It’s widely acknowledged that if you give customers a great experience, they’ll buy more. Loyalty today is no longer about price or product – rather, the experience customers receive from a brand drives whether they come back to make another purchase. This trend has only increased in prevalence in the post-virus world: Six in 10 consumers now care more about customer experience (CX) when making purchase decisions than they did a year ago.
CX isn’t just about customers, though. There’s a growing awareness among business leaders that the employee experience (EX) is a critical factor for successful CX. Companies are increasingly merging their EX and CX teams as a result, putting their HR and marketing functions under a single leader, according to Capgemini.
That’s because better employee engagement drives lasting business outcomes in the form of memorable customer experiences. In other words, when employees feel heard, valued and respected, they are more satisfied, and this sets off a chain reaction that results in loyalty, pride in their work, productivity and ultimately greater customer experiences. Virgin founder Richard Branson put it like this: “Clients do not come first. Employees come first. If you take care of your employees, they will take care of the clients.”
Improving CX by way of EX boils down to three central premises. To be successful, business leaders need to: cultivate a culture that celebrates honest, open feedback and vulnerability; collect qualitative data from their teams; and then take action.
Build a culture of giving and receiving feedback
To understand the customer experience, don’t just ask customers – you need to know what your employees observe and experience as well. Employees have a lot of valuable insight, both into internal policies and norms that affect their satisfaction levels as well as processes that affect customers more directly, but they’re not always asked for their opinions. It’s a positive reinforcement loop: When employees know that they have an impact on the company and that their ideas and efforts are appreciated, they take more pride in their work.
Getting good feedback from employees requires everyone involved to be a bit vulnerable, though. You must be open to feedback, whether it be good or bad, and this openness has to start at the top. The C suite needs to model this culture by asking people their opinions and being receptive to ideas, tough conversations and new ways of thinking. Increased communication between the C suite, your boots-on-the-ground employees and everyone in between leads to happier employees and a more consistent customer experience.
Consider investing in employees who are good at listening. It’s a principle that’s a mainstay at Virgin, where Branson developed a formula for the kind of leader who creates happy employees. A great leader, he says, must use praise liberally and genuinely care for employees at all levels; just as important, however, is being a great listener who not only hears the recommendations from employees but also acts upon them.
You should also set expected behaviors and norms: If it’s time to share ideas and feedback, create an expectation that everyone does so. Having an open-feedback company will help breed conversation and ensure that departments are on the same page and can handle issues consistently. This also creates a better team environment where employees start to feel ownership and have intrinsic motivation to create the best customer experience possible.
Amazon, which launched more than 25 years ago with the mission “to be Earth’s most customer-centric company,” is known for asking its employees for feedback, including a daily survey that covers all facets of employee life, and often follows up with employees to gain additional insight based on how they answered a question.
As leaders at Amazon know, no organization will ever become an open-feedback company unless there are structures in place to support it. Build in ways to be constantly gathering information about how employees feel about their impact on the company and on customers. This could involve frequent review cycles or surveys across the organization – each department has an impact, whether direct or indirect, on the customer experience and has insights they can share.
This is where qualitative research becomes important. The close-ended questions (e.g., rank order and multiple-choice) companies rely on don’t allow employees to give real, honest feedback, and the quantitative data that lives in your CRM or order management system is similarly limited when it comes to gaining insight into CX. Until recently, open-ended surveys were just too difficult to analyze for many organizations, but advancements in AI and natural language processing have made qualitative research much easier – and the results that much more insightful.
Finally, take what you’ve learned from your employees, and the structures you’ve developed, and apply them to customers. It requires a holistic approach – one that considers the whole cycle from employee to customer and collects open-ended, qualitative data and feedback throughout. If your processes and culture internally embrace open feedback, you’re more likely to enable that type of feedback with clients and customers as well. And when you survey customers, make sure you’re giving all customers (not just the vocal ones) the opportunity to weigh in on the experience you’re delivering.
Connecting CX and EX – and driving meaningful change in CX as a result – requires treating the employee experience as an integral part of the customer journey. Customers’ experiences with your organization begin with your employees, and understanding them requires collecting honest, open and qualitative feedback at all steps of the process. Doing so effectively has the power to shape not only your customer journey but also the fundamental ways you work together in your organization.