You know it when you run into them. Organizations that just get it when it comes to customer experience. You see it in the little things. The attention to detail. The focus. But most of all, you see it in the people. The people who work for these organizations unequivocally believe in their brand. They believe in what they do.
The literature is replete with concepts such as organizational commitment and organizational engagement and the relationship these constructs have in getting customers to buy again, to buy more, and to buy more often. It’s my contention that an individual’s level of belief in their organization is just a small shadow of a larger powerful culture that galvanizes and aligns processes, structure, people, technology, and information practices together. It is harmonious and it is wonderful to see in the wild. It’s an organizational version of Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi’s “flow,” where these organizations make the incredibly difficult act of delivering a flawless customer experience look easy and look like they are having fun while they are doing it. Like a well-executed theater production or rock concert, it’s fun to watch and appreciate the dedication, hard work, and precision behind the scenes that made it possible.
A Sweet Experience
I had a recent experience with the organizational flow when my family and I went to visit my parents in rural Pennsylvania for the holidays. As a side trip, we visited the bucolic small town of Hershey. During our brief stay, we fully emerged in the Hershey Company culture. We stayed at the Hotel Hershey, experienced the world famous Chocolate World, visited the Hershey Museum, and took a guided tour of the community. In our small peek into the world of Hershey culture, we were struck by the high level of customer focus and very consistent brand delivery in every facet of every experience we had.
The tour was fascinating and included the history of the company and its founder, Milton S. Hershey. I am always a fan of origin stories. The “founding” story of an organization is the modern day I Ching of the organization’s culture. Very quickly these stories tell you who that company is and what it values much quicker than any poster with a mission statement. Origin stories are also a huge driver of what the organization is still about. It is the organizational folklore handed down generation after generation guiding cultural norms and taboos done in the same tradition as prehistoric homo sapiens wandering the savannah of Africa.Dr. Ben Schneider and Dr. Edgar Schein both promoted the idea that an organization’s culture is largely set in motion by the founders. I thought at the time of reading it in graduate school that this squishy stuff was a bunch of hooey. I now know that to be true.
Three consistent key themes emerged from the Hershey origin story: the values of persistence, humbleness, and care for others. In the Hershey origin story Milton Hershey (like most entrepreneurs) failed and failed again, but never gave up leaning on others to help him, eventually triumphing. In his later years, he secretly bequeathed nearly his entire fortune to the Hershey Foundation that does more philanthropic activities than I can fit into this blog, including founding a school to care for thousands of orphans for free. It took several years and a pernicious reporter to bring this altruistic act to the attention of the general public.
The Hershey Company was one of the first to give every worker a bonus based on the performance of the company. He even helped potential rivals flourish. Potential competitor Harry Burnett Reese had an idea for a candy with peanut butter in the middle and chocolate on the outside but he had no source of chocolate. Hershey supplied that chocolate to Reese knowing it could potentially cut into market share. Milton was more than 100 years ahead of the current concept behind the “sharing” economy.
The People Business
The true tale of this strong culture is not found in its products, its processes, or its facilities. It can be found in its people.
- The elderly lady at the register in Chocolate World I spoke with worked in the production facility for more than 40 years. She told me she wanted to stay connected with the company, so now spends her days telling others about the company she spent her life helping.
- Our tour guide became visibly emotional talking about the Milton Hershey School, which has helped thousands of young boys and girls out of impossible situations revealing he was the former administrator for the school.
- We saw it in the bellman, who insisted we take full advantages of all the amenities proudly showing us around the hotel like it was a house he built himself.
- The waitress who smiled and was patient and genuinely kind to our chocolate hyped and frazzled 7 and 5-year-old daughters. Truly amazing.
All the gushing about Hershey and you might think I have big Payday ahead of me from the fine folks in south-central Pennsylvania. While I would never turn down good chocolate, the whole experience just struck me as an example of an organization at the height of their game when it comes to delivering customer experience.
I have not been in their boardroom, I have not looked at their HR practices or their data practices. I have conducted no formal assessment. But I bet if I did I would see the Hershey Company at that highest level of CX Maturity; Enculturate. Not only is there an inherent and endemic belief in the customer, but it is also deeply rooted in their processes, structure, information sources, and people. It goes beyond belief. Hershey is not in the chocolate making business; they are in the business of creating an extraordinary experience with their brand that is consistent, holistic, and unified.
This is rarified air. According to our study, we estimate that less than 2% of all companies globally are at the apex of CX Maturity, the Enculturation stage. This is the space of the Walt Disney Company, REI, Trader Joe’s, and USAA.
These and organizations like them live and die by the customer. It is the first thing asked in every policy decision. It is not something that is “done,” it is the very fabric of their culture. They design their processes around the customer journey. They ensure those processes are well documented, well known, and consistently applied. These organizations integrate multiple data sources to understand the customer from the customer point of view. They anticipate customer needs rather than just react. An organization such as these are structured to create a seamless customer experience. They hire people who are inherently people focused and then ensure they have the right tools and skills to deliver. They empower their frontline employees to help customers. These facets all help reinforce and perpetuate a strong customer-centric culture.
So does it pay to be customer-centric? In the last 20 years, Hershey’s stock price (HSY) has moved from $12.09 in January of 1995 to topping at $110.66 at the beginning of 2015. Sure it’s only one company with one story. But it’s a sweet one…