Happy, Engaged Employees Help Create More, Happy and Engaged Customers


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As accustomed as marketers have become to executing experiences, what sets customer experience (CX) leaders apart from the laggards, is evolving the CX program from delivering the basics well – addressing touchpoint gaps and pain points – to focusing on cultural alignment where employee experience improves the customer’s experience.

These leaders have embraced the central tenets of CX strategy and have set about shifting their focus from product-centric to customer-first. They now realise the long-term benefits of sustainable business growth through higher revenues and decreased costs; reaping the rewards of customer retention, recommendation, and lower marketing and operational costs.

Great CX brands measure satisfaction and act on customer feedback. They’ve become adept at collaborating with internal stakeholders to align the organisation around sharing customer intelligence and developing internal systems to support customer satisfaction goals. Furthermore they’re prioritising the design of new touchpoints that satisfy customer needs and create emotional engagement.

Importantly, these leading brands recognise the fundamental relationship between customer and employee experience. Put simply, they understand that happy, engaged employees help create happy, engaged customers – and more of them.

Deloitte’s paper, Human Capital Trends 2015, points to the shift in employee motivation, where today there’s a greater focus on purpose, mission and work-life integration. The workplace is more complex, employees now work in cross-functional teams that bring together people from across the business at a rapid rate. They work longer hours and are more connected to their jobs through mobile devices. ‘Flexibility, empowerment, development and mobility all now play a big role in defining a company’s culture.’

Great customer-first organisations have engaged employees who are emotionally connected to the brand and empowered by the company’s purpose; it’s reason for being. They understand the company’s CX aspirations and the role they play in delivering the brand promise. Their voice is valued and contributes to improvements in customer interactions, their job made easier through investments in new technology and training.

Brands such as Airbnb – the 2016 winner of Glassdoors, ‘Best Place to Work’ – now look at their experiences through a cultural lens. Airbnb is one of few companies that do not to have a Human Resources department. In its place, a team that’s dedicated to employee experience, headed up by Chief Employee Experience Officer, Mark Levy.

In an interview with Forbes, Levy explained that with 2,400 employees in 22 offices across the globe, Airbnb’s people focus is directed at employee success and opportunity. That is across employee journey from the basics of pay, benefits and training, to facilities, food, fun and a way of working.

The brand’s mission is to ‘Create a world where you can belong’. Under Levy’s direction his team are integrated across roles with a shared set of beliefs and behaviours and are devoted to creating employee experiences.

The mission underpins Airbnb’s employee experience program initiatives. From workspaces and physical environments that feel like home and promote a sense of belonging, to community volunteering, travel opportunities, a healthy lifestyle program and co-creating the customer experience.

Annually, each employee receives a $2,000 travel allowance to experience Airbnb from the customer (host) perspective. Employees are encouraged to volunteer with Airbnb hosts to gain deeper insights and understanding of their experience. The company also runs an annual conference, bringing together employees and hosts from around the world to learn what experiences are working well and what the business could do better.

For companies on the path to CX maturity, one of the greatest challenges in CX management is overcoming their functional silos. Organisational alignment requires constant reiteration and high-level commitment across the entire company to ensure each area delivers customer value.

As with measuring customer feedback, organisations need to measure employee satisfaction too. By employing effective listening programs for both, companies can derive deeper understanding of how employee experiences directly impact customer experience and how the two are inextricably linked.

The imperative for brand leaders is to recognise that culture and customer are two halves of the whole – in the CX ecosystem one cannot continue to exist without the other. Crucially, a culturally aligned work place with a shared set of customer beliefs and behaviours that empowers people to do their best work, promotes higher employee engagement. As studies show – happy, engaged employees help create more, happy and engaged customers.

Originally published on Marketing Magazine

Alex Allwood
My focus is connecting customer and culture to empower customer-centric growth; fostering a culture of customer centricity, building team capability and helping transform customer experiences. With a 20 year track record in leadership, operations and marketing, my strength is developing customer experience strategy: customer understanding and empathy, experience vision and guiding principles and the customer narrative. I am the principal of the CX consultancy, All Work Together; authored the books, Customer Empathy (2019) and Customer Experience is the Brand (2015).


  1. The Airbnb example demonstrates an interesting innovation in employee relations. Many companies assume that when employees are happy, they are more likely to be engaged with prospects which means they are more likely to care about how customers feel which means customers will like the experience, which means customers will be likely to spend more and to become more loyal over time which will lead to greater profits.

