Great Customer Experience? Leadership Comes First!

Quite often we receive requests from organizations to deliver training to improve their customer experience. Unfortunately, putting your team in a u-shaped classroom setting and talk about customer experience for a day is not going to ‘do the trick’. Why? Because everyone always agrees on the importance of great customer experience. People always have the intention to deliver a great experience to their customer, guest, patient, passenger, or whatever you call them!  People don’t get up in the morning, deciding to ignore every customer that walks into the store. But if this is true, why are those great experiences so rare?

Leadership Comes First

It’s because leadership comes first! Leaders need to have a stimulating impact on the working climate, co-worker behavior, and interaction. If they do that well, a great customer experience is a result. Great leaders are embodying purpose and identity as well as their organization’s desired experience. Bringing the desired customer experience to life in a team, or an entire organization requires leadership. Not (traditional) management. Leadership produces change, involvement, and growth. Traditional management produces structure, efficiency, and consistency. You might want to argue that you would like the best of both worlds, and they can indeed be complementary and related. Having said that, with a traditional management style you simply will not be able to effectively lead teams toward consistently memorable customer experience.

EPIC Leadership versus Traditional Management

Are You An Inspiring Leader?

Some people say that you have to be born as either an effective manager or an inspiring leader. Although there may be some truth to that statement, both can be developed by anybody. Management is, in my view, more skills-based and perhaps more of a craft that can be trained and learned. On the other hand, becoming a better leader is about developing a compelling story that people want to hear. It is very much tied to your personal why and self-image, as well as your values and set of beliefs. You can apply all the principles of reverse thinking to you as a leader by answering the following questions:

  • What is your reason for being/your individual purpose (why)?
  • How, in one word, do you want to be perceived (who)?
  • What, in essence, will be your added value to your team/organization (what)?
  • How, in essence, will you be leading; what will be your success formula (how)?

You could even go further and define how you want to be experienced by your team(s), and how you will be interacting and behaving in order to optimally contribute to this experience. Before leaders are able to effectively lead others to ‘deliver’ a better customer experience, they will need to be able to lead themselves.

Reverse Your Organization Chart

Reversing the organizational chart is a very logical approach to show that the customer comes first. Always. Realizing that the true leader in any organization is the customer helps develop a customer-driven culture and experience-based leadership. Top-down, then, means the customer is at the top, followed by those who have the most impact on the customer experience: the front-line, customer-facing co-workers of an organization. In this approach, the formal, senior leadership is at the bottom of the chart. After all, they have the least direct impact on what customers experience.



Whereas the traditional and linear organization chart was a perfect fit for the relatively straightforward approach of manufacturers and distributors up to the 80’s and 90’s, times have now changed. Co-workers from the new generations Y and Z have a different view on hierarchy. Also, doing business in the 21st century simply asks for different business models and a different leadership approach.

A great example of a company applying an inverted organization chart is Nordstrom, which is famed for its great customer service. One of the essential pillars of the Nordstrom culture is their inverted pyramid as mentioned above with, from top to bottom:

  • Customers
  • Sales and support people
  • Department managers
  • Store managers, buyers, regional managers, general managers
  • Board of directors

In Business Insider for Retail, Ashley Lutz writes about the Employee Handbook at Nordstrom. “While other retailers have extensive employee handbooks, Nordstrom’s is incredibly simple. Our employee handbook is a single card that says, ‘Use good judgment in all situations,’” Nordstrom spokesperson Dan Evans told Business Insider. Nordstrom shared the handbook with Business Insider:


Be(come) an EPIC Leader

We all know one or two people who really made a difference in our professional career. Now ask yourself the question: what did they do that made the difference for me? Great leaders empower people to contribute related to their personal passion and talents. Great leaders share their purpose and inspire people to connect to it. And great leaders will coach you to get the best out of yourself.

Since I am a great fan of acronyms (they bring words together that are not initially connected and help you to memorize a combination of separate words): These common leadership behaviors of experience leaders can actually create the acronym EPIC, which stands for:

  • Empowering
  • Purpose-driven
  • Inspiring
  • Coaching

A formal definition of EPIC is: ‘extending beyond the usual or ordinary.’ In the context of experience leadership, this definition makes perfect sense. In order to lead a team that keeps delivering delightful and memorable customer experiences, leaders definitely need to go beyond the usual. And be(come) an EPIC Leader!

EPIC Leadership Development Program

Being an EPIC leader is not a matter of luck, or something genetic. It is something you can learn. People deserve and want EPIC leaders that are Empowering, Purpose-driven, Inspiring and Coaching. The EPIC Leadership Program has been developed for leaders and managers who want be(come) an EPIC leader, professional independent trainers and HR professionals. The EPIC Leadership program the program consists of 5 modules, designed with ‘experience based learning’ assignments. Contact us for more information!


Watch the EPIC Leadership Movie

Do you want to learn more about EPIC Leadership? Watch the EPIC Leadership Movie and listen to inspiring leaders from game-changing organizations like CitizenM (Michel Levi), KLM (Pieter Elbers), Le Pain Quotidien (Arne Altmann & Hubert Nieuwendijk), Mazda (Christian Schultze) and many more…



Leadership is not about titles, positions or flowcharts. It’s about one life influencing another…

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