Customer-First Culture

Caroline Cooper on how to involve and empower your team in owning customer experience.

Cartoon of people with starsHave you ever had a good customer experience when served by someone who is completely disengaged with their work or their organisation? Probably not. Now think of the opposite end of the spectrum. When someone is really proud of what they do.

Creating a culture where your team can be proud of their contribution has a massive impact on employee engagement, and all the knock-on benefits of staff retention and productivity. And, of course, your customers’ experiences.

Your team can be a real differentiator for your business and are a key driver of customer experience, but only if you let them! So how can you create such a culture where people feel proud of what they do, proud to represent your business and proud to be of service to your customers?

If you actively involve your team in all aspects of the customer journey it creates an emotional attachment to the business, gives them ownership, and helps them feel valued and proud of their contribution. Here are my top seven ideas to get you started:

1. What good looks like
As the owner or manager you probably have an image of what a good customer experience looks like, sounds like, and feels like. It’s important your team shares this image, so everyone is aligned and working towards the same experience.

A useful exercise is to ask everyone in the team to write a thank you letter, as if sent by the customer after their event or stay, to you (or the team member personally) saying how they felt. What would the team member like that letter to say about the event and about them personally, that would make them feel happy and proud? Asking the team to share what they’ve written or just some of the words they’d like customers to use to describe the event helps create a goal.

Once everyone has this image of what that looks like it’s a lot easier for your team to identify what else needs to happen to achieve that goal, and for that vision to become reality.

2. Put them in charge
If you have a new prospect or visitor coming to view your site for an event, give responsibility to one of your team to:
• Research them online. See if they can get a sense of what’s important to the visitor, so you can tailor their visit accordingly
• Do a site inspection before the visit to check everything is showing your venue in the best possible light, particularly areas they know the visitor will be interested in seeing. Brief others in the team, and let them know who is coming and the itinerary
• Find out where they are coming from. If by public transport can they collect them so you are in control of the whole visit? If not…
• Organise the welcome – ensure someone is there to meet them at the entrance (with a brolly if it’s raining!) when they arrive. Be ready with the offer of refreshments
• Follow up with whatever has been promised. Send a hand-written thank you note thanking them for their visit.
Your team are often closer to your customers, with events a long time in the planning, and they will inevitably build relationships with customers, getting to understand their priorities, expectations and preferences. Putting them in charge from the outset gets this started.

3. ‘Wow’ budgets
Give your team the authority to do whatever is best for a customer in any situation. When the customer hears “I’m not allowed to do that”, or “I’ll have to get my manager”, not only is this frustrating for the customer, it’s demotivating for the team member, and time wasting for you if you have to be pulled away from what you’re doing. You still need to specify at what point things get escalated or referred to you, but allowing that little bit more freedom is a win-win all round.

One way to manage this is by allocating a ‘wow budget’, i.e. an amount a team member can invest in keeping a customer happy. This isn’t just for resolving issues. Help your team identify other situations that lend themselves as an opportunity to wow your customers or add extra value. This might be pre-empting customers’ needs, remembering specific preferences, or simply making personal recommendations or suggestions to help.



GLUE stands for ‘Giving Little Unexpected Extras’. GLUE has greatest impact when it’s spontaneous and relevant to the customer and the situation. Help your team identify opportunities for adding GLUE, so when the time comes they can just do it.

For example:
One of my clients keeps a stack of note cards in the office, and anyone in the team can write a note for a customer at any time, before, during or after their stay or event. They might send a card beforehand saying how much they are looking forward to their big day, during they may leave a card in a guest’s cabin with a personal recommendation, or after it may be a thank you.

After a wedding, they might send a welcome home card to arrive after the honeymoon. This creates a very personal touch, for both the team member and the customer.

Server working at a bar

4. Role model
Hopefully, your team members already have great interpersonal skills to engage with customers and make them feel welcome – to smile, be happy, positive, be a good listener, and you look for these traits as part of your recruitment process.

It’s not just your front of house team who need to have good customer service skills and product knowledge; anyone within your team your customers might encounter can influence their experience.

Your team will take their lead from you, so be the perfect role model and treat your team as you’d expect them to treat your customers. If you want employees to exceed customers’ expectations, start by exceeding employees’ expectations of you.

5. Systems
Having systems in place makes lives easier for your team so they don’t have to reinvent the process every time, and ensures consistency for your customers. Systems shouldn’t be about red tape, but be there to help with the routine, leaving your team the time and energy to respond and personalise.

It might be as simple as a checklist of questions to ask at initial enquiry, what to cover on your showrounds, templates for confirmation emails or how-to instructions e.g. how to set up a virtual showround.

The easiest way to create these systems is to ask your team to record the steps they take then test and document the process so everyone has access. Then let them be the custodians.

One critical system to have in place is for handovers. What if a client’s point of contact is sick? Particularly on the immediate run up to an event or even on the day? Could someone else take over if needed without the client being affected?

6. What if…
Equip your team to deal with the unexpected, so that if and when things don’t go according to plan they don’t go to pieces. The more you and your team can anticipate unscheduled events and have a strategy for handling them, the more confident they will be and the more likely they will deal with them smoothly.

Your goal is to minimise the impact on the customer. Create a culture of continuous improvement. Review each event once it’s over to take stock of what went well, what didn’t go so well, and feedback you’ve had from customers. Ask the team for their observations, what ideas or recommendations they have for next time, what support, systems or resources might help, and anything they learnt or would do differently next time.

7. Lasting impressions
Your customers’ last point of contact with you will determine their abiding memory. It’s easy to forget the ‘after sales service’. What’s the very last thing your client or their guests see at the end of an event? The loos, your car park, your team on a break? What happens in the last stages of someone’s stay that ensures they feel appreciated?

Even if a prospective customer doesn’t go ahead and book, what’s the last impression they have of your venue and your team, and is it something that would prompt them to remain an advocate and remember you for next time?

Encourage your team to ask for direct feedback; something they’ll often shy away from. Quite apart from missing out on the opportunity to resolve any problem – however small – before they leave, it’s also very rewarding for your team when they get to hear positive feedback first-hand.

Is there a process in place to review that feedback so you can build on the positives and resolve any shortfalls to prevent them happening again? Does your culture encourage feedback and suggestions from the team and view any mishaps as a learning opportunity rather than apportioning blame?

Letting it happen
The more you involve your team in each part of the customer journey, the more ownership they will have. In most cases they can see exactly how to improve your customers’ experience, so let them have their say and make it possible for them to take these ideas on board.


About the Author
Caroline Cooper is the founder of Naturally Loyal and has over 30 years’ training and development experience in hospitality. Recognising that managers in hospitality often get promoted into management positions without much training, her key focus is on developing newly promoted and junior managers to lead and engage their teams effectively. You can download her free Employee Engagement Guide here

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