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Customer Service - Improving by Changing Culture

Published on 15 Mar 2016

The Challenge

Similar to countries and the geographic regions within them, organizations and their units (e.g., departments, branches, offices) each have their own cultures — a combination of assumptions, values, norms, and customs that implicitly define the behaviors that are desirable and expected versus unacceptable and controversial within a particular environment. Regardless of whether members personally agree with these implicit "rules" of conduct, abiding by them can make it easier to survive—and to some extent succeed — in a given work environment. However, culture not only impacts the members within an organization, or unit; it also affects the people outside of it — including the organization's or unit's customers and clients. Thus, by understanding and improving its culture, an organization or unit can improve its relations with both employees and customers.

The impact of culture on customer service is demonstrated by the following case study. The study focuses on the Production Engineering department of one of the world's largest technological organizations. Specifically, it illustrates how the Organizational Culture Inventory® (OCI®) and Customer ServiceStyles™ (CSS) can be used to motivate, guide, and monitor change. It also demonstrates how the causal factors in the "How Culture Works" model can be used to change culture and the quality of customer service. Lastly, the study highlights some key issues that managers, consultants, and other change agents should consider when planning a culture or customer service assessment.

The Production Engineering Department

Production Engineering is part of a matrix structure where members are assigned to a functional department (e.g., production engineering) as well as various programs (i.e., departments responsible for specific contracts with customers and clients who are external to the organization). Members of Production Engineering provide services (i.e., consultation) as well as products (e.g., reports, designs) to a variety of programs via their interactions with the programs' managers and members of other functional departments. Thus, Production Engineering considers these program managers and members of other functional departments to be important internal customers.

Production Engineering consists of approximately 100 members. Although a few of the department's members are situated offsite, most of them are placed at the same general location.

Members of the department are organized into four or five groups that work in several different buildings spread out over a large campus. Each group has a manager. In turn, the group managers make up the department's management team, which is led by the department director.

The Measurement Process

During June 2005 ("Time 1"), Production Engineering used the OCI and CSS to obtain baseline measures of the department's culture and quality of service to internal customers. The department was in the early stages of a culture change process intended to:
a) make the department a better place to work, and
b) improve internal customer satisfaction.

The OCI was given to all on-site members, who were asked to describe what was expected to "fit in" and "meet expectations" in the department (i.e., the "current culture"). Eightyeight members completed the survey, resulting in a 90% return rate. In addition, 15 randomly selected members described the behaviors that should be expected to maximize the individual productivity and effectiveness of the department (i.e., the "ideal culture").

During Time 1, the CSS was also distributed and given to a sample of the department's internal customers. The sample was created by first asking the department's managers to identify the customers whom they wanted to participate. The department's members then added some names to the list, bringing the sample total to 25. Fourteen of the customers asked to participate completed the survey, resulting in a 56% return rate.

To determine whether the changes implemented by the department were having the desired impact, the CSS was re-administered in June 2006 ("Time 2") to 25 of the department's internal customers. Most of the customers asked to participate in Time 2 were the same as those who were asked in Time 1, with the exception of a few people who had transferred or changed positions. In addition, a weighted sample of members from each of the groups within Production Engineering completed the CSS by describing how they thought their customers would respond to the survey. Interviews were also conducted with both the internal customers and customer service providers to confirm the survey results.

Diagnostic Tools Organisational Culture Inventory® (OCI) Preferred and Actual and Organisational Effectiveness Inventory™ (OEI)

Download the detailed case study - PDF, 15490 KB