Last week I had a fascinating conversation with a peer of mine – a fellow Customer Experience Professional. James Dodkins is as passionate about transforming organisations to become sustainably customer centric as I am. Like me, James regularly comes across organisations who talk about ‘putting the customer first’ – a statement that is hard to immediately disagree with. Yet to have the ability to achieve that goal, is it necessary to put your employee one notch above the customer?
James and I had a long conversation about a book he will be publishing in 2018 – entitled, ‘Put Your Customers Second’, he will be telling a story that makes a compelling case for ensuring that you do right by your employees first, so that they in turn are able to delight your customers. James has been inspired by many of the most recognised customer centric brands in the world – all of whom believe that you must treat your employees in the way you want them to treat your customers.
This is a sentiment I wholeheartedly agree with – and many of the best minds in the Customer Experience Profession also concur. A couple of weeks ago I had the honour of working with one of the most prominent Customer Experience Professionals in South Africa – Chantel Botha is a quite brilliant specialist who has been inspiring organisations and individuals for many years and is someone I always learn from. As we discussed the subject of putting the employee first, Chantel introduced me to the concept of the ‘employer journey’ – a fantastic concept that I would like to share in this article.
If any leader aspires to ‘put the employee first’, then it is important to have structure and rigor in doing so. Whilst it is common to find businesses implementing frameworks to manage the customer experience, we do not often see the same principle being applied for the employee experience.
The ‘employee engagement loop’ is a simple framework to support the bringing to life of the employer journey – a framework that contains six steps, if intentionally designed and managed, it should enable very firm foundations for your people to deliver the desired employee experience. The six steps are as follows:
Step 1 – Attract
If any organisation has an aspiration to build a customer centric culture, then the starting point must be to ATTRACT the right employees into the business in the first place. What do I mean by the ‘right employees’? It is essential to attract people who align to the following characteristics:
- They believe in your brand purpose, products and services
- They have experienced what it is like to be a customer of your organisation
- They care about people and can empathise with others
- They are keen to learn – and never stop learning
- They are proud to tell others they work for your brand
Take note that ‘money’ is not on the list – it should never be an overriding factor in the decision making process if you want to attract the right kind of employee to drive the right kind of customer centric culture.
Step 2 – Infuse Brand DNA
As an employer, it is critical to continually INFUSE BRAND DNA in everything you do. Too often, employees of organisations are introduced to the essence of the brand they work for during an induction programme at the start of their career with them. However, if you want to maintain the right level of engagement with employees, then infusing the brand DNA must be a continuous, never ending cycle of activity.
Step 3 – Inspire Excellence
Your people must be constantly encouraged to excel – just good enough is ‘not enough’. If you want to be considered among the most customer centric of brands, then you must be able to INSPIRE EXCELLENCE in everything your employees do. The Ritz Carlton are renowned for their ability to inspire thousands of employees all over the world to ‘make memories’. For them, it is not enough to just simply fulfil tasks – it is ingrained into their brand DNA that the role of every employee is to work to ensure that their guests never forget their experiences with them – every time.
Step 4 – Encourage Curiosity & Learning
One of the most successful businesses on the planet is Amazon. Many are unaware that infused in their brand DNA are 14 leadership principles. One of the 14 is ‘LEARN AND BE CURIOUS’ – Leaders are never done learning and always seek to improve themselves. They are curious about new possibilities and act to explore them. Unfortunately, too many organisations around the world are led be people who appear to have come to the opinion that they already know everything and need to learn nothing! A leader who understands the importance of learning will continuously ENCOURAGE the same from the people that work around them.
Step 5 – Innovate & Co-Create
If you can encourage curiosity and learning, then it should follow that you will also actively encourage INNOVATION from your people. I regularly describe employees as the ‘missing voice’ – this represents employees who work in businesses that rarely, if ever, take the opportunity to ask their employees what they think. The most customer centric of organisations should not just be asking employees for their opinions, they should be CO-CREATING new products, services and initiatives with them. I have always said that to successfully transform an organisations culture, you must not do Customer Experience to them – you must do it with them. The best people to define what the desired customer experience should be, are the very people who interact with the customer on a daily basis.
Step 6 – Reward
To close the loop, we must then consider how we reward our people for the work they do to constantly improve the ability of our brand to meet the needs and expectations of customers. If we want to inspire excellence; encourage creativity, innovation and co-creation; then we must show our people how much we value their efforts. However, reward is not necessarily a monetary thing. Like customers, employees often just want to know that their employer cares about them. They want to be thanked for the effort they exert. They want recognition for going above and beyond. Celebrating success through the sharing of stories is a hugely powerful way of rewarding effort – and a way if inspiring others to keep doing the same themselves.
The employee engagement loop is a very simple way of assessing what you do as an employer today to create the right environment with your people. The right environment to establish a culture that enables your people to treat your customers in a way that reflects the way you treat them. The six steps work as a perfect way for you to ‘hold up the mirror’ to question the effectiveness of the journey you deliver to your employees today.
Hi Ian, this is indeed a controversial discussion. A Chef de Village of Club Med actually told me that he puts the customer first and in order to be able to deliver on his mission (delivering happiness) it is his personal job to keep his employees happy.
Personally I do think that there is no right or wrong to the answer who comes first. I rather look at it as a kind of Moebius Ribbon.
However, I have some remark to the employer journey. While I think that the journey as such is ok, all the terminology as well as its name suggest that the thinking is not customer-, nor employee centric but company centric.
Ian, Thanks for giving me credit for the model and writing so eloquently about it!
Thomas, I absolutely agree with you so when I came up with the model, my team and I deliberated the wording and we ended up going for this version since the employee has so little control over their journey in a company and the model was created to explain to leaders how they need to start shifting the journey they design for employees.