Culture Defines LinkedIn’s Customer Experience

We’ve all had good and bad customer experiences. Unfortunately, it’s the bad ones that we remember most. We mull them over in our minds, fixating on how the vendor could have delivered a great experience if they had only done this or that.  To us the solution is so clear; why doesn’t the vendor see it as well?

Scott Shute, VP of Customer Operations at LinkedIn, had one of those telling experiences traveling with his young family over the Thanksgiving holiday. Scott arrived at the Las Vegas airport with just 22 minutes to make his connecting flight, and he literally raced a mile to arrive at the departure gate just as the last few passengers were boarding the plane.  Out of breath, Scott approached the gate agent to let her know that his wife and toddler will be arriving momentarily.  He asked if she could just wait 90 seconds for them to arrive. “Ha,” exclaimed the gate agent as she turned to the boarding door.

Scott’s frustration with that airline’s gate agent left an indelible imprint on how he defines customer experience at LinkedIn.

A company’s culture defines the customer experience

In a recent interview with show host and Fanatics Media managing director, Mark Fidelman, on CX Factor, a customer experience show sponsored by Oracle, Shute explains the connection between LinkedIn’s culture, the company’s ‘members first’ philosophy, and its phenomenal success. Their rapid growth, from 30 million members in 2008 to 467 million members in October 2017 all starts with a culture of empowerment.  And that starts with C-Suite ownership of the culture.

LinkedIn’s culture is based on the core values of permission and trust.  Each employee has permission to do what is right for the customer. Shute says owning the solution to the customer’s problem is possible because employees know they have full support of the C-Suite to do what’s right.  That sense of ownership spans the entire company from customer support through product development.  Each employee knows they are part of the solution.

Don’t take lightly the value of permission. It implies trust, the most valuable kind; that leaders trust their employees to make the right decisions for their customers, first, and the company, second. To establish that level of trust in your organization, you need all of the following:

  1. Clearly defined values and a management team that demonstrates these values day in and day out through their actions, behaviors and decisions.
  2. A recruitment process that tests for these values, and hiring decisions are made accordingly, without compromise. The best candidates live by these values as well as possess the required skills.
  3. The customer experience team has a deep, detailed understanding of customers’ journeys, as defined by both paid members and platform users, for the entire relationship lifecycle. This means going beyond interaction points and content to include emotion and intent mapping for each role at every level within the organization.
  4. Defined processes and information based on lifecycle journeys that in turn enables them. The focus is on providing employees with the right information at the right time.
  5. Opening all parts of the company to the customer to encourage dialog and personal relationships across all communication channels.

Customer experience is not a platitude.  Yet for many companies it remains a slogan, a marketing initiative or something that pertains only to front line staff.  Therein lays the seed bed of poor customer experiences.  What these brands don’t realize is the linkage effect.

According to Peter Drucker, culture drives strategy, which in turn defines organization and processes.

Employees, who themselves don’t feel valued, recognized, or appreciated, have a hard time consistently demonstrating a different set of values to their  customers. Shute’s airline experience demonstrates that, as does a recent experience I had at JW Marriott at the Mall of Americas that included the “erroneous” removal and theft of a personal item from my room.  In both cases, the message was clear – the customer was not valued – which calls into question whether the staff themselves are valued

Listening is a critical requirement to empowering employees with the right insights and advice upon which to act .  LinkedIn relies on more than its state-of-the-art social customer listening system to hear its customers.  The company monitors customer emotions around key issues that executive leadership prioritizes weekly to address.

The combination of a culture focused on customer satisfaction; employee empowerment to directly solve issues; a rich, deep data set, and modern technology infrastructure enables LinkedIn to continually innovate and respond timely to customer needs.

Shute’s advice can be put into action with these best practices:

  • Ensure the C-Suite owns the customer and models the behavior of ‘customer first’
  • Proactively define a culture that values employees and empowers them to act in the customers’ best interest
  • Create human connections at the individual level

The last point is the most important. Technology enables asynchronous conversations to employee productivity but they’re only effective if customer experiences are supported by real, meaningful relationships.

First published in Forbes at

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