Culture Hacker: Creating a Great Customer Experience via Internal Culture

The term “culture hacking” refers to the reprogramming of a company’s internal code, or in other words, its culture. The culture is composed of the mindset and attitude of the people included in the group. So, to put it simply, a culture hacker is someone who recodes the mindset and attitude of a group.

80% of companies believe that they deliver a superior customer experience, but only 8% of their customers agree, according to a Bain & Company study in 2012. That gap goes a long way in explaining the disenchantment and apathy of customers toward brands, which they once cleaved to loyally. However, brand advocacy doesn’t have to be a thing of the past — in fact, companies that deliver excellent customer experiences are enjoying great reputations and followings. So, how do you become one of the greats, like Starbucks, Zappos and similar companies?

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Brands that deliver excellent customer experiences have something in common. They socialize their employees’ attitudes to deliver that exceptional service, creating a culture of putting customers first. They invest in and focus on their greatest opportunity to build a relationship with the customer — their employees. Why does it work? Because it is through people that we are made to feel good.

An emotional connection can be developed through the product, place, process, or people. However, these days the product is basically the same from brand-to-brand, so it isn’t a differentiating factor for customers. Furthermore, the place is often the same, with every brand striving to offer flavored waters, nice furniture, soothing music, and scent programs, so the place isn’t a true differentiator. The process shouldn’t be a differentiator, because every brand should seek to waste as little of the customer’s time as possible.

What remains is the people element: people are your opportunity to make customers smile, engage them in conversation, make them feel known and welcome, and to provide insights and a sense of importance through the recognition of loyal customers. Your people, and the customer experience they create, can distinguish you from competitors that have narrow product, place, and process advantages.

While marketing teams advertise a customer promise, your employees are on the front line delivering the actual experience, which could vary drastically from the promised one. It’s no wonder that so many customers are fed up with products and service delivery, because if the employees’ mindset and attitude demonstrates that they don’t care, then why would your customers care?

You might be wondering, can you really change a culture or the mindset and attitude of your people? We all know that Starbucks, Zappos and similar companies started out with great cultures. Yet, once an undesired culture exists, how can you reshape the mindset and attitude of employees who most likely make minimum wage? The answer is not by kicking and screaming, or through long, traditional training sessions. Your culture must inspire your people to want to take care of the customer. If you are asking how to do that, then don’t worry, we’re about to cover the mechanisms.

By definition, a hacker exploits weakness in a system. Thus, a culture hacker looks to identify weaknesses in the mechanisms that have the biggest influence on how someone feels about what they do and why they do it. You might be surprised to learn that it’s not about money. The mechanisms culture hackers exploit are easily recognizable, and yet they get ignored often. So, take a moment and consider these mechanisms, because they are vital to increase employee engagement and satisfaction, and to inspire your people to want to deliver a great customer experience.

To make your people want to emotionally connect with customers in a positive way regardless of wage, you have to align, enhance, engage, socialize, and inspire your people. The mechanisms to do this are found in the areas of Values, Talent Development, Strategy, Scores & Plans, Communication, and Leadership.


Values are how we act and interact with others. Actions and interactions should be aligned with the experience your brand promises to customers. Without established values, employees are left to determine their personal values, which vary drastically and deliver varied experiences to customers. Values should guide company selection policies, orientation outlines, and employee recognition programs. Too many companies are not hiring the right person based on a fit with the company’s beliefs. Companies must realize that a person’s first day on the job is the best opportunity you have to influence a new hire’s thinking; it’s an experience that sets them up for success. The formalized feedback mechanisms of recognition and discipline need to have a foundation in the values of the company also, but too often they are arbitrary and rely on the subjective influence of managers.

Talent Development

Talent Development is how we enhance the capabilities of our people. Companies that invest in learning and team development outperform those that do not, so even if you fear employees will leave after expensive training, you should consider the performance of your company. Companies that invest in this reduce waste and eliminate mistakes, delivering greater consistency and also reducing employee turnover, because employees are happier when they feel a company invests in their learning. A recent Deloitte survey found that growth and development was the second priority for millennial applicants, just after well being, as a reason to stay with a company.

Strategy, Scores & Plans

Strategy, Scores & Plans are used to engage our people. You have to share the objectives of your business, the current scores of how you are doing, and invite your people to be a part of making improvements. Companies must be more transparent about key metrics and plans. This approach will create a more inclusive culture, and it will engage the people on the front line (the ones dealing with your customers) to help deliver the desired customer experience. By engaging your people in the process of improving the customers experience, you not only improve your business but also the engagement of your team.


Communication is how you socialize and update your people. With so much money spent on communication with customers, it’s amazing how little is spent on the employees who are the front line to those customers. Engage your people in multiple forms of communication to keep them informed. Remember that not everyone processes information the same, so a mixture of verbal, written, and active communication tools are required. Coming from the Ritz Carlton Hotel Company, I still believe the daily pre-shift meeting is the most important way to communicate. The ten minutes spent each day to align, inspire, educate, and socialize your people is that the most watched person in the company is the boss: ensure you are leading by example, because your actions, words, and attitude send the biggest message of all.


Leadership is all about how you inspire your people to deliver the desired customer experience. Leaders drive the predisposition of your team to want to take care of customers. By developing leadership competencies and skills, you can demonstrate how entry-level workers can grow within the company to support your team. The presence of leaders who can energize, direct, and inspire is critical to great customer experiences, and yet so many companies still adhere to the myth that the best employee will make the best manager. While it can and certainly should happen, without an investment in training many new managers find themselves making procedures up or resorting to outdated ideas.

These mechanisms need to be the focus for all companies if they are committed to keeping their best people and their best customers. These are the mechanisms to be analyzed for weaknesses and reprogrammed when applicable. The process of evolving a culture is not a quick fix, nor can it be a flavor-of-the-month idea. It takes time, dedication, and innovation. By recoding your company culture, you can improve your customer experience and develop lasting brand loyalty with your fans, and that should be the goal of every business.

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