Surviving And Thriving In The Next Normal: What Stakeholder Value-Focused Companies Should Consider Making A Priority In 2021


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The pandemic has forced many companies to re-define how stakeholder value is created and delivered. Some of this redefinition is about factors such as culture and processes. Much of it involves deployment and application of resources – time, money, people, facilities, and technology.

A key and overarching factor is that customer experience (CX) has taken, and will continue to occupy, strategic center stage. So, for example, included in redefinition is that marketers need to work in closer partnership with HR. The reason? CX efforts will fall flat without committed employees. Committed employees are more loyal to the organization than employees who are merely satisfied or engaged, and that commitment also contributes to overall customer experience and downstream behavior.

Why the strong need for employee commitment going forward? In a reframed world where many employees are working remotely, the general, three-decades-old approach to employee engagement that focuses on fit, productivity, and alignment is no longer sufficient. Many studies have shown (and marketers, CEOs, and HR professionals are learning) that there is only incidental correlation between employee engagement and customer advocacy behavior.

Customers often consider the emotional, relationship-based aspects of value delivery — honesty and trust, communication, interactive/collaborative components of service, anticipation of needs, brand equity, etc. — much more important than the functional aspects of the relationship. Customers tend to see the functional aspects of delivery as basic and expected. In other words, functional value is one-dimensional table stakes, not a competitive differentiator.

With today’s and tomorrow’s greater focus on customer experience, one might expect tendencies for these differences in perception of what represents value between vendors and customers to have narrowed or disappeared. But, not so. In fact, a recent study by a customer experience management consulting organization evaluated 1,000 B2C brands and showed that these serious perceptual gaps are still with us:

– When companies were asked if employees contribute to negative customer experiences, only 29% said yes; yet, 74% of consumers say they do

– When asked about the degree of impact employees have on negative customer experiences, 78% of consumers cited moderate to high risk, compared to only about 50% of companies

Increasingly, we are coming to understand, and even predict, the effect of employees on the customer experience and customer advocacy behavior. This is a true Holy Grail for many organizations, as they strive to leverage human capital to best effect.

There is significant, well-proven linkage between customer experience and employee experience (EX). Consequently, marketing and HR must break down traditional silos and partner to emphasize greater attention to employee experience, empowerment and inclusion Focusing on EX, especially emotional drivers and employee ambassadorship (i.e., commitment to the organization, the company’s value proposition, customers, and fellow employees) is a different concept that emphasizes employee value, employee contribution, and customer experience optimization.

A central element of EX is voice of the employee (VOE) programs. Marketers can apply insights from employees who are visible to customers, as well as from those who are behind the scenes (i.e., all employees), to directly impact the customer journey and CX initiatives. Through such programs, employees can suggest ideas for improving the customer experience, offer perspectives on others’ ideas, and help track these ideas from the first spark to final implementation.

Innovative, social techniques are core to VOE programs. For example, just as customer market research online communities (MROCs) can provide excellent insight, much the same can be said for employee MROCs. Very often, building and running an employee MROC is a partnership between marketing and HR — and if it isn’t run that way in your organization, it should be. Employees’ MROCs represent tremendous, cost-effective learning and insight potential.

Successful stakeholder-centric companies invariably have, and keep, employees who are invested and enthusiastic about optimizing customer experiences, whether or not they are frontline, customer-touching staff. Tapping internal knowledge and expertise through VOE programs is essential to creating the type of employee experience that retains exceptionally customer-centric, committed staff. At the same time, this builds stronger, more cohesive cultures and closer, more lasting customer relationships, all good things that will keep companies going and growing in 2021, and beyond.

Michael Lowenstein, PhD CMC
Michael Lowenstein, PhD CMC, specializes in customer and employee experience research/strategy consulting, and brand, customer, and employee commitment and advocacy behavior research, consulting, and training. He has authored seven stakeholder-centric strategy books and 400+ articles, white papers and blogs. In 2018, he was named to CustomerThink's Hall of Fame.


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