What role does culture play in customer engagement?

Written by on May 22, 2019

You’ve invested time, money, resources, and endless energy in your business. You’ve worked hard to build everything from operations to marketing. Customer engagement is the center of all your efforts. But if you feel like you’ve hit on all the critical areas of any successful business, you might be missing the mark. Especially if you’ve skipped out on the most integral component of it all: company culture.  

The truth is, if you haven’t spent time on your company culture, you might as well toss your customer engagement efforts away, because although it’s true that customers are the nucleus of any business, the true propeller of customer success is your company culture.

What is company culture?

Why is it important?

Does it have anything to do with customer engagement?

When do you know you lack an influential culture?

These are all great questions and ones we’ll talk about in this post. After you read through this, you’ll be armed to improve customer engagement for your business.  

Let’s start from the top and tackle what company culture is first.  

Defining company culture

The definition of company culture is quite simple. Company culture is the personality of your corporation, the ambiance it creates, and the values it embodies. In a nutshell, it’s your ethics, beliefs, values, goals, vision, expectations, and mission all solidified in one capsule.

Company culture is paramount because it defines who you want your company to be. It also influences what customers perceive about you, which determines whether they choose to do business with you.  

The relationship between culture and customer engagement

You may be asking yourself how what happens internally in your company culture can influence externally how your customers perceive you. The linkage between what’s inside your company to what’s outside–your customers–are your employees. What these employees breed and endure within your company is what they will project and reflect when they step outside of it.

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This means that to have happy customers, you must first focus on cultivating a culture that breeds happy employees. Because if your employees aren’t happy, they won’t be too inclined to make sure your customers are. And it’s proven to make for better workers too. Research says happiness makes people about 12% more productive.  

Customers can feel the presence or absence of company culture through employees. According to more than 50% of executives, culture affects a company’s productivity, creativity, and profitability.

Now that we have an idea of what company culture is, how it relates to your employees, and how it affects your customers, let’s talk about how it influences customer engagement.

1. Motivates employees to take control

We know that culture is first sensed, emulated, and reflected by employees. And those very employees can either make or break you based on their perceptions and experiences with your company culture.

For example, when you create a culture where employees feel trusted and empowered to make decisions, they’ll be more inclined to take ownership of issues.

Say they’re on the phone with a client and you allow them to come to a resolution on their own regarding an issue, they’re more likely to do you proud than if you were to hang over their every word, guiding them and chiding them on what they should and shouldn’t say.

The first scenario shows a sense of trust and belief. The second doesn’t. These behaviors define culture.

Take it even further by rewarding those employees who have a track record of positive customer issue resolution, and your actions will speak volumes about what your culture promotes.

This goes back to the psychological rule of positive reinforcement. When you use positive tactics to encourage good behaviors (like showing trust and rewarding positive outcomes), you’re reinforcing those behaviors. You’re also shaping your company culture.  

2. Defines a brand customers can respect

Your company culture will ultimately define your company, and no two companies cultures are alike. That’s because a lot of your culture will be derived from your company values, and no two companies have the same values. For instance, your company may favor privacy while another may opt for transparency, depending on the industry and nature of your business.

The most important thing is to clearly identify the set of core values specific to your company and then hold everyone, including yourself, accountable to them.

Your values should shine through in every aspect of your business, from how you conduct meetings to how you communicate to your customers. To make your values an inherent part of your organization, display them, showcase them, discuss them, and celebrate them.

Subsequently, how you shape your culture will shine through to your customers, shaping their perceptions of your brand.

3. Makes for happy employees, which creates happy customers

As we talked about earlier, businesses that create happy employees, in turn, create happy customers. If an employee is unhappy at work, is stressed out, or dreads coming to work every day, their sentiments will be evident in all they do. It will reflect in how they work to how they interact with others – including your customers.  

Put an unhappy employee on the phone with a customer, and customers will be able to notice the lack of attention, interest, and care right off the bat. Unfortunately, they won’t attribute this to the employee, but will look at it as a reflection of your company culture. Because that’s who your employees represent: you.  

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Costco is an excellent example of a company that’s known for taking good care of its employees. Reputed to be focused on doing what’s right, this company’s employees are known to feel connected to the company and have a sense of respect toward it. As a result, Costco has higher retention rates compared to others in the retail industry.

Also, their employee loyalty and contentment shines through to their customers, keeping the company a strong contender in the industry.

