Habits: Culture, Brand & Customer Experience

Andrew Sykes, Breakout Speaker for the 2018 Customer Service Revolution Conference in Cleveland OhioThis guest article is brought to you Andrew Sykes, who presenting at the 2018 Customer Service Revolution.



Employee Habits Drive Your Culture, Brand & Customer Experience - Article by Andrew Sykes, Breakout Speaker for the 2018 Customer Service Revolution Conference in Cleveland Ohio


If your company was a human being, what type of personality would it have?

From a customer’s point of view this really matters, because we’re all seeking meaningful and positive relationships with the products, services and companies that we use each day, just as we seek those same high quality relationships with the people in our lives.

When we’re looking for a life partner, we may initially judge people based on their looks, or maybe even their bank account. And, as a relationship matures, we very quickly discover that how we feel about someone is almost entirely dependent on their personality – because it’s their personality that determines how they treat us.

Quote by Andrew Sykes, Breakout Speaker for the 2018 Customer Service Revolution Conference in Cleveland, Ohio

Do they, for example:

  • Listen to us empathically and leave us feeling “gotten?”
  • Ask us powerful and interesting questions that allow us to learn and grow?
  • Have a sense of humor, and tell us entertaining stories that help us make sense of the world and influence how we think about things?
  • Help us solve problems and find new ways to make our lives better?
  • Make and keep promises to us? Or, if they break a promise, do they take responsibility for cleaning up the mess? Does that allow us to trust them and consider them to be honest and to have integrity?
  • Look after themselves, always seeking to learn and grow and be open to receiving feedback to make that growth possible?

These are just some of the behaviors that we seek in our life partners, and indeed from anyone with whom we’d like to have a good relationship.

*Related – Andrew Sykes is presenting at the 2018 Customer Service Revolution.

How someone behaves, and how that behavior changes over time (consistency is good when it comes to our behaviors), creates our perception of a person’s personality.


A human being’s personality is nothing more than the sum of their habits.

The same is true for a company – how the leaders, managers and employees behave defines the “personality” of the company.

But why does this matter?

There are two things that are central to the sustainable success of a company: brand and culture. I argue that they are both created by employee habits.


What is Culture?

Culture is not your corporate values or your HR policies or your engagement programs. Rather, it is defined by the experience of your employees, created by the behaviors of those employees and their managers over time.

Culture Equals Employee Habits

Culture = employee habits.

And, as Drucker said, “culture eats strategy for breakfast,” so employee habits are central to the success of your business. At Habits at Work, we often say that for a company, “employee habits are your destiny,” meaning that the future success of your company depends the habits of your leaders, managers and employees.


What is brand?

Similarly, a brand is not simply a company logo, or advertisements or digital marketing or social media efforts. Instead, it is defined by the experience that customers have with your company, your products and services, and your people.

This is as true when things go right as when things go wrong. Product and service quality is very much determined by how your employees behave and this is especially true when something goes wrong and customers are dissatisfied or frustrated.

When customers interact with your business, your brand is what they experience, and your brand is uniquely determined by your company culture, which we already discovered is the collective habits of your leaders, managers and especially your frontline customer service employees.

Few could dispute that a strong brand not only indicates a successful business, but also predicts a successful future for that business.

Two of the most important, yet somewhat intangible drivers of business success, culture and brand, are equivalent to the sum of employee habits.


Employee Habits = Culture = Brand = Customer Service

This relationship makes the challenge of brand management, customer service (and culture design) very tangible and makes these abstract business problems seem a lot more tangible. Building a strong culture, brand and customer experience can be boiled down to two questions:

  1. What are the employee (and manager and leader) habits that define the culture, brand and customer service experience that we’d like to create for our business?
  2. How do we design our business to make these habits easy, natural and the default for our employees?

I’ll briefly address the first question by outlining five high-performance habits (from the 11 we’ve identified at Habits at Work) that drive productivity and create strong cultures, extraordinary brands and delightful customer experiences. 


Habit 1: Practicing Deliberately + Using Feedback to Improve Performance

Quote by Andrew Sykes, Breakout Speaker for the 2018 Customer Service Revolution Conference in Cleveland, Ohio

Deliberate practice is the habit of getting good at getting great, AT ANYTHING. It is a master habit that underlies all others.

Surprisingly, practice of any form is something that few employees do at all, let alone “deliberate” practice. Deliberate practice is purposeful, challenging and relies on constructive feedback after each round of practice (or even many times during a single practice session).

Does your customer service team practice the things that make a difference to your customer experience?

Or, like most companies, are your frontline employees asked to learn on-the-job, or start “doing” customer service right after their knowledge-based training is completed, without necessarily being given a chance to turn that knowledge into skills, let alone to make those skills a habit?

At Google, sales and customer strategy team members are constantly given high quality feedback by their managers (often a few times a day) to build confidence and competence. This kind of continuous coaching grows capability rapidly and exponentially, allowing the teams to scale in size without compromising on quality.


Habit 2: Listening Empathically to Build Strong Relationships

This is the kind of listening that you do on a great first date. You’re totally absorbed, listening to what they say, how they feel, and what they care about. That’s how we fall in love, because we love the feeling of being totally understood or “gotten.”

Think of a person that you consider to be a great listener. This may be harder than in sounds but I encourage you to picture a specific person. Now, ask yourself: how do you feel about this person? Do you like them? I’m confident you’ll say yes, because we like people that are great listeners.

