25% percentile of both cultural and organizational performance compared to a baseline of companies in the bottom 25% for both. For the highest-performing companies, their employees were far more likely to engage in customer-centric behaviors:

Culture study findings 2

Furthermore, when culture and daily practices are misaligned, the consequences are often harmful. One example is the common practice of tying individual compensation to customer satisfaction scores. While it may seem that the practice serves as a good incentive, it was not found to be a strong driver of customer-centric behaviors. Additionally, it can encourage dishonest or deceptive behavior. Compared to companies that don’t compensate the front line on customer satisfaction, employees whose compensation is tied to CX performance reported that their teammates were 1.9 times more likely to prevent unhappy customers from replying to surveys.

As customer experience leaders, it’s easy to assume that our own blend of culture and management practices are properly aligned with the flavor of customer-centricity we’re aiming for. But it’s important to realize that companies are changing all the time. At any given time, something will be out of alignment. It’s always important to create feedback loops that allow us to better understand and improve the types of behavior we’re really encouraging.

If you’d like to learn more about this research, check our recent whitepaper on building a customer-centric culture!

Photo Credit: U.S. Army