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Creating and managing the customer experience in a world of disruption

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Does anyone remember the floppy disk? The rotary phone? Blockbuster? The Yellow Pages? Typewriters? Cooking at home from scratch? Disruption is all around us. And when you look at disruption I would argue that the vast majority of it is based on some kind of breakthrough that alters the customer experience. Disrupters in most cases have fundamentally redefined either a process or a product that makes customers lives easier, more convenient, more profitable, more productive, or just more enjoyable. So, we are all operating in an environment today made up of two types of companies—the ones causing the disruption, and the ones being disrupted.

Theodore Levitt, one of the fathers of modern marketing, wrote about the early failings of the railroad industry, and he essentially chalked it up to how they defined themselves. They said they were in the railroad business, rather than saying they were in the transportation business, which would have dramatically changed their thinking. Just think about that for a moment. Does how you define what you do and the business you are in define your decision making and how you approach the customer experience you are creating?

At Sonoco, we base our customer experience journey on four pillars: Purpose, Process, Product and Performance.


While each of these are critically important, if you haven’t defined your purpose, everything else will fail when you begin to engage with customers. Once you have a cultural foundation based on a clear purpose (ours happens to be Better Packaging, Better Life), then you can develop processes that impact the customer experience journey. Our purpose statement drives every decision we make and ultimately helps define the customer experience we deliver. As the management theorist Robert Maxwell said, “People don’t care how much you know, until they know how much you care.” Purpose plays a huge role in that kind of thinking and ultimately shapes your philosophy around customer experience. And while this can be applied to any relationship in life, it’s especially critical when you are forming customer relationships and creating customer experiences, whether you are B2B or a B2C company. Embracing this belief creates an environment based on relationships, not transactions – making you an effective collaborator, not just a supplier.


We have also defined a customer experience roadmap or process based on our mission to “Become the acknowledged leader in high quality, innovative, value-creating packaging solutions that “Satisfy the Customer.”

At Sonoco, we have a formalized process made up of four key elements: Voice of the Customer, Risk Management, Quality Management and Product Consistency. And while these may seem like table stakes, it’s funny what happens when you take your eye off the ball and forget to focus on the basics. Everything here impacts the customer experience, and each element is extremely important. It’s especially critical to conduct a customer needs analysis, be responsive to issues, focus on prevention instead of correction, standardize processes and systems across the organization, and -- perhaps most important -- engage employees in the process. You can’t take people out of the customer experience equation.


An innovative product that makes a company more productive, saves them money, or allows them to sell a product that delights their customer is the ultimate goal. But the customer experience doesn’t have to be defined by what you make or sell – it can be defined by how you interact with the customer. Zappos is a great example. The shoes are great, but their success has come from the culture they’ve created and the experience they deliver to their customers during the buying process.


Our final pillar, performance, is driven by our culture to do everything we can to delight our customers. It’s an attitude, a passionate and authentic “service mindset,” rather than an exact process or technical innovation. It’s the decision of a team to come in over the weekend to help a customer who is in a jam. It’s finding a creative solution on short notice just to get a customer through a short term challenge. It’s going the extra mile, where you will find far less traffic.


In a highly competitive world, where there can be a great deal of parity when it comes to products, one area where you can really differentiate your organization is in the experience you create for your customers. People may forget what you said, they may forget what you did, but they will never forget how you made them feel. Are you focused on how your customers feel about working with you? Are you building a culture and creating processes with the customer in the center?  It can make all the difference in the world.

Rob Tiede

Robert C. Tiede is President and CEO at Sonoco. In this role, Tiede has global leadership, sales and operating responsibility for all of the Company’s diversified consumer, industrial and protective packaging businesses. He has been with the Company since 2004.