What Does Corporate Culture Look Like To Your Customers?

Your Customers Can See Your Corporate Culture 

Often business leaders will ask me why corporate culture is so important, after all it’s an internal matter right? Well the fact is that corporate culture is highly visible to your customers and I’ve decided to use my recent trip to Martha’s Vineyard and Nantucket to illustrate my point.

Good leadership creates a solid corporate culture. Often the hospitality industry has difficulty in doing this because of the transiency of their work force. Turnover makes culture a moving target, and as an individual who travels often for business and for pleasure, I have seen many examples of corporate culture and how it affects business.

A Real Example

Fortunately, my recent trip to The Charlotte Inn in Martha’s Vineyard resulted in an excellent example of true leadership. Initially we were a little surprised at the fact that the boutique inn would not email our reservation confirmation and insisted on mailing it to us via snail mail, but upon our arrival we instantly recognized the Inn’s atmosphere which is not fast paced and technology driven. In fact, cell phones are permitted in private guest rooms only. But, once you walk in the door, you’re greeted by a golden retriever and courteous staff that make you instantly forget about checking your emails or retrieving your latest voice mail.

There was a mood created by every person that interacted with us. From the moment we set foot in the main house reception area we were accommodated. There was someone in front of us in line to check in and we were immediately escorted to a lavish sitting room called the green room where we were able to have a drink and relax while the staff prepared for our stay. By the time it was our turn for check in we were handed a key and escorted to our room without spending one second at the front desk. And more importantly, (another indication of superior training and leadership) it didn’t matter who we spoke to they could accommodate our request.

The staff was well trained and the upscale feel of the boutique hotel came through with every interaction. Whether the staff was all truly happy I don’t know. It is impossible to distinguish that in a three day stay. But, I can say that the culture of the organization as viewed by a guest, was one in which the staff seemed to feel privileged to work there. If guests perceive that, then someone is doing an excellent job of leading this team.

The staff at Charlotte Inn created an atmosphere. It was formal, yet relaxed. It was a comforting stay that made guests feel welcome. No matter how nice a room is, or how good food is in a restaurant, people won’t continue to come if they “sense” disgruntled employees. It creates a tension that is not what clients are looking for.


In contrast, a dinner at Alchemy in Edgartown provided excellent food but a serving staff that made us feel as if we were an inconvenience to them. The staff didn’t communicate so no one knew if our order had been taken no one was accommodating to any special requests or substitutions and quite frankly it felt as though the staff was tired and ready to be finished since the season had technically ended.

Again, the culture of the organization shows through to the customers. I perceived that the staff had turnover issues, communication issues, and management issues and we were only there for dinner. I could be totally wrong, but in the world of hospitality you get one chance and perception becomes reality. If people want to get away even for a dinner, they want to feel that they are walking into a place where employee issues aren’t evident to guests. That being said, I must repeat that the Alchemy had incredible food and is a dinner worth having while on Martha’s Vineyard.

Customer Service Matters

Next, we traveled to Nantucket where we stayed at the Wauwinet Inn, another luxury boutique hotel.  This was also a very classy place, but the feel was much less formal than Charlotte Inn. It was quite laid back and relaxing, a by the sea, kind of place. The staff was very near the end of their season, I think the hotel closes mid-October, but they were all one hundred percent still focused on their job. They worked as a team, they accommodated our requests, and they were very much invisible.

The culture that we could view as outsiders showed a team of workers who were committed to one another as well as to the Inn. The summer help had all gone back to school so those that were there were the full-timers; the ones who were willing to put in the 16 hour days and take pride in their work.

The room at Wauwinet was quite small, which was our only complaint. But, the staff showed professionalism and it makes for a nice get-away.  We spent three days in total relaxation made possible by a corporate culture that showed through to guests.

It’s important for professionals in all industries to realize that many of their clients are professionals who deal with staff every day.  So, staffing issues are much more evident to outsiders than one might think. It is necessary to not only know the internal culture of your organization, but to know what that culture looks like to an outsider. The culture is as important as the service. No one wants to do business somewhere when they can sense internal conflict. If you are a business owner, ask someone to visit your business and tell you what “culture” they sense. It will be an eye opener.



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