Is creating a great employee experience a waste of time and money?

By Rebecca Wilson, CCXP, Director of Human Experience.

Organisations that understand the link between happy engaged employees and happy engaged customers will exceed in the experience economy. Yet Customer Experience (CX) and Employee Experience (EX) strategies are often not aligned to the detriment of both employees and customers.

Forrester defines EX in the context of how positively employees perceive the organisation’s environment, culture, tools, and support structures, where a great employee experience keeps them satisfied and engaged in their work and allows them to achieve and exceed their goals.

Employee experience is very fundamental to the customer experience. Employees represent the brand and the culture the brand embodies. Frontline employees, such as customer service and sales staff, are brand ambassadors and they can have a massive impact on the customer experience whether that’s positive or negative.

Recently I read an article arguing that organisations are wasting time and money believing that CX and EX are connected. It asserts that employee experience doesn’t matter for most interactions because so much of the customer experience is online, self-serviced or automated. I could not disagree more strongly.

Back-office employees, including the people who design and manage the online and automated customer channels, may not have direct communication with customers, but what they do can have a more significant impact on the customer experience than frontline employees. According to the Aberdeen Group, errors and delays in back-office processes is the second biggest cause of customer dissatisfaction.

Another glaring misconception this article puts forward is that there is no direct correlation between company culture and employee experience. The author makes the assertion that employee experience is purely based on things like compensation, career path, or better training and better systems.

Just as with customer experience, the employee experience is very much built around culture. It’s also social and collaborative, going well beyond a focus on an individual employee’s needs and remuneration. Employee experience is a bottom-up concept, where processes, places, and workflows are designed around employees’ pre-existing tendencies. Research from EY highlights that 81% of employees believe that creating and sustaining a positive culture is important to good employee experience.

EX and CX are very much connected

Poor employee experience and engagement leads to poor productivity and poor customer experience, even if most of the interactions are via self-service or automated channels. But the reverse is also very true. Research from the XM Institute highlights how organisations that are CX leaders consistently demonstrate better EX results as well.

In 2015 Aon released a report Build a Culture of Engagement—Make Employee Engagement Happen. The report found that companies with higher employee engagement levels also have better talent, operational, customer, and monetary outcomes. If an employee is unhappy or disengaged, observes Dr Lucia Kelleher a leading Behavioural Neuroscientist, this will impact every interaction they have with a customer. She says, ““Employees can greatly affect the emotional mood of a customer. Customers buy a product or service because it makes them feel good at the time. If something happens that disrupts that feeling, such as a frontline agent being rude or an error in a back-office process delaying fulfillment, they will become dissatisfied.”

“This situation is bad for employees, it’s bad for the customer and ultimately it’s very bad for the organisation” says Kelleher.

On the other hand, companies that can engage their employees will gain numerous benefits in terms of improved productivity, reduced staff turnover costs and less absenteeism. But the biggest benefit is the impact it has on customers. Companies that invest in their culture and the employee experience benefit through enhanced customer experience which in turn offers a significant point of differentiation for the brand.

The link between employees and happy customers and therefore business growth, is undeniable. Most organisations, however, struggle when it comes to engaging their employees and providing them with an exceptional workplace experience.

Treating employees like customers

Creating exceptional customer experiences and engagement requires understanding the customer’s journey. Likewise, employee engagement is dependent on creating exceptional experiences based on understanding the employee’s journey. Kelleher explains, “Employees expect end-to-end workplace experiences, inspired by their experiences as consumers, whether it’s as simple as picking up a pay cheque to all the way thru to accessing education and learning, performance management or managing benefits”.

As with CX, silos can be a major challenge to EX. CX and EX operate in silos, owned and managed by separate teams. Marketing or a dedicated CX team may be the architect of CX where HR is the architect of EX. This can lead to misaligned goals as well as poor access to the data and insights necessary to drive improvements across all functional areas of the business. This is a challenge being faced head on by several organisations who have brought together customer, brand and employee experience under the one department, providing insightful and complete strategies to embed optimal experiences for all.

If you are treating employees as customers that means listening to them. Employees often have the best knowledge about the organisation’s customers. They can provide valuable insights on how to serve customers better. These contributions and feedback need to be encouraged and recognised. Just as Voice of the Customer programs are important for CX, Voice of the Employee can play a pivotal role in shaping EX.

CX is very complex and difficult for organisations to deliver on. Most CX initiatives have stalled or hit roadblocks or are failing to achieve the desired outcomes. Though EX may add another layer of complexity, it may be the very thing you need to make your CX succeed.