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Article | The Art and Science of Creating a Psychic Brand

Trend in Focus: Culture First

Build-A-Bear Workshop's business model is rooted in customer centricity The company was built from theground up on the idea that personal customer experiences were paramount. CEO Maxine Clark created an employee culture first that tied into her ideal customer vision. The actual experiences then followed.

It used to be that change management and culture change were considered by-products of customer strategy projects. But, that way of thinking is changing. There is a strategic shift in how companies approach customer centricity and engagement. More companies are starting with the culture first, then implementing programs, not the other way around. Clark's approach is gaining momentum as companies of all shapes and sizes start up or overhaul the way they conduct business.

"You don't want to work at Vanguard if you don't care deeply about people," said Paul Heller, managing director at the investment firm. "The organization will just throw you out." Speaking at this summer's Forrester Customer Experience Forum, Heller said that Vanguard differentiates its brand by a strong customer-focused culture. "We have really strong client loyalty, and we earn that one client at a time." It's not a program, it's a way of life.

And, Zappos' Tony Hsieh has said that the company's success isn't based on what it sells. The culture is what drives the organization's success. He is quoted as saying, "Zappos is a service company that happens to sell shoes, clothing, handbags, eyewear, watches (and eventually a bunch of other stuff)."

If a company develops its culture first, then success through customer programs will follow. It can't be forced, or considered an afterthought.