How Employee Experience Can Supercharge Customer Experience

Serving a critical and often overlooked constituency

It's not just Covid-19 that has made everything go digital-first. There's nothing like a global crisis to make the obvious more obvious. Retail needs e-commerce. CRM is king. Customers demand great experiences. What else is new?

In analog land, treating your customers well when they come into your store is absolutely a Good Thing. But it's hard to scale, and scaling is what the internet was made for. As Chris Anderson points out in his 2009 (!) bestseller Free: The Future of a Radical Price, the marginal distribution cost of digital trends towards zero. Add to that the data footprint your customer leaves, and you can now know them and treat them like a king, millions at a time.

Digital becomes a mindset, not a channel.

But as digital becomes a mindset, not a channel, we have increasingly invested in supporting the operational and business models behind these experiences. In the process, we have identified some fundamental problems that create a net negative impact on customer experience:

• A lack of joined-up thinking between key internal stakeholders, which slows down and waters down the impact on the customer experience.

Different stakeholders inside the organization, from the CTO to the CEO to the CMO, have different OKRs and various internal and external partners to help them achieve their goals—from management consultancies and technology implementation partners to creative and digital agencies. This in turn results in a disconnected and unfocused customer experience. 

• A lack of organizational ability to deliver the back-end processes and technology, which in turn power the front stage of the customer experience. 

We have been in many meetings where different stakeholders met each other for the first time, even though they were supposed to deliver a seamless experience for customers. While we were working on a shiny front end with our client, the internal processes and technologies needed to provide follow-through with customers was missing and nobody was even aware it was missing.

• A lack of understanding and operational ability of employees to support customers intuitively and proactively.

For your customers, a large part of their experience is still directly or indirectly delivered by human beings. From the store staff to the customer support agent to the R&D department and the supply chain operations, the overall customer experience is dependent on these people being empowered and accessible. In many cases they are not, leading to a degraded and dehumanized experience.

Start paying attention to EX, not just CX.

The solution to these and other issues that prevent your investment in customer experience projects delivering real business value is to start paying more attention to the powerful but underappreciated sibling of CX: employee experience or EX. Employee experience has many facets, but it starts from the same basic premise that has delivered such a positive impact for customer-centric brands: Humans have needs and desires, and if you understand and serve those they will reward you for it.

For retailers, EX should be a particular focus, because so many employees are the front line in terms of customer experience. As store staff and customer support agents, they are key enablers of a great customer experience. Giving employees access to omnichannel customer data enables the kind of customer intimacy at scale that drives real business outcomes. At the same time, understanding the balance between data-driven customer intimacy and privacy considerations is crucial. Various studies have shown that customers are comfortable sharing personal data as long as they receive a benefit from it. 

But there are other ways to make employees work better, from digital tools to improve their productivity and collaboration; to more insight into personal, store and company performance over time; to employer branding which allows employees to connect with the brand purpose and increase their intrinsic motivation and connection with the brand. 

Where to start?

Crucially, investments in EX pay off handsomely for organizations. A recent study from MIT showed that companies with great employee experience were more innovative and profitable and had higher levels of customer satisfaction. And when Forrester looked at what sets apart customer-obsessed firms, it found that their employees are 28 percent more likely to report being happy at work, which contributed to higher employee accountability, more innovation and lower attrition, among other benefits. 

Identifying the key metrics that can be improved through better EX, such as NPS, retention or customer service scores, is a good way to start creating the internal business case for investment in EX. Surveys and other internal temperature checks can also be a quick way to get a first idea where to put the focus. There's no excuse not to take the first step to improving your CX with great EX.

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David Vogel
David Vogel is executive experience design director at AKQA.

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