Creating a Customer-First Culture at American Express

  • Financial Services

The Challenge

American Express had to reinforce its competitive advantage to remain the unrivaled card choice for its consumers and drive customer loyalty in the increasingly fierce card industry. After witnessing the impact of our Customer First methodology, the company asked us to embed the “putting the customer first” mindset and behaviors in every employee’s way of working.

The Opportunity

This need sparked the opportunity to create a widespread change across American Express to transform the organization into a truly customer-centric company by rallying the employees around the “Customer First Philosophy” and developing a full roll-out plan to ensure its continuation and long-lasting impact.

The Outcome

This successful collaboration established the first-ever customer-focused framework, curriculum, and suite of tools to reimagine the way American Express works and behaves as an organization. To support American Express in its customer-centric initiative, we’re continuing to roll out subsequent Customer First programs and additional modules, as needs arise.

Understanding that Customers are the Bottom Line

Longtime Vivaldi client American Express is one of the world’s leading companies in travel and financial services, with more than 110 million cards in circulation worldwide. As the company that first introduced the travelers cheque and led the way for plastic payment, American Express has a 160-year heritage of blazing new trails in the payments market. However, competition for customer loyalty in the card industry has become increasingly fierce and American Express realized that to remain the unrivaled card of choice for its customers, it would need to reinforce its nearly irreplaceable competitive advantage: putting the customer first.

After witnessing our Customer First methodology first hand during consulting work that Vivaldi did for various American Express credit cards, the company asked us to help imbue their employees with a more customer-centric mindset. They wanted to go from being “good” to “great” in terms of being a customer-centric company. This would require building specific skills, reinforcing attitudes, and nurturing behaviors in order to create a widespread change across the large, historically-siloed organization.

“Vivaldi has been one of our most valuable partners over the past few years. Working with them, we developed and rolled out a new Customer First approach which has influenced the way we go to market, work and behave at Amex.”
— Jennifer LaFiura, Global Brand Management, Vice President, American Express

Taking Customer-Centricity to the Bank

American Express asked the Vivaldi team to define and embed “Customer First” mindsets, skills, tools, and templates throughout the organization. To ensure that the initiative’s impact would be long-lasting, the Vivaldi team set out to achieve three things; to create a common philosophy and understanding, develop a playbook for the organization, and conduct “action learning” workshops to deploy it across the organization.

Vivaldi started by performing a needs assessment, defining what it meant to be customer-centric, and establishing success metrics. “Cubicle anthropologies” of American Express employees helped us understand the key moments of their days and assess the current level of customer-centric attitudes and behaviors within the company. Our team then executed a gap analysis, based on American Express’ performance in key customer-centric dimensions compared to that of best-in-class companies.

These analyses led to the development of a Customer First Philosophy that the leadership team at American Express and the rest of the organization could rally around. The Customer First Philosophy was then translated into an easy-to-understand Customer First process and playbook. Each Customer First module was then broken down further into principles, tools and templates that employees could apply to their everyday work.

To help American Express ensure the continuation of the customer-centric initiative, employee ‘champions’ were selected to take part in Customer First Action Learning workshops, where they learned the principles and tools of the new philosophy. The Vivaldi team proceeded to roll-out the program across the organization by using the champions to serve as change agents. A full roll-out plan of supporting activities and projects reinforced the employees’ Customer First mindsets and behaviors.

In this way, every Customer First champion’s engagement journey is fortified over time – through hearing it, believing it, and living it. Along with rolling out the philosophy through champions, interactive exercises during the workshop strengthened the learning and application of the Customer First Philosophy and allowed employees to make personal commitments on how they would apply Customer First to their line of work. Beyond the workshop, we designed a holistic program with mechanisms to inspire and embed a Customer First organizational way of working.

An Employee Culture That’s On the Money

As a result of our work, Vivaldi established the first-ever customer-focused framework, curriculum and suite of tools for American Express to use. To spread the thinking of these modules the Vivaldi team enrolled and engaged more than 800 champions across levels and more than 30 champions took part in the “How to Lead a Crash Course” half day session, to teach other employees the Customer First Philosophy. The common vision and language ensures that employees across division and geographies work toward the same Customer First goal. The program was so successful that we subsequently rolled out a Customer First 2.0 program and we continue to develop additional modules, as needs arise.