This is never more true than when we’re dealing with a customer service failure. As a frustrated customer, we want nothing more than to be heard, to be understood and for the person on the other side of the counter or the other end of the phone to show us that they know how we feel.

Instead, we’re asked to spend countless minutes listening to recorded messages that tell us how important we are to the company. Do you keep people that you consider to be important in your life waiting for minutes or hours? I doubt it.


Habit 3: Asking Powerful Questions to Learn + Grow

Kimpton Hotel Group is the highest-rated hotel chain for guest experience, they have the highest return to shareholders in their industry in their 3+ decades of operation, and they consistently rank highly (often number 1) on the Forbes list of Best Places to Work.

More impressively, they’ve figured out how to scale a unique guest experience.

Kimpton is known for ensuring that “every guest, every day, has an awesome experience.”

How do they achieve this promise? They train their employees to ask one simple question, time and time again: “What’s the one thing I can do, right now, to make this guest’s experience awesome?”

It’s a question that has resulted in brand standard ideas, like having live fish in their Monaco range of hotels to help business travelers de-stress and feel like they’re at home.

Similarly, their animal print bath robes came from one employee asking how they could add a little fun into the experience of staying (and bathing) in a hotel room.

But the real difference comes in the tiny decisions that are made by frontline employees that make every guest experience wonderful and unique. They’re not documented anywhere, and they may not become brand standards, but they do leave every guest with a memorable experience.

All this from a single powerful question. Sometimes, just one question can be the basis of an entire organization’s competitive advantage.


Habit 4: Keeping Your Word to Build Trust + Manage Expectations

Stephen Covey said, “Business moves at the speed of trust.” When trust exists, deals close faster and customers spend less time asking questions and weighing options. Not to mention, employees find solutions faster for customers when they’re trusted by their managers.

Trust operates like currency in business, yet customer service agents are often unwilling to make promises in case they are unable to deliver. They’re coached to avoid later disappointment by refraining from making commitments at all. Just try to get a straight answer to the question, “When will our flight depart?” next time you’re delayed.

Of course, customer service agents don’t always have the information they need to make promises, but that doesn’t leave passengers or customers feeling any better. Why? Because, just as we like people that are great listeners, we do NOT like people that are non-committal. And, we often hate people that make promises and then break them, and refuse to take responsibility for the impact that these breakdowns have on us.

In fact, in many industries, evidence has been found for a so-called service failure paradox. Some of the most loyal customers (often as many as 25%), became fiercely loyal AFTER a service failure, based on how they were treated and how one customer service agent took responsibility, addressed their complaint, and went above and beyond to remedy the broken service or promise.

Quote by Andrew Sykes, Breakout Speaker for the 2018 Customer Service Revolution Conference in Cleveland, Ohio

Some might even say that broken service promises are the greatest opportunity for building fiercely loyal customers. Southwest Airlines has countless stories of customers left in the lurch by cancelled flights or other emergencies, where a ground crew member, inflight agent, or even the captain of the plane has gone above and beyond to get them where they need to be, or solved another frustrating travel problem. 


Habit 5: Telling Stories to Change Minds + Influence Outcomes

We think that we (and other people) make decisions based on facts and figures. Our decisions are almost entirely emotion-driven – including purchase decisions. We often look back on our decisions and find the facts and figures to justify our actions, which is why we believe we rely on logic.

To truly change minds, we need ways to change the way customers feel. Relying solely on facts and figures only hardens existing opinions. Stories, however, have the power to change minds. They help us make sense of the world, show others what is possible, teach important lessons and encourage cooperation and trust among people.

At Limeade, an engagement company based in Seattle, sales and customer success team members practice telling stories that they can use to help their customers make decisions. They tell stories of failure and struggle to help customers avoid mistakes, and they tell stories of success and transformation to inspire customers to take the right new actions and move away from the status quo.

From the time we can speak (or listen) until the day we die, people love stories. Humans are innate storytellers because our brains are wired to use stories to help us survive and thrive.

Stories need not be long – even short stories can be an effective way to help customers deal with complaints or concerns about your product or service. At many of the firms that we coach on sales and customer service, the habit of storytelling is the most powerful and non-threatening way to respond to customer complaints or objections.

Even the vision for your company is (or should be) a story – one that inspires your entire workforce into action to help you make that vision a reality.


Different Habits for Different Roles?

Perhaps the most interesting thing about high-performance habits is that they are NOT unique to each job. When we started our research into high-performance habits over a decade ago in Habits at Work’s Behavioral Research Applied Technology Laboratory, or BRATLAB, we expected to find that there would be a set of habits that are essential for great leaders, and a different set for great managers, yet another set for salespeople and, finally, a unique set for customer service agents.

Quote by Andrew Sykes, Breakout Speaker for the 2018 Customer Service Revolution Conference in Cleveland, Ohio

Although there are many differences between the roles, to our surprise, we have found ten habits (five listed above) that are important to high performance in ALL roles. True, leaders ask different questions (about the future, or about the competitive landscape) from those asked by customer success agents (about the customer in front of them right now), but the underlying skills and habits are the same. They’re just expressed differently in each role.

This is a surprising and powerful realization. As you saw at the beginning of this article, three of the most important business drivers: culture, brand and customer service are all created by, or indeed are equivalent to, employee habits.

This means that if you focus on creating the ten habits of high performance, you’ll have better leaders, stronger managers, and more effective sales and customer service teams that leave every customer, every day, fiercely loyal to your cause and your company.

To see a complete list of the ten habits of high-performance employees, visit habitsatwork.com


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