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Why Engaging the Most Experienced Staff is Key to a Customer-Centric Culture

Your most experienced employees are also likely to be the most cynical about introducing a customer centric culture, so it's vital to engage them early in the effort and explain how and why their role should change

One of the most traditional recipes for a successful business is to find something that customers want – even better if they’re yet to know they want it (anything from a vacuum cleaner to a smartphone) – produce it before anyone else can, market it, continuously improve it, and look for adjacent markets to expand into (like Apple going from smartphones to tablets or Hoover moving from vacuum cleaners to steam mops to washing machines).

But this model of finding more stuff to make and sell isn’t working quite as well as it once was, at least in the rich world. In fact, consumers are starting to be more interested in the service or “customer experience” provided by a company over just what it produces. And, as a result of this, many firms are investing more in ensuring that all employees (both in employee-facing roles and behind the scenes) make decisions with that customer experience in mind. This is known as creating a “customer centric culture.” The people who run these teams are often called the chief customer officer (CCO) or head of customer experience.

As this series of posts has covered, it’s helpful when trying to change the culture of a firm to understand where in the company there is most work to be done. CEB data from a survey of 1,200 US-based employees of large firms provide some answers. Earlier posts looked at how the function that an employee worked in shaped their thinking, and how employees’ proximity to customers and seniority does the same (see “In this Series” above). This post looks at the employee tenure and how this seems to affect their thinking.

The Longer They’re Here, the More Jaded they Are

Simply put, the data show that an employee’s tenure is inversely related to what they feel about their ability to improve the customer experience. Employees with over ten years of service, regardless of role, feel substantially less empowered to improve customer experience than any other cohort (see chart 1).

This could well be because, as more and more companies invest in improving customer experience, the most tenured employees are most likely to be cynical about the effort. The messages could be interpreted differently by employees depending on their years of service. While newer employees may be animated by the emphasis put on customer experience, more tenured folks may not share the same view of those efforts.

This trend of the longest tenured employees being generally more jaded about creating a customer centric culture is also seen in the percentage of employees reporting the authority to take action to meet customer needs (see chart 2).

Percentage of employees who feel empowered to improve customer experience, by tenure

Chart 1: Percentage of employees who feel empowered to improve customer experience, by tenure  Source: CEB analysis


Percentage of employees who feel they have the authority to take actions to meet customer needs

Chart 2: Percentage of employees who feel they have the authority to take actions to meet customer needs, by tenure  Source: CEB analysis

Senior Management Communications

There is some evidence in the data that this divide could be the result of long-time employees’ view of the job done by senior leadership in connecting customer loyalty and long term company financial outcomes. When asked if senior management adequately drew a clear link between loyalty and financial gain, the only cohort that differed significantly were again employees whom had been with their company for 10 or more years. While every other group of employees believed management was successfully making the case, long-time employees were simply not convinced (see chart 3).

The leadership piece of the puzzle is perhaps the most critical for this segment of employees. For that reason, senior leaders looking to improve customer experience need to work hard at building and maintaining their credibility throughout the firm. And this could be especially true of tenured staff. After all, this is a cohort that has been around long enough to hear it all from senior management over the years. And they’ve not just heard the words, but also observed the actions that come afterward.

While some of the long-time employees might not be able to make the changes required to work in a more customer-focused company, all companies will have a fair representation of tenured folks. So it is vital to have long-time employees on your side lest they undermine the company’s broader efforts. Start with the right communications and then show tenured employees exactly how and why their day-to-day responsibilities should change.

Percentage of employees who believe that senior management adequately shows customer loyalty is critical to long-term financial success, by tenure

Chart 3: Percentage of employees who believe that senior management adequately shows customer loyalty is critical to long-term financial success, by tenure  Source: CEB analysis

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