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Employee experience – the key to customer experience

Digital is forcing companies to make the paradigm shift from selling only products/services to selling value through end-to-end customer-experience. Customer-centricity is paramount across not only the marketing & sales functions, but all across the organization including operations, finance, HR, IT, etc., that results in competitive customer experience. To put customer at the center of everything, companies must take on a people first approach. Employees across the organization must make significant shift by owning the marketing perspective and becoming customer obsessed for success. Making employees loyal advocates of the employer is not an end goal in itself, but rather a means to achieving customer and financial goals. This would mean that digital transformation must be undertaken as a profound business transformation that must start with the baseline of a culture-shift that must be designed, implemented and run.

Mark Levy, the Chief Employee Experience Officer of Airbnb, that is a pioneer in the area of creating a great employee experience, says that: “At Airbnb we are focused on bringing to life our mission of creating a world where you can #belonganywhere, by creating memorable workplace experiences which span all aspects of how we relate to employees, including how we recruit them, develop them, the work environment we create with them, the type of volunteer experiences we offer them, and the food we share together.” This is not going to be about free lunches and having access to ping-pong tables; it is about giving people meaningful purpose at work, to help them feel that they make an impact on other people’s lives.

Employee engagement

The key to enhanced employee-experience is about having engaged employees who are emotionally committed to a specific goals, common approach and meaningful purpose. Successful companies invest heavily in nurturing a culture of employee engagement through regular team meetings with supervisors and by organizing cross-functional teams around customers. Employees are most engaged in their jobs—and do their best work—when they want to make a difference in their environment—not out of obligation but because their job matters to them, both professionally and personally. That’s motivation. On the other hand, discipline comprises systems, policies, and practices that raise accountability. When motivation and discipline unite, employees are excited about, accountable for, and rewarded for their work.

Employees need to understand corporate and personal goals, and they must understand and believe in the corporate vision and values. There also needs to be some connection between the hard objectives and the softer, but critical, aspirations. Employees need clear guideposts that indicate their responsibilities and provide a sense that their workplace is cooperative and receptive to their input. Employees need to be guided by performance management systems that have real targets and visible feedback mechanisms, as well as recognition programs that encourage performance, good behavior, and career advancement. Employees need to work for a boss who provides feedback and development opportunities, and who is honest, encouraging, and open to feedback. Ultimately, optimum engagement comes from balance between discipline and motivation.

Line managers, not HR, must be responsible for engagement

In successful companies, the effective senior leaders model the right behaviors around engagement, starting with their own team. Rather than prescribing solutions, they expect supervisors themselves to take responsibility for determining the right course of action. Clearly communicating to line-managers their responsibility for engagement will increase their sense of autonomy, which itself is a prerequisite for the right level of engagement. It's easy to see how a more engaged and empowered supervisor has direct influence on the engagement of the team. For example, regular team discussions generate ideas that will benefit customers.

Instead of attempting to do it for the line managers, HR staff helps leaders at all levels become both accountable for and empowered to get at what is hindering engagement. HR staff help emphasize training on how to encourage honest, constructive discussions and how to handle tricky topics like requests for better pay or worries about outsourcing. Training for supervisors in how to lead an effective dialogue is critical, as poorly handled dialogues may cause engagement to falter. Employees and leaders must have confidence that their voices will be heard by the right executives or that an executive with sufficient authority and decision rights will broker collaboration among several departments to bring solutions that are a win-win for all stakeholders.

Teaming for engagement around the customer

As design-thinking and agile principles are embraced by customer-centric organization to reap innovation and speed, line-managers and leaders regularly tap customer knowledge by asking employees what the company could do to build the ranks of customer promoters, and listening hard to the answers. The act of soliciting these ideas shows employees that their views matter. But to lift engagement levels, one needs to put in place a closed-loop process to review the ideas and communicate back the outcomes. Seeing their suggestions come to fruition, reinforced for employees how senior management really listened to and respected their ideas. This is one of many reasons why embracing good teaming practices can significantly increase employee engagement and satisfaction.

Formal and informal teams that enhance collaboration are being used in many ways. Some companies handle the ideas from employees across all business units in the company by building a digital infrastructure, allowing each suggestion to be logged online. A small, dedicated team promptly reads and triages the suggestions, sending each one to a designated leader or expert who is obligated to consider it and respond properly. An online tool allows all employees to see the progress of each suggestion and to log comments to further clarify or collaborate.

Types of collaboration vary across organization

Employees of various functions and divisions in an organization have varied needs and each group will respond to different management motivational techniques. Age, gender, job function and cultural heritage all play a role in shaping employee attitudes and so the drivers for engagement vary by generational demographics. Even regional cultures may show varying levels of engagement. Diversity in the make-up of employees must be taken into consideration before deploying enterprise-wide engagement initiatives. Companies must be careful about rolling out uniform motivational programs across the organization without considering the different priorities of different employee groups. The line-managers must be well-trained in how demographics, gender and culture often affect engagement.

Two way communication with employees paramount for engagement

The focus should be on a few “moments of truth” that shape the customer’s attitude toward the company. It’s critical to build customer feedback into daily operations and then close the loop with employees. Put employees squarely at the center of customer feedback loops. This entails soliciting feedback from customers after an important interaction or as part of a relationship assessment, then quickly sharing the comments with the employees most responsible for the experience. Feedback should not dwell exclusively on problems. Hearing a customer’s descriptions of how an employee’s actions had a positive effect can be a powerful reinforcement of desired behaviors and reminder of the employee’s purpose. The feedback process is as much about reinforcing what employees should do and are doing right as it is about correcting what they did wrong. With a little imagination and experimentation, companies can apply the feedback loop concept to parts of the organization that don’t directly touch customers but indirectly have an effect on the customer experience.


It’s intuitive that customer advocacy closely correlates with employee engagement. Organizations with highly engaged employees often seem to be powered by an inner force, a mantra that crystallizes the company’s processes and employee behaviors into a compelling summation of “what we’re all about.” The mantra shapes how employees carry out their tasks and gives them confidence to use their judgment. And when the true source of job satisfaction, happiness and recognition derives from enriching customers’ experiences, good things happen. Engaged employees go the extra mile to deliver. Their enthusiasm rubs off on other employees and on customers. They provide better experiences for customers, approach the job with energy—which enhances productivity— and come up with creative product, process and service improvements. They remain with their employer for longer tenures, which reduces turnover and its related costs. In turn, they create passionate customers who buy more, stay longer and tell their friends— generating sustainable growth.

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