retail and hospitality

Balancing the Experience Equation

The Essential Interdependence of Customer Experience and Employee Experience

September 6, 2019
by Ken Gordon
Research HumanCenteredData

Customer experience and employee experience: the two are not merely related. They’re mirror images of each other. Not every company recognizes the familial relationship—the symmetrical smiles and painful frowns—between the two key faces of business. But they should, because the sooner they do, the more successful they will become.

The mutuality between customers and employees, the way in which each group directly affects the other’s experience, is undeniable. Because of this, much care must be taken in designing for both groups. You must, as we did in our digital wayfinding project for Southwest Airlines, work to improve things for both the people serving and the people being served—the new system soothed passenger anxiety by providing clear, human-centered boarding information and allowed employees to focus on meaningful customer-service tasks—if you want to make true change.

The mutuality between customers and employees, the way in which each group directly affects the other’s experience, is undeniable.

If an organization seeks to have a healthy business (one featuring regular financial growth, satisfied, long-term customers, and loyal and engaged employees), it needs to revise Newton’s Third Law to read as follows: “For every action towards customers, there is an equal and opposite reaction towards employees.”

Firms that strive to be customer-centered, but fail to think about the impact on employees, will find themselves ultimately injuring their bottom line and their culture. We’re talking about the organizational version of work-life balance.

“Employee experience and customer experience is ultimately around organizational cultural change,” says Bentley sociologist Gary David in a recent episode of The Resonance Test.

Good experience has a price… but it’s well worth paying because it’ll cost your organization if you don’t. What does a good experience cost? Well, it’s an investment of getting to know what’s really going on with the people who buy from and work for you.

Tom Peters encourages management by wandering around, or MBWA, and for executives to enjoy it: “If it’s not a kick to be out with your team in the distribution center at 1 a.m…. You. Are. In. The Wrong. Job.”

At EPAM Continuum we take MBWA even farther when we do ride-alongs, which we memorably did with our future of first response project, in which we put designers on the back of firetrucks and into ambulances, even sending them into a double homicide investigation and a bomb scare. This immersion in the world of first responders provided insights that led to a slew of innovative ideas that we went on to prototype and test with real users.

The trick is setting the proper expectations for each group. Your customers and your employees have an unarticulated sense of what defines a good experience for each. You must learn what this is and learn to meet or exceed it, and to ensure, as your business progresses, that you continue to do so.

Let’s assume that you can identify the most positive aspect of your CX—the one your organization prides itself on.

Take a look at the experience and consider it carefully: What role do employees have in this particular excellence? Are they aware of this role? Do they care? Are they incentivized to care? Does enhancing the CX take away much-valued employee autonomy? Have some honest conversations about this. Try to identify the work that goes into creating this superior CX.

Good experience has a price… but it’s well worth paying because it’ll cost your organization if you don’t.

It is an excellent idea to get a first-hand understanding of how frontline employees create these experiences, and how they feel about implementing them. You want employees to feel heard. You could also share ideas of potential innovations for customers and ask for their thoughts on how these could affect them. Get employee input on new ideas before you roll them out, so they feel included and you'll understand their impact. Talking to employees about their vision of the future and their role in it, and to customers about what they’d like to see, would be profoundly enlightening and would be the first step toward backcasting your way toward it.

If you do this with sufficient skill and empathy, you will know what the parameters of CX excellence are, and possibly even the elements of the job that are unpleasant or unbearable.

You might find yourself lucky enough to have employees with a cast member- like devotion to customers… who find it a mere pleasure to serve… or you might just discover that there are unsuspected costs to providing excellent service. Either way, uou’ll soon see that both sides of the equation are needed to balance in order to have a healthy business environment.

Keep in mind the revised Newtonian framework and you’ll never take your employees, or your customers, for granted again.

filed in: retail and hospitality, customer experience, employee experience

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