Customer Experience versus Employee Experience: Which Matters Most?


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Perhaps the oldest debate in life is — which came first, the chicken or the egg?

Similarly, a vexing question long debated by savvy leaders is whether:

  • it is my customer’s experience or my employee’s experience first?
  • employee engagement leads directly to business successes, higher profits and customer loyalty or vice-versa?
  • it is employee disengagement or a customer experience strategy no one can identify?
  • manager or employee – who is responsible for employee engagement?

All these tricky questions, is like the chicken or egg first debate, right?

Remember, people buy from people

So where do you stand as business leaders — who is #1, employee or customer? The answer is quite obvious – it must be the employee, even if it’s just a slight lead than customers.

Here’s why: Irrespective of your business or industry, you serve a client need, and they interact with your employees in one way or another:

  • Your product and engineering team create top-quality products that meet their need
  • Your marketing creates brand and product awareness, and salespeople make the sale
  • Your customer service empathizes with clients and assists them in making correct use of a product.

Without your employees, you cannot provide customer experience. If employees are not engaged and satisfied, they cannot provide a “WoW” customer experience. And if customers are not satisfied and served well they will not keep coming back; it impacts the bottom-line, employees will not have a job (or the resources will not exist to serve them best).

So, if you want to be prosperous and build a sustainable business, you have to put your employee’s experience first. By leaders treating employees with respect and loyalty, they are more likely to deliver the excellent service that keeps your customers delighted and coming back for more.

Employee experience matters

“Connect the dots between individual roles and the goals of the organization. When people see that connection, they get much energy out of work. They feel the importance, dignity, and meaning in their job.” –Ken Blanchard

We have established the fact that employee experience matters. So where do you begin? How do you make certain that the employee experience within your organization is optimal?

When it comes to designing employee experience, it should answer these questions from each employee’s perspective:

  • What’s in it for me?
  • Why should I care?
  • Why should I believe?

It’s not much different from designing a great customer experience. You must first understand the employee – because you cannot transform something you do not understand.

These four steps become the basis for designing a great employee experience:

Develop employee personas

Employee personas are semi-fictional characters that help create realistic representations of the most significant employee groups. The input is derived from both qualitative and quantitative research and includes vivid narratives, interviews, Voice of Employee surveys, images, and other information that help companies understand the needs of their employees. It also outlines their fears, motivations, goals, behaviors, constraints, likes, dislikes, challenges, objections, and interests. To bring the persona to life and humanize them, so people can clearly relate, give each one a human face and name.

It also includes details about their job role, department, tenure, career goals, age, educational qualification, accolades, interests, and more.

Develop employee empathy maps

The empathy map tries to understand for each employee persona:

  • What does the employee think and feel? What do they value and what do the perceive?
  • What does the employee see from us, market and their peers, subordinates and leaders?
  • What does the employee say and do – their behaviors towards others and social media?
  • What does the employee hear from boss, co-workers, stakeholders and influencers?

It helps you to learn and get into the hearts and minds of employees to engage them. You can also use it for

  • providing insight into how employees can engage across different touchpoints along the customer journey
  • crafting vibrant employee stories
  • finding ways to improve your leadership strength and employee retention etc.

Chart the employee journey from Hire to Retire, and for numerous tasks that they do every day

Employee journey mapping creates attentiveness for the steps that an employee takes to do whatever they are trying to achieve within your organization. The crux is to explore all major tasks, how technology can enable real-time engagement and identify the key moments of truth at various touchpoints and across the employee relationship overall.

It’s significant to understand not only how well the experience functions at certain points in time in the employee-employer, employee-customer relationship, but also how the employee experience works in the big picture and how it all fits together. These maps must be shaped with the employee voice and have to be validated by employees.

It helps facilitate the culture transformation in your organization i.e. becoming employee centric and customer centric.

Listen to employees and feed it into experience and process improvements

There are multiple ways to listen to employees: from surveys to conversations to suggestion boxes to retain interviews. The important thing is, you must act on the and keep treating till you get it right. Nothing frustrates employees if no action is taken when they point out that something is wrong or takes too much effort.

With the fundamentals in place, you are all set with the information you need to design and deliver an incredible experience for your employees.

Wrapping Up – Line up tools and resources to get started

“The test of a first-rate intelligence is the ability to hold two opposing ideas in mind at the same time and still retain the ability to function.” F. Scott Fitzgerald 1

Having read this article, ask yourself, to put the Employees and Customers at the top of your priority list what actions you can take today. There’s a lot to do, and you will likely need design thinking tools to help you get the mindset shift and to help you build in a continuous improvement loop.

Ask yourself, brainstorm with your team and ask customers as soon as you can, think about the questions more strategically and from a long-term view. The ideas will flow, and the actions will grow. If you are unsure how and where to get started or what to do, you may need to take the help of a consultant, who can facilitate you through defining your experience strategy, creating employee personas, listening to employees, analyzing the findings, mapping their journeys and putting it all to work.

