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"Culture Eats Strategy for Breakfast"

Wise words first attributed to Peter Drucker, with an absolute significance to the success of customer service organizations today. At the end of the day, it does not matter what type of service objectives or strategies that companies may define, if the agents do not successfully deliver in each and every interaction with their customers. So your first question is what type of culture will support your objectives. Here is a shortcut to the answer. Pick any example of a service leader today, and they more than likely have a single common element of culture—empowerment. Empowerment means authorizing agents to resolve a customer’s issue, by whatever means necessary. Ritz-Carlton, Nordstrom’s, Zappos, USAA— all these leaders have built their highly successful culture based on empowerment. But empowerment is just a license to make decisions, so a bigger question remains. How do you make sure that culture is successful? I have taken the license to modify Drucker’s original quote to help with the answer. Culture may eat strategy for breakfast, but Knowledge eats culture for lunch.

  • Knowledge is the prerequisite for delivering a culture of empowerment. It means bringing together all relevant information to:
  • help an agent understand the customer
  • guide the agent to the response that solves the customer issue
  • give the agent insight about the customer to recommend appropriate actions, and
    deliver on the strategy and objectives for the service organization.

Knowledge sits in multiple locations, and multiple formats, and must be consolidated immediately to the agent in a format that supports quick decisions.

I think about myself being suddenly put in the role of President of the United States during a time of world crisis. I am authorized to make a decision, but I would not feel confident making any decision without access to all of my advisors. Without those advisors, I would make a decision that had the least impact to everyone, just to be safe.

We saw a similar situation working with a leading manufacturer of windows and doors for new construction, remodeling and replacement. They support customers through two contact centers and 65 different sales locations across the United States and Canada. The products are not extremely complex, but the product catalog is extensive. The real complexity in the customer conversation comes from understanding the customer installation, and warranty eligibility. While eligibility is just a simple yes/no question, it depends on several factors. The agents in this company have always been empowered to make the right decision to support the customer, but when it came to warranty, they were not properly informed. Their default response was to provide the customer with warranty if there was any doubt--resulting in providing replacements and services for free.

The company took a step towards improving knowledge to support their culture of empowerment, and strategy for driving customer loyalty. It created an integrated knowledge base and CRM environment across its B2B and B2C businesses—and the results were improved customer service and insight.

With the integrated solution, the company’s customer service agents and field service technicians can now efficiently handle customer and partner interactions, as well as easily retrieve customer information, such as asset (window or door) location, warranty information, and purchase history. By providing an informed decision around a simple Yes/No question for warranty, the company was able to improve revenues by more than seven figures! The warranty eligibility is a simple question to the customer with a significant impact on the overall success of service objectives. The company developed a foundation of knowledge, designed a culture of empowerment, and delivered on their overall service objectives.