Over the last few years, the case for improving customer experience has been gaining significant traction in executive suites around the world. After all, companies that deliver a better customer experience than their peers have higher market valuations, greater customer loyalty, less price sensitivity and higher gross and net revenue.
There are many lessons on how they (and you can) get there; from the dozens of articles in this column to myriad books, articles and conferences on the subject, improving customer experience has become a massive industry. And with good reason.
However, much less energy has been spent on improving experience for employees, despite the fact that your people are the ultimate drivers of the experiences your customers have. Ironically, in most of the companies we work with – who typically are very focused on improving customer experience – the employee experience is somewhat of an afterthought. Rather than well planned and as aligned with the brand as customer experiences are, employee experience just kind of “happens.”
This has to change – and the case for doing so is just as compelling as any for improving overall customer experience.
Start By Engaging Your Employees. And Get Them to Love You, Too.
Consider this: According to Gallup’s State of the American Workplace survey, “70% of American workers are ‘not engaged’ or ‘actively disengaged’ and are emotionally disconnected from their workplaces…” Put another way, most employees don’t love their employers. At all. Unsurprisingly, the study goes on to say these employees are more likely to negatively influence coworkers, and to drive customers away.
On the flip side, “Engaged employees work with passion and feel a profound connection to their company. They drive innovation and move the organization forward.” Consider the passion – might I say love – that Zappos employees have for their company:
“I’m the face of Zappos. I love my Zappos family and I am proud to call this home.”
“I LOVE ZAPPOS!”
“I love Zappos and I am honored to be part of such a great company.”
The power of employee engagement is no surprise to any customer experience management expert; we know that employees are the foundation for delivering the kinds of experiences that create and maintain competitive differentiation. In the world of customer experience strategy, your brand sets customer expectations of experience, while the experience itself is what delivers on the promise of the brand. When these expectations are unmet, customer experiences are poor.
Employees – both on and behind the line – are the ones responsible for delivering on customer expectations.
Ask Yourself: Do Your Employees Know What Your Brand Promises to Your Customers?
Despite the linkages between brand and experience, “only 41% of employees felt that they know what their company stands for and what makes its brand different from its competitors.” It’s important that your employees do. After all, companies that “get” the connection between employee experience, customer experience and brand are among the most successful of all. Companies such as Amazon, Disney and Zappos totally get this. Starbucks CEO Howard Schultz is another, who said “[Employees] are the true ambassadors of our brand, the real merchants of romance and theater, and as such the primary catalysts for delighting customers.”
Truth is, the connections between employee engagement and customer experience are as startling as they are logical. Back to the Gallup survey, where above average companies – those with more highly engaged employees – experienced “147% higher earnings per share (EPS) compared with their competition…” At the same time, below average companies – those with fewer engaged employees – experienced “2% lower EPS compared with their competition during that same time period.”
Happier People. Happier Customers. Greater Profit.
This points to a pretty simple conclusion; if you want to deliver a better customer experience, you’d better start by improving employee experience, with a very clear idea of which employee experiences drive employee engagement, and why.
Which means that the kind of effort you put into customer experience design should be led by efforts that ensure your employee experience is well designed, too. Because an experience that actively engages your people, creates the kinds of “brand ambassadors” that customer experience leaders like Starbucks leverage with such success.
Not only do your people need to understand your company’s brand promise, they need to be empowered to deliver on it. And to do this, everyone needs to understand exactly how their role impacts the customer experience – whether they are facing customers or not.
After all, your brand promise is what sets customer expectations of experience. And if your people don’t know what that is, your chances of delivering the experience that promise makes are slim indeed.
This blog originally ran on CMO.com, where Michael Hinshaw writes the weekly “Get Customer-Centric” blog.