If you have trouble getting the commitment from senior management, share the outcomes of an engaged employee.

They become raving fans of the brand. Your brand ambassadors (employees) and company evangelists…

  • want to see the organization succeed and grow
  • go out of the way to make that happen
  • provide higher levels of service, quality, and productivity
  • are more likely to stay
  • recommend their friends and family to work for your brand
  • provide timely feedback, good or bad, to support the business success
  • share their joy and passion with customers
  • are more able to close the sale faster as they believe in the product
  • feel proud to be associated with the brand to show that they are part of something bigger than themselves

Moreover, all this leads to increased sales, higher profits, stakeholder value and customer satisfaction. No one can argue with those outcomes!

Without chickens, there are no eggs, and without eggs, there are no chickens. I do not know about your preferences, but I love both. Why not take the same approach using design thinking tools and techniques inside your organization to deliver exceptional employee and customer experience.

Article was first posted in peoplematters

Vidya Priya Rao
Vidya Priya Rao (PhD), is the Founder and Director of Innovatus Marketers Touchpoint LLP, a customer experience, design thinking and marketing consulting firm based in Mumbai, India. She is a design thinking/service design thinking decoder and promotes a proven approach to build a design-led innovation culture. She is also a visiting faculty at leading B-Schools in India. She is an Executive, Marketing & Sales Coach, Trainer, and Keynote Speaker.


  1. ‘People First’ strategies and processes are critical to enterprise prosperity, and to a successful stakeholder-centric culture.. Employee experience and customer experience both matter. They are both significant: And, agree that it is just as important to understand the employee experience journey as it is to understand the customer experience journey.

  2. This is a no-brainer.
    You can not sustain a positive customer experience without your organization first having established the right internal environment, culture and employee mindset.
    I have written about this many times, let me know if you’d like me to post some links to my articles for you.

  3. Michael, Peter

    Delivering a positive experience vs an effective experience, which one is more important and why? Thanks.

  4. Hi Sampson,

    Shouldn’t they both be the same thing ?
    Still, a positive experience will more often outweigh an effective experience because subjective emotions count more for humans.
    You may have dealt with my matter effectively yet still leave me feeling dissatisfied. Do you see what I mean ?

  5. Peter,

    Thank you for your reply.

    To me, the purpose of CX is to understand how customers feel during an experience; then using these insights to enhance the experience in achieving business result, e.g. purchase, repeat purchase, retention, and referral.

    For instance, if customers ‘tell’ they are happy with you, but they ‘vote’ their monies for your rival. Which one is more important – a positive or an effective experience?

  6. Thanks Michael for sharing your insights, via the link you shared. The worst part is most companies get blinded by the short-term month-on-month, quarter-on-quarter, and annual results that they forget to focus the basic foundation they need to have in place to sustain and grow.

  7. Vidya and Peter,

    I agree with you that, to some companies if their brand value is about ‘service’, employee engagement is utmost important. But not for all companies. Sometimes customers buy from you for something other than service, e.g. ‘price’ or ‘product’.

    Take, for example, Ryanair and Sukiyabashi Jiro. They have been successful for decades, not months, quarters or years.

    In 2016, Ryanair was both the largest European airline by scheduled passengers carried, and the busiest international airline by passenger numbers.

    Sukiyabashi Jiro, a sushi restaurant located in Ginza, Tokyo has earned three Michelin stars for years. The place is so famous that U.S. President Barack Obama asked to dine there during his visit to Japan in 2014.

    One offers the cheapest airfares (price); one makes the world’s best sushi (product).

    The level of employee engagement of these companies should be quite different from the companies who have ‘service’ as their brand value. Agree?

  8. Sampson,

    Agree that companies which realize that the secret sauce to wow customers experience, employee engagement are the ones who stand to differentiate themselves. It’s about fostering relationships between the customers and the employees that tend to bring repeat business for the company.

    But, this can’t be achieved overnight or with a short-term view, budget cuts for improvement or innovation projects. That’s the reason why we only have a handful of best-in-class companies globally. It’s also about not getting complacent and raising the bar continually. Performance evaluation of senior management also needs to be rehashed, gearing for future has to be one of the parameters for evaluation; not just the immediate short-term results.

  9. I’m afraid I can’t agree with you, but I do appreciate that you share your views. Thank you, Vidya.

  10. Yes Sampson, you are correct. It depends on whether you want to compete on CX or on something else. If you want to be a competitor based on lowest price then CX will matter but not as much as when you are a business competing on quality.

  11. Agree Peter, the brand USP determines the scope, scale and reach of CX.

    But often, brands fall in love with their own product or service and forget that it is their customer’s needs, they must satisfy. So they have to step back from your day-to-day operations and carefully evaluate what customers really want and make course corrections.

