Recently, my husband, John, took our eight-year-old son, David, to his first University of Georgia football game. As UGA fans, this was a major event for our family. We couldn’t wait for David, who is passionate about playing flag football himself, to experience everything we love about this team in person.
And you guys, he went all in!
David learned all the cheers, all the chants, all the things fans do and say when they’re watching a game live. When the crowd yelled, “Go Dawgs,” David responded with, “Sic ‘em!” When the team scored, David cheered loudly. He ate the snacks, cheered the cheers, and walked away a full-fledged UGA fan. It’s a memory that still makes us all smile.
A few weeks later, our family had tickets to another football game. This time, we were headed to see the Atlanta Falcons take the field. As our family filed into the stadium, we noticed David eagerly looking around the crowd.
“What are you doing, bud?” I asked him as we settled in our seats.
“I’m trying to figure out what we do here,” he said, his eyes still scanning the stadium excitedly. “What are the chants and cheers? What do I need to do to be a Falcons fan?”
After just one game, David had picked up on the fact that teams carry with them a set of standards and practices. There are just certain things you do and know when you walk into a stadium as a fan. You see the sights, you smell the smells, you listen for the songs and cheers, and you know to dive into all of it with the right responses. In order to fit in with the fans, David wanted to make sure he had it all down.
In other words, he wanted to make sure he understood the team’s culture.
What Is Culture?
When most people think about culture, they think about the same kinds of things.
The cheers a football team’s fans need to know.
The way employees at Chick-fil-A always respond with, “My pleasure.”
The perfectly placed tissue paper inside a bag at Nordstrom.
The expectation of a clean, smooth flight with Southwest Airlines.
Culture is the way you do things. It’s made up of the practices and standards that have come to define a certain experience or brand. And the truth is, culture is everywhere. It’s present in all the spaces and places we frequent, and that includes our jobs.
Culture is what people feel or experience when they encounter your brand.
It’s the sometimes unspoken things that happen there. The stuff that’s part of the fabric and framework of your brand. And most importantly, it’s the foundation of the customer experience. It’s what your customers will encounter first, even if they don’t realize it, and it will support their decision to leave or come back.
Why Culture Matters
Most of us tend to brush past culture in regards to the customer experience. I think that’s because we think it’s an insider thing. It’s something only employees really know or recognize. It’s more of a behind the scenes thing, right?
While your customers may not be able to identify and articulate what goes into the culture where you work, they know it because they experience it. They feel it when they walk in the door. They hear it when you speak to them. Eventually, they even begin to expect it. So yes, culture may be something that’s set behind the scenes, but it’s something that’s felt everywhere.
And can I let you in on a little secret here? The customer experience will never be better than the employee experience. What the culture looks like behind the scenes will overflow to the customer experiences on the front lines. If people love coming to work in a place where the culture is positive, motivated, and fun, the customers will feel it. And if people hate coming to work in a place where the culture is negative, dissatisfied, and boring, the customers will feel that, too. So, whether you see culture as an employee issue or a customer issue, you are right! And that means it matters in the short-term and the long-term story of your customer experience.