How rituals fortify customer experience as a competitive advantage: CX Mini Masterclass – E70

By February 6, 2020 No Comments
This CX Mini Masterclass explores the concept of organizational rituals and the role they play in reinforcing culture and strengthening customer experience as a competitive advantage. Show host and customer experience expert, Julia Ahlfeldt, shares some findings from her recent research on team rituals in the business context. If you are keen to learn about this cutting edge topic and hear some tips for shaping customer-centric rituals in your organization, then this episode is for you.

An emerging topic

Episode 66 covered the link between HR strategy and CX culture. HR strategy is the foundation of team culture, whether that’s a customer-centric culture or not. But there are many other things that influence attitudes and behaviors in the workplace. Rituals come from the culture, but also reinforce the culture, and for this reason, rituals are an emerging topic in CX management. It’s a particularly important area of focus in terms of how leaders can ensure that team culture supports business objectives, like the customer promise (see episode 69 for a detailed explanation of the customer promise).

Rituals haven’t been a major area of focus of CX professionals, so there is limited coverage and thought leadership on the topic. Business management academics have been pondering the role of rituals in the business context and, not surprisingly, this research sheds light on how this aspect of business management might be applicable to CX management.

Defining “rites” and “rituals”

Intuitively, we all probably understand what business rituals are: ongoing actions or interactions that reinforce norms. This interpretation is correct, but a duo of academics from the US and Brazil have come up with a definition that really puts things in perspective. 

Ritual action, it is proposed, is a form of social action in which a group’s values and identity are publicly demonstrated or enacted in a stylized manner, within the context of a specific occasion or event. – Gazi Islamro and Michael J. Zyphur

Examples of this might include a dinner for employees, a speech welcoming a new hire or a manager’s weekly team huddle. It’s important to note that many scholars use the words “rite” and “ritual” interchangeably. In practice, people often refer to specific types or examples of ritual action as “rites”, and the term “rituals” as a broad generic descriptor (Islamro and Zyphur’s research goes into more detail on the background of this definition, should you wish to jump down the rabbit hole on this topic).

Different types of rituals

Not all rituals serve the same purpose, and understanding the difference between the types of rituals clarified how these might be applied in a business context.

  1. Rites of passage serve to “socialize” participants as an accepted member within the broader community. Rites of passage would include things like new hire onboarding.

  2. Rites of enhancement are public celebration of commendable behavior, intended to showcase model behavior and recognize individuals. An example of this would be a CEO shout-out in a monthly team newsletter.

  3. Rites of renewal are a stabilizing function within an organization. These rituals rejuvenate and reinforce values over time. A Manager’s weekly huddle is a great example of a rite of renewal.

  4. Rites of conflict resolution are just what the sound like, how an organization deals with a dispute between stakeholders within the community.

  5. Rites of integration work to establish an emotional unity or community bond. An example of this might be an annual team building offsite or even something less formal like a greeting ritual or how team members vents their frustrations at the water cooler.

  6. Rites of degradation are less common, but serve an important role and they may be a consideration during change management. Rites of degradation happen when an organization is going through a major change or possibly shutting down. These rites often involve reflection on what went wrong and serve to reaffirm the bonds between members of the community during a time of uncertainty. 

Creating and reinforcing customer experience as a competitive advantage 

It’s important for CX practitioners to be aware and vigilant about how elements of employee engagement, including rituals, influence culture. Culture can either support or detract from organizational objective. CX leaders want to ensure that rituals serve to fortify customer experience as a competitive advantage, otherwise they could find themselves permanently fighting an uphill battle.

For rituals to stick, they need to be organic, not manufactured. CX professionals should engage with executives and team leaders about the importance of rituals. They would also be wise to take stock of any company-wide rituals that are already in play, and understand what behaviors or norms these reinforce. Where rituals support customer-centricity, there may be opportunities to share these with an even broader audience (remember that many rituals start at team level and grow from there). Where rituals possibly undermine customer experience objectives, CX professional may identify a need to gently redirect these.

If leveraged correctly, rituals can support CX culture and possibly even an organization’s ambitions to use customer experience as a competitive advantage, but not if left to chance.

Want to keep learning about CX?

If you’d like to checkout more of these CX Mini Masterclasses or listen to my longer format CX expert interviews, check out the full listing of episodes for this CX podcast.

Decoding the Customer is a series of customer experience podcasts created and produced by Julia Ahlfeldt, CCXP. Julia is a customer experience strategist, speaker and business advisor. She is a Certified Customer Experience Professional and one of the top experts in customer experience management. To find out more about how Julia can help your business achieve its CX goals, check out her customer experience advisory consulting services (including CX strategy and culture change) or get in touch via email

Julia Ahlfeldt

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