    Price is never the only reason customers buy.So if a brand is losing out to competition on pricing, they need to figure out a sales feature that addresses the customer’s needs. So the brand needs to understand what motivates the behavior and buying decisions,

  12. As my experience, employees satisfaction 1st,then a satisfied employees can provide best customer satisfaction. But very unfortunately maximum no of companies ignore this chapter. And expect a customer satisfaction from a very unsatisfied employees.

  13. Yes Vidya,
    This is where CX and marketing come together. Segmentation- Targeting- Positioning with CX.
    Agree ?

  14. Very true Iqbal. You can count the number of companies focusing on employee experience, and set unrealistic expectations from the employees.

  15. Am in sync with you Peter. The role of marketing is expanding. By aligning with HR, marketing via the branding initiatives can facilitate the employee connect with the organization and its customers.

  16. Vidya, Peter, Michael & Sampson – you all make excellent points. Empathy, authenticity and consistency are required across the board, else ‘value’ is lost for employees and customers alike. For this reason and for most businesses, the consumer experience/customer journey and the employee experience & journey are interdependent regardless if engagement is in-person, via phone, chat, etc. Amazon is a perfect example of this quandry – punctuated by Jeff Bezos’ response August 16-18, 2015. In response to The New York Times article and critique of Amazon’s corporate culture with numerous references from previous and then current employees, Jeff Bezos first told employees “Our customers are the most important thing to our business. If you don’t like it here, leave” (paraphrasing his first email to employees. The next day, he offered this, ““I’ve heard your grievances, and I promise that HR is toiling 16 hours a day, plus weekends, until the problem is solved,” read a company-wide email from Bezos, who promised that members of the human resources department would not be allowed to rest for a single second until allegations of a cruel, backstabbing office culture at Amazon were fully dealt with. “Nothing matters more to me than the well-being of our employees, and our HR staff will continue to work their fingers to the bone—not seeing their families or friends or anything at all outside their offices—for as long as it takes to make this right.”

    He acknowledged that both the customers and the employees are most important before saying the company was nothing like the one depicted in the NYT article, then following that up with a big-ole heave-ho of everyone in HR directly under an oncoming bus. He stated he would work them to exhaustion and without regard for whether or not they see their families. And that is from “the most-customer centric company in the world”.

    At Facebook, it’s a different story for different reasons. There, since customers and metrics can be manufactured and in the absence of churn, retention or acquisition models, the employees likely are most important. After all, they are the ones who enable and drive AI, artificial engagement, machined metrics, etc.

    At Google, the customers do matter more – Sergei and Larry proved that back in 2002.

  17. Hi Stacey,
    There can be no doubt that disgruntled employees will not be in the right frame of mind to provide a good customer experience. That reminds me of one of my favorite things that perplex me:
    Bank tellers, checkout people, waiters, help desk people, receptionists are all the most immediate point of customer interaction and the informal “officer of first impression”, yet they typically are the lowest paid, whereas the big bosses that no customer ever sees are paid squillions. Is that crazy, or what ?

  18. Hi Stacey,

    It’s unfortunate and disturbing that most employers are clueless as to what satisfies and motivates their employees.

    In such companies, often the front line staff who work in a stressful environment listening to complaints throughout the day handling customer concerns are rarely given an opportunity to speak their mind. It impacts their work, they don’t go the extra mile to resolve customer concerns and do the bare minimum, they are clock watching to get work done as fast as possible, and are often reluctant. What might start as a behavior exhibited by few employees, it may spread like a wildfire as this is contagious and they start making costly mistakes. As Peter rightly said, the are also paid the least and don’t stick for long.

    Often the big bosses to save money and increase their bonus, outsource these functions adding to the chaos and results with disgruntled contract staff and customers. While outsourcing has its own merits (availabilities of skilled, qualified and cheap labor, ability to focus resources elsewhere), the pitfalls include the loss of quality control over the support services. Additionally, its puts a distance and barrier between the brand and its customers and they lose out on the direct feedback. Also, there is always a threat that confidential customer data can be misused.

    The bottom line disengaged and unhappy employees or contract staff results in poor performance and inability to provide good customer experience and eventually impacts the profit margins.

    It’s not about offering free healthy food, free vacation, a gym, a nap room, but the journey to boost employee engagement begins with the intent to enhance their well-being and nurture their skills, giving them a sense of purpose.

  19. Yes agree this article,but how to realized boss or high authority to focus employee satisfaction 1st.i have worked in different multinational organization but not even seen such focus on employee satisfaction.

  20. Hi Iqbal,

    Sadly there are only a handful of organizations who have started adopting and reaping the benefits of an engaged employee. The article attempts to give a wake-up call to the leadership team.

    To get the leadership team to start paying attention is to make a business case and help them understand the bottom line impact of the employee engagement.

    Is the employee contributions help the organization reach its goals? If the answer is YES, the employees are engaged and feel empowered as they are being heard and are confident to overcome any obstacles. If not, it’s time to examine whether the company and employee goals are aligned and/or understood.


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