    The run-on sentence is intentional as there’s a lot of cause and effect here, and our human tendency is to draw simplistic straight lines between them. But all require assumptions because the causes and effects are hard to measure and harder to prove. Still, it makes business sense that having happy employees produces better revenue results than having ones who are perpetually grumpy. Companies have talked about this for a long time (talked about being the operative words), but a paltry few have successfully acted on the Great Idea of employee satisfaction.

    When I read your opening remark about the central tenets of CX strategy, I immediately wondered, what are they? So I searched on that phrase, and alas, found nothing so definitive. It seems many people have many ideas about what effective CX strategy means. Some ideas overlap, many do not. If someone took the time to curate and compile all of them, they’d wind up a long list of things.

    What I did find – and am so excited to share – is the best article I have read on this subject in a long time: Ten Guiding Principles of Customer Experience ( http://customerthink.com/ten-guiding-principles-of-customer-experience/ ). When I first read the title, I thought that this might be yet another do-it-my-way-or-you-will-fail essay. But I found the first principle, “Customer Experience is a personal and subjective thing, so it is not something that can be ‘created’ by a company,” most refreshing.

  2. The blog title, and the example, would seem to suggest that the employee engagement – customer engagement linkage is universal. Respectfully, I’d disagree. I’ll quote from one of my blogs on this subject:

    “This same organization believes that “Employee engagement is a leading indicator of future business success….”; and, to the degree that engagement level can impact staff turnover and productivity, both key contributors to profitability, this is a fair statement. However, when this organization, and others in the employee engagement research, training and consultation space, makes claims that engagement, in and of itself, contributes to customer value and loyalty behavior, two important questions need to be asked. Those question are:

    1) Really? and,

    2) Where’s the consistent proof for individual companies?

    Just as satisfaction has little proven connection to customer behavior, employee engagement (and employee satisfaction) was not designed to drive customer behavior. To build on this statement, let’s begin by looking at the results of satisfaction on downstream customer action. Beyond extremely macro connection to sales, customer satisfaction (as expressed through the ACSI) has been shown to have little direct connection to purchase behavior, to the tune of 0.0% to 0.1% correlation. Many companies are still measuring customer sat in hopes that learning about its drivers will help build customer loyalty, but satisfaction isn’t contemporary regarding decision-making or reflective of what is going on in the customer’s real, emotional world.

    ‘Employee engagement’ has many meanings and interpretations, but relatively little of it has to do, by conceptual definition, specifically with impact on customer behavior. Thorough analysis conducted by The Conference Board in 2006 showed that, among twelve leading engagement research companies, twenty-six key drivers of engagement could be identified, of which eight were common to all:

    Trust and integrity – How well do managers communicate and ‘walk the talk‘?

    Nature of the job – Is it mentally stimulating day-to-day?

    Line of sight between employee performance and company performance – Do employees understand how their work contributes to the company’s performance?

    Career growth opportunities – Are there opportunities for growth within the company?

    Pride about the company – How much self-esteem do the employees feel by being associated with their company?

    Coworkers/team members – How much influence do they exert on the employee’s level of engagement?

    Employee development – Is the company making an effort to develop the employee’s skills?

    Relationship with one’s manager – Does the employee value relationship(s) with manager(s), and is there trust and credibility between the levels?

    Typically, there is little or no mention/inclusion of ‘customer’ or ‘customer focus’ elements either in measurement or analysis of employee engagement. Though customer experience, and resultant behavior, is impacted by engagement, it is more tangential and inferential than purposeful in nature.”

  3. The crux of this article, for me, is that “culture and customer are two halves of the whole”. It focuses on the importance of having an aligned culture across a business that connects with customers with its purpose to create superior customer value and experience. Richard Branson and other leaders of successful businesses believe that if you have happy and engaged employees with a “customer’ mindset it will reflect positively on customer experience. These leaders believe that a strong customer-centric culture with a mindset that reflects “what’s best for the customer is best for the business” will sustain businesses for the future in this rapidly changing disruptive competitive environment. Our research reported in our book, the Customer Culture Imperative, supports this belief and links strong customer-centric culture with superior business performance. One of the factors noted by Alex – alignment of employees around the customer – we found to be a decisive driver of business performance.


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