No matter how solid your strategy is or how carefully you design your customer experience, it’s simply impossible to plan for every single customer interaction at every last touchpoint. At some point, you need to put your trust in your company’s most valuable resource, its employees, to do the right thing for customers. Similarly, sharing customer insights, measuring the results of your work, and introducing customer experience governance programs will only get you so far if your company’s workforce — from your top execs down to entry-level staff members — isn’t ready to embrace new ways of working.

That’s why building a customer-centric culture is critical to customer experience success.

In Forrester’s soon-to-publish book, Outside In, Harley Manning and I illustrate the importance of a customer-centric culture through a case study about John Deere Financial, one of the largest providers of financial services to agricultural and construction customers in the US. Like many companies, it had a product and process focus for decades. Then, as part of a recent call to action to become more customer-focused, the company developed a new set of customer promises:

  • We will provide fast, easy access to credit for purchases.
  • We will build long-term relationships through trust.
  • We will provide customized payment options that meet customer needs.
  • We will make it easy for customers to manage their accounts.
  • We will improve sales and business performance for the channels.

These promises sound really great, right?  Well, they are. But the company’s leaders had a problem. They made the promises, but they quickly realized that they didn’t have the right culture in place to actually deliver on them.

Of course, changing a corporate culture is no small task — we’re talking about changing the beliefs and behavioral norms of every single person in your company. The execs at John Deere Financial realized that they couldn’t do this alone, so they recruited volunteers for a rolling two-year program aimed at driving a deeper understanding of customer needs into the organization’s DNA.

In year one, the volunteer “Champions,” as they’re called, attend monthly training sessions where they get immersed in customer insights and learn practical customer experience skills. In year two, they take those skills back to their departments where they create and manage their own customer experience projects.

One recent Champion tackled one of the most dreaded customer experiences out there: getting a call about an overdue account. She developed storyboards and training that helped collections employees understand their customers’ business challenges, such as the cash flow associated with agricultural production cycles. Armed with this new knowledge, the collections team can now ask better questions and get more relevant information, which ultimately helps them be more flexible when managing accounts.

This new flexibility has turned what’s typically a miserable conversation into a positive experience for John Deere Financial’s customers. The collections touchpoint now has one of the highest experience scores in the company!

Culture is just one of six disciplines that companies must master if they want to achieve the full potential of customer experience (CX). The others are strategycustomer understandingdesignmeasurement, and governance. Of course, most of these concepts aren’t new in the business world — but they do take on a slightly different twist when it comes to CX. If you’d like to know more about the six disciplines and how they’ll help you create great experiences for your customers, please visit