Blog and News

Cultural Transformation: The Foundation for Exceptional Customer Experiences

May 28, 2024

By Director of Learning and Organization Development, Shawn Martell, and Director of Customer Experience, Gigi Frias.

At Bixal, we are driven to leverage human-centered strategies, Agile approaches, and transformative technologies to help our government clients improve the lives of the people they serve. Our dual expertise in customer experience (CX) and learning and organizational development uniquely positions us to provide insights on the critical role of cultural transformation in advancing CX initiatives.

In preparation for a presentation to the General Services Administration’s (GSA’s) Technology Transformation Services (TTS), we explored the symbiotic relationship between CX and organizational culture, examining how culture can either enable or hinder successful CX adoption and implementation.

The Role of Culture in CX

We started by examining the multifaceted impact of an agency’s culture on its CX capabilities.

At its core, organizational culture refers to the collective values, beliefs, and behaviors that shape how an organization operates. It’s the unwritten rules and norms that guide decision-making and interactions both internally and with customers or, as organizational consultants Terrence Deal and Allan Kennedy say in their book Corporate Cultures, “Culture is the way we do things around here.”

A rigid, siloed, or risk-averse culture can significantly impede an organization’s ability to innovate around customer experience and deliver seamless, cohesive journeys. In contrast, a culture that prioritizes the principles of human-centered design (HCD) creates an environment where exceptional CX can thrive.

To develop a strong CX practice, it is not only necessary to make shifts in our actions, but also to make substantial changes in how we plan, evaluate, and design solutions.

Research and our experience have shown that several key cultural characteristics are particularly crucial for CX success:

  • Fostering cross-functional collaboration to deliver integrated experiences.
  • Leveraging data and customer insights to continuously learn and improve.
  • Embracing agility to quickly adapt based on evolving needs and feedback.
  • Empowering employees to own and enhance the customer experience.
  • Putting the customer at the heart of every decision and action.

By intentionally cultivating these attributes, federal agencies can lay the cultural groundwork necessary to drive and sustain meaningful CX transformation.

With a clear understanding of the cultural foundation required for CX success, the next logical question is: What are the current barriers preventing agencies from embodying these critical attributes?

Let’s delve into some common cultural challenges in the federal landscape.

Challenges in Federal Agencies

Federal agencies face unique cultural challenges when it comes to CX transformation. These challenges often stem from deeply ingrained organizational factors and the complexities of public sector work. We understand this.

For instance, risk-averse cultures are common in government, and understandably so. Agencies are responsible for upholding public trust and efficiently managing resources, which can make it challenging to embrace rapid change or untested innovations. As one leader at the Department of Veterans Affairs noted, “We have to balance our desire for innovation with our responsibility to be prudent with taxpayer dollars.”

Similarly, siloed organizational structures often reflect the complex missions and stakeholder landscapes that agencies must navigate. Often each department or program has its own goals, metrics, and constituencies, which can make it difficult to align around a shared vision for customer experience and service delivery improvements.

Resistance to change is another common barrier, and it is important to acknowledge that this resistance often arises from a place of dedication and pride in the agency’s mission. Many civil servants have devoted their careers to serving the public successfully for many years, and they may rightfully fear that change will disrupt the important work they do.

At Bixal, we approach these challenges with empathy and understanding. We recognize that cultural transformation is not about assigning blame or pointing fingers, but about working collaboratively to diagnose challenges and develop solutions that align everyone around a shared purpose: delivering the best possible outcomes for the public.

Our approach is to start by assessing the current CX maturity level of an organization. From there, we build trust and buy-in across the organization, build on the positives, and address the gaps while collaboratively creating the conditions for sustainable, human-centered change. We know for certain that when we work together, change is possible.

How We Cocreate with You

At Bixal, we have developed a unique approach that integrates best practices in CX and learning and organization development to facilitate meaningful and enduring cultural transformation in collaboration with our clients.