Employees too care about culture. For instance, 86% of potential employees say they wouldn’t bother applying to or continuing to work at a company that has a bad reputation among previous employees. So if you’re hoping to attract and keep the right talent to serve your customers well, take care of your employees first and make that a part of your culture.

4. Drives customer-centered metrics

To truly cultivate a customer-driven culture, make customers the priority in your company. One way to achieve that is by making customer satisfaction a key driver of your employees’ performance metrics.

For instance, set specific customer-centric goals and then measure your employees’ performance against these goals.

In a call center, for example, you might track the number of calls your employees receive from customers versus the ones they miss, which can impact client delight scores. Adding these as part of performance metrics helps signal to employees that customers are an essential part of your culture.

Also, by making customer experience a part of the performance review process, you’ll encourage employees to consciously and subconsciously keep quality customer interactions on top of their minds.  

Most importantly, before you make customers a part of your employees’ performance metrics, discuss the expectations and metrics with them to make sure they’re clear on what’s expected of them. Having these conversations will ensure everyone is on the same page and that all your employees are trekking toward the right goals.

Announcing customer service as an integral aspect of your company and department, and then showing employees how you’ll tie that integral aspect into their everyday expectations is key to making customers an inherent part of your culture.

You can also establish metrics from a macro standpoint. For some companies, these could take the shape of positive reviews on Yelp or on your product site. For others, they may rely on social media or third-party surveys for feedback.  

5. Helps you hire and fire the right people

Your culture will (and should) impact every aspect of your business from who you hire to who you let go. Your values are what will really come in handy in determining this by helping you determine who aligns with your company and who doesn’t.

For instance, if you’re a company who preaches integrity, honesty, and compassion, you’ll want to ensure these values are present in the people you hire so they can reflect through to customers.

Ignoring these attributes when hiring could work against you. Employees are a representation of your company and if the value they exhibit aren’t aligned with yours, you’ll be contradicting yourself. Worst of all, customers will pick on this disparity between what you preach and what you display.

That’s why you shouldn’t hesitate to let go of those who are a misfit within your culture and against your values. Eventually, they’ll find a better fit someplace else, but it’s important for your company to do what’s right for it and your customers.

But what does finding the right talent for your culture have to do with customer engagement?

Statistics show that high levels of culture cognizance attract higher levels of talent, leading to 33% higher revenues.

Essentially, the best people want to work for companies with the best culture. And the better the quality of your employees, the better the quality of their interactions with customers.

Now that we know how culture affects customer engagement and perception, let’s talk about red flags that could indicate that you need a better company culture.

Signs you could need a stronger culture

If the following are happening within your company, it could be a strong indication that you need to revisit your company culture.

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Employee turnover: If employees are constantly quitting your company, that may signal that something’s not quite right. Conduct exit interviews to see what might be driving employees away so you can retain good talent and adjust your culture accordingly.

Customer loss: If customers come once but never return, it may mean that something’s amiss. Did they have a bad experience? Did your offering disappoint them? Did your company fail to honor a promise? Getting feedback is key.

Mediocre employee performance: Happy employees are strong performers and should be your primary focus. If you’re not seeing a lot of high performance at your business, it’s time to sit down and talk to employees through anonymous surveys or other means to figure out what’s holding them back from delivering a stellar performance.

Differences in leaders vs. employee mentality: When it comes to company objectives, everyone should be on the same page and work together as a team. If there’s a noticeable difference in mindset between leader mentality and employee mentality on company processes and goals, you’ve got a problem. These disparities can draw a gap between company performers, creating friction and breaking down your culture.

To avoid this, make sure everyone has a clear understanding of why things work the way they do. Furthermore, be open to feedback from all levels of your company to make the best decisions about processes, expectations, etc. Remember, your employees are just as important, if not more to the success of your company as its leaders.

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Company culture influences employees, which in turn influence customers. Ultimately, your customers are what will influence your bottom line. That’s why creating the right culture to motivate, inspire, and encourage them to deliver exceptional results is important.

A good culture motivates employees to take control, defines a brand customers can respect, makes employees happy (which means customers are happy), drives customer-centered metrics, and helps you hire and fire the right people.   

The lack of a strong culture can translate to poor customer perception, mediocre customer experiences, increased risk of attrition and slim bottomlines. In other words, without a robust culture, you can literally kiss your hopes of higher customer engagement goodbye. But make culture your priority, and you’ll see every other aspect of your company fall into place.


Chocolate connoisseur, beatboxing enthusiast, full-time laugher who tries to write. I also like avacados.