Connecting internal culture and customer service

This business advice column speaks to the soulful side of business. It is designed for companies and individuals that want to excel, stand out, and realize ROWM: A Return on What Matters. It is based on the book from the business superhero The Profit Prophet. Please send your questions (which may be anonymous) to


Dear Profit Prophet:

I am working with a retail company that simply cannot comprehend the connection between internal culture and customer service. Employees have no empowerment, “training” consists of a two-hour lecture on rules such as which restroom to use (and, by the way, make sure you smile at customers) and results are measured by a secret shopper program that is more threatening than informative.

There is hope — here and there, some new executives are joining the company — but I don’t think they understand the importance of culture and its connection to success, and the old culture is firmly entrenched.

Any suggestions on how I can help the newer executives appreciate the challenge (and the opportunity)? And is there any hope for the “old guard”?


Dear Consultant,

No wonder they hired you! You nailed the answer in the first sentence. Internal culture and customer service cannot be considered two separate entities if you want great results and diehard fans. If the culture isn’t one of customer happiness at its very core, it IS like putting lipstick on a pig — it will slide right off and make no difference whatsoever. The concept of “empowerment” was launched when managers, afraid they hired people who would give away the store, would allow small ways in which employees could solve small problems. Conversely, leadership at every level — cultureship — is what generates off-the-chart results in what matters to you. 

As far as the newer executives, you could review how you currently measure “customer satisfaction” with them. (However, I don’t believe “satisfaction” to be a meaningful metric — it misses the mark. Do your checklists and shopper reports really speak to how guests feel, or is it just a check-off sheet like shelves are clean, light bulbs work, etc.?) You might ask these execs to consider measuring the emotional component along with the basics. Basics are just that. They are expected. They don’t buy loyalty. Once you measure emotional connection, you can commit to drastically improved results in your “satisfaction” metrics — say, 25% over current results. Usually it takes a “cultural transplant” to drive excellence. But it sounds like you can do it because you see the issue clearly. (If you can’t, we can.)

As for the old guard, well, monkey don’t see, monkey don’t do. 

Best always, Prof