We start by engaging in human-centered discovery and assessment, then proceed to Agile cocreation cycles, change readiness and capacity building, adaptive implementation, and, finally, collaboratively cultivating a culture of continuous improvement.

Central to our approach is the adoption of a people-first mindset, using HCD throughout the process to gain a deep understanding of individuals and their challenges, and to cocreate solutions with organizational partners that are meaningful and sustainable.

We also prioritize Agile approaches, emphasizing iterative cycles that enable continuous feedback and opportunities for refinement. Based on our experience, Agile approaches are at least 30% more effective than more traditional waterfall methods.

Research conducted by our partners indicates that roughly 70% of change programs fail to achieve their goals, largely due to ineffective change enablement. We have observed that change enablement is often not just ineffective but is sometimes not even incorporated into the effort at all. Therefore, we place significant emphasis on change readiness and capacity building, which involves activities such as change management planning, developing communications strategies, conducting training needs analysis, and implementing modern approaches to upskilling. Our goal is to assist your team in developing the customer-centric mindsets, skills, and agile ways of working necessary to sustain long-term change.

Ultimately, success is more of a journey than a one-time destination. Our primary objective is to establish a sustainable and scalable approach that your team can take ownership of and drive forward.

Bixal's approach to cultural transformation graphic showing the following steps: HCD discovery and assessment, Agile cocreation, training and capacity building, adaptive implementation and continuous feedback loops.

Bixal’s CX and Cultural Transformation Strategy

Considering the complexity of organizational systems and constraints, our focus cannot be limited to just the customer-facing aspects of our services. It is crucial for us to examine the processes, people, and technologies that support every customer touchpoint and service delivery channel.

Now, let’s delve deeper into the key aspect of Bixal’s comprehensive strategy for fostering CX through cultural transformation: change enablement.

To begin, we conduct cultural readiness assessments to gauge the organization’s overall maturity, including digital, data, and process literacy.

Next, we select small, cross-functional cohorts and provide them with a comprehensive 10-module training program designed to achieve two main objectives:

  1. Develop CX and HCD knowledge, skills, and mindsets among employees at all levels and across silos.
  2. Create a network of trained, empowered partners who will continue to champion customer centricity.

We have successfully piloted this approach with federal clients, achieving measurable advancements in the adoption and integration of a customer-centered mindset.

Here are the initial results of our pilot:

  • The training provided has effectively equipped the champions with the necessary tools and support to generate valuable insights and key deliverables.
  • A high level of engagement was observed during the close-out retrospective, indicating positive feedback from the participants.
  • One third of the participants have signed up to be part of an optional formal alumni group, committing to participate for at least one additional year.
  • The participants
    • Attended 10+ workshops.
    • Assisted in the synthesis of 30+ stakeholder and user interviews.
    • Developed four key insights from user research.
    • Codesigned seven digital service blueprints.
    • Identified 25+ “jobs to be done,” supported by digital channels.
    • Ideated four proto personas.

As an organization committed to Agile principles, we always seek to refine and iterate on our approaches. Based on the valuable feedback and insights gathered from the pilot, we have thoroughly reviewed the training program with a focus on best practices in UX and instructional design to maximize results. Additionally, we have incorporated suggestions from pilot participants to further enhance the training experience. Some of the improvements include:

  • Addition of post-training performance supports and on-the-job reference material, such as summaries, fast facts, reflection spaces, and facilitated group Q&A sessions.
  • Increase in activity depth and time allotted for each module.
  • Refinement of delivery methods to ensure the trainings can be delivered efficiently within the time constraints of increasingly overburdened professionals.

We firmly believe that CX is not just about the customer, but also about the employee experience. At Bixal, we are prepared to be your trusted guide and partner on this transformative journey.

Together, we can create functions that are highly responsive, compassionate, and driven by a human-centered approach. We are excited about the opportunity to support your efforts and contribute to your organization’s CX transformation. Let’s collaborate and make a positive impact on your customer experience journey.

Content manager, Ewa Beaujon, contributed to the writing of this article.