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What is culture? And does it really eat strategy for breakfast?

Susanne Axelsson
Susanne Axelsson
February 23, 2022
What is culture? And does it really eat strategy for breakfast?

Yvette spoke at our Global Frontline Experience Summit 2022 in an insightful mini-talk session. Listen in above. If you missed the summit, don't worry! All of the powerful sessions are available right here.

Who we heard from:

Yvette Mihelic is a seasoned customer experience executive with over 20 years of industry knowledge. Currently leading customer experience for Australia’s John Holland Rail Operations and Maintenance, she’s passionate about placing customers at the heart of the business. 

The BIG idea:

Peter Drucker, management consultant expert, is famous for coining the phrase “Culture eats strategy for breakfast…” and it’s one of Yvette’s favourites. 

It’s true: no matter how strong (or detailed or well thought out) a strategic plan is, it will either be held back or accelerated by an organisation’s underlying culture. If members of a team don't share a culture that supports a strategy, that strategy means very little and will probably come to very little (or, as Peter would say, get ‘gobbled up’). 

When it comes to customer experience strategy, success is all about engaging cross-functional teams to make customer experience their passion, regardless of their role, and building a culture that supports this approach at every level of an organisation. 

Let’s dive in:

What is culture? 

Contrary to popular opinion, culture is not determined by work perks such as comfy chairs and ping pong tables. It runs much deeper. 

If strategy is all about how a company plans to succeed (the what); culture is about how that success is achieved. Yvette believes that the two work hand in hand.

She adds: “Strategy is our journey. It’s what we aspire and conspire to complete. It’s a conscious choice in direction. Culture is the landscape. A mile on pavement takes much less work, gear, and preparation than a mile through a mountain pass. The terrain (culture) must be considered when planning our journey (strategy), and a realistic perspective must be applied when planning. We wouldn’t want to take off across the Andes in tennis shoes and shorts. By understanding the terrain, we can intelligently plan a successful journey.”

How does culture support strategy? 

Today, it’s widely accepted that great customer experiences are critical to a healthy bottom line. This understanding has led to an evolution in the way we think about customer experience and how it’s reflected in our strategies. 

“Across multiple industries, customer success strategy is the blueprint for success. To support this kind of strategy, the ultimate goal should be to make customer experience part of the DNA of your organisation,” says Yvette. 

As with all organisations, the variety and scope of roles at John Holland is broad. 

“When thinking about customer experience, it’s easy to focus solely on your frontline or customer service teams. But the end-to-end team is equally as important because by not focusing on all of your people and their individual contribution to customer experience, you cannot truly embed a customer centric culture,” believed Yvette.

At John Holland, everyone at every level understands how they contribute to a great customer experience. 

“Customer satisfaction isn’t always directly linked to frontline roles. Things like punctuality, cleanliness and reliability rely on the team’s mechanics, cleaners and Head Office support teams, even if they never come into contact with a customer,” explains Yvette. 

How do you know it’s working?

John Holland uses a number of peer and customer feedback mechanisms to uncover first-hand stories about whether customer success is tracking in the right direction. 

They also keep a close watch on: 
  • Reduction in customer complaints year on year
  • Reduction in unplanned leave and attrition. 
  • Increased referrals for friends and family to join the team
  • Increase in engagement and suggestions for improvement

“Last but not least, because it’s a powerful indicator of success when it comes to culture, we also track increased profit year on year, as one of our lead indicators,”  says Yvette. 

To listen to the full session, hit play on the video at the top of this page. 

Susanne Axelsson

About the Author

Susanne Axelsson
Susanne is the Frontline Community Evangelist as well as the author and researcher for Frontline Magic Handbook. She believes happy customers are born out of great experiences. Great experiences are delivered by motivated frontline people.
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