Is the King’s Reign Over? Culture May Usurp Customer as Businesses’ Top Priority


There’s an old adage that gets tossed around in the business world: Customer is King. All business activities and decisions are based around keeping the customer happy. This was the focus during the Age of the Customer, a concept popularised in the early 2010s and dominated the last decade of business.

But is the King’s reign now over? We are moving into an after-COVID (AC) world that will look dramatically different in 2022 than it did in those pre-COVID (PC) days where face masks were not even available, let alone a daily fashion choice.

The AC world will look different for a variety of reasons, because of both macro-scale economics reasons and personal life changes. There is already a dramatic labour shortage that is creating real challenges and opportunities in the workforce. Challenges for businesses to keep up operations, but also an opportunity to step into a new era, where culture is king.

Business culture refers to a feeling and an ethos of a company—you know who they are and what they’re about. In the AC era, both employees and customers will seek companies that have a positive, ethical, inclusive, and sustainable culture.

Customers will look for this because they want to feel aligned with companies, they give their money to and they want a good customer experience (CX). Employees desire strong company culture because now, perhaps more than ever, they need to be engaged and excited by their work. Even before the pandemic, culture was important to employees—a study by Glassdoor in 2019 shows that 77% of employees consider a company’s culture before applying and a staggering 56% say that it is even more important than a salary.

The only question is, how do companies create such a utopia to recruit and retain high-quality talent? I believe there are six key ingredients that work together to build a positive, inclusive culture:

  1. Create a sense of purpose. For employee’s to be aligned with the company’s mission and vision, it needs to be first made clear. Companies should develop clear language around their mission, communicate it to employees, and invite them to be part of it.
  2. Build a sense of meaning and impact. No matter their role, every employee wants to feel like what they do on a daily basis Companies need to value each employee’s skills, knowledge, and abilities, and let them use them to contribute in a meaningful way.
  3. Celebrate individual achievements. There should be a healthy amount of celebration over individual goals and wins—even if they fall short of company goals. No, this isn’t just giving someone a participation ribbon. Instead, it’s recognising everyone starts at a different baseline, and yet each person can make great achievements.
  4. Give employees a sense of progress. Everyone hates the feeling of being ‘stuck,’ whether in a task or at their job. Progress is important for morale and productivity, so companies need to give their employees a sense of where they’re going. Clear direction however should not be prescriptive and lineal because careers for most people are not straightforward like a highway… they’re an adventure! Companies need to remember that plans might change, but that shouldn’t stop them from clearly laying out various options for next steps.
  5. Provide autonomy. Autonomy is the ability to make appropriate decisions over one’s scope of work, at any level in the company. This can build trust in both parties because it doesn’t undermine the other person’s skill or ability. Consider, too, the impact it has on creativity! Someone who is allowed to make decisions is allowed to innovate and create—a highly desirable trait for any company. After all, ‘Creativity is seldom manufactured— instead it is found in one’s own freedoms.’
  6. Give employees a sense of ownership. Autonomy goes a long way to building a sense of ownership, but it is more than just that. Leaders and managers need to sometimes be hands-off and let people make mistakes so that they continue to learn and grow. Learning should also be celebrated in and of itself, rather than just the tangible ‘wins.’ Anyone who puts in effort and time to learn and increase their knowledge and understanding deserves recognition.

These six points are key ingredients to creating a good workplace culture, and together they create a sense of belonging. Humans naturally seek belonging from their external environments, especially those that they spend significant time in like a workplace. Employees who feel a sense of belonging are more productive and deliver higher customer satisfaction—both of which are good for business!

Employees are coming out of a difficult season and approaching work in the AC world will require businesses to focus on creating a strong workplace culture that provides a sense of belonging. Ultimately this will lend itself to engaged, productive employees who deliver strong customer experiences. So, is the reign of King Customer over? Well, they will at least have to share their throne with culture as companies learn to navigate the new world of work.

By Luke Jamieson

Keywords: Culture, Customer Experience, Future of Work

Share this article