What HR could learn from Customer Experience – a people insight and analytics approach


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87% of organisations cite employee engagement as being one of their top priorities. However, in Gallup’s 2017 global study, they found that only 15% of employees are engaged at work and this figure is believed to be on the decline. One of the most tried and tested means employed by organisations to measure employee engagement is an employee survey. I have found different figures quoted by others as to the number of companies who run employee surveys. Survey usage ranges from a low of 66% of companies to a whopping 92% of companies. Whatever figure is correct, a lot of organisations are using employee surveys to gauge their relationship with their employees. The idea being that these surveys will produce data findings that can be interpreted into insight that in turn will lead to improvement actions.

The question is “How many managers draw real meaning from employee survey findings and ensure that the voice of their employees is really heard?” How many simply carry on with business as usual and add this score into their mixing pot of measures? Whether employee surveys are regarded as a box ticking exercise or an essential pulse of the organisation, I find it strange that employee surveys haven’t been given the same attention and level of scrutiny as those that elicit feedback such as nps, from customers.

Admittedly, I have never had a direct role in an HR function but for many years, I have worked very closely with the HR function. My interactions have largely been when helping companies improve the experience that they deliver for their customers – be it stakeholder insight, internal communications or establishing and monitoring customer facing behaviours. What strikes me is that we now have both super sophisticated technology to establish and embed the voice of the customer into the organisation, and powerful techniques to analyse the data that this produces; but we don’t do this for the voice of the employee. Why don’t we treat employees in the same way as customers? Surely it is just as important to understand how happy and committed employees are (and why or why not)? I am still seeing the use of the same traditional, annual, long tick box surveys that have been around for many years, as part of standard HR practices that are inwardly looking and outdated.

adidas treats employees as they would customers
adidas is one company that is taking its customer feedback approach and applying it internally to employees. The adidas People Pulse is a dynamic, monthly, mobile-first survey which focuses on arriving at a People Score. The survey, which replaced an 80-question predecessor that previously took months to administer, is an ongoing pulse survey that asks simply for an eNPS score (employee net promoter i.e. how likely the employee is to recommend the company as a place to work) and 2 further questions. It takes just 5 minutes to complete. The People Score has been adopted by the organisation as a top metric within adidas, used alongside revenue and share price.

The fact that adidas has the role of ‘Director of People Analytics’ speaks volumes. I did a quick search on LinkedIn for Customer Analytics and there were 8,846 results. The same search replacing customer for people, produced only 611 hits.

“What gets measured, gets done” – or does it?
Unfortunately, the adidas approach to people feedback and people analytics is not the norm and is not widely adopted. The standard approach for listening to employees, still appears to be old fashioned employee surveys. There is a long list of employee oriented surveys and feedback mechanics which fall into this camp: employee satisfaction, employee engagement, candidate feedback, on-boarding surveys, exit interviews, employee opinion, employee feedback and organisation culture to name but a few. So, there is lots of capturing of scores; but is there much meaningful insight and impactful action following?

Surveys usually take a long time to turn around and are (human) labour intensive. There is heavy lifting at the front end in design and origination, agreement of question and even more heavy lifting of data management, collation and analysis at the back end. It hasn’t tended to be an agile or flexible process.

What’s more, I’ve experienced companies advised on the types of survey questions that they should use and the types which they should absolutely avoid. On the avoid list are open ended questions. Apparently, this is because they can be exhausting and demanding for employees (possibly if they form part of a 100-question survey) and because they are too difficult to analyse. With new analytical tools available, these excuses can no longer be deployed as reasons to avoid obtaining meaning and real insight from the unfiltered voice of the employee.

Enabling confident data-based people decisions
Technology increases our ability to elicit unstructured, open text feedback straight from the mouths or keyboards of employees; to understand what they are saying and interpret it effectively. Companies don’t have to get employees to rate long lists of attributes or statements based on an internally created hypothesis of what drives employee behaviour, engagement or sentiment.

Organisations no longer need to direct employees to respond to their hot topics, whether it’s peer rapport, recognition and feedback, or personal growth. Companies can use data exploration and decision tools to overcome data complexity and derive meaning and real insight – quickly and easily. When people costs often account for up to 60% of corporate variable costs, they should be approached with more rigour and analysis.

Google, for example, doesn’t have an HR function as such. It has People Operations which is enabled and steered by the ‘people analytics team’. Two of their team goals are:

That all people decisions at Google are based on data and analytics
• To bring the same level of rigor to people-decisions that we do to engineering decisions

Wouldn’t it be great to get to a deeper level of insight but just ask one question of employees, instead of subjecting them to a one off annual ‘examination’ type survey? To get a continual pulse of how employees are feeling and what they are thinking not just when it’s time to do that annual survey? To then combine that insight with all other sources of people data and feedback that inevitably exists within the organisation or in other channels such as social media, blogs, focus groups. The whole process can, and should be simplified, and yet would deliver a fuller, truer picture of the employee experience.

The resulting data obtained can be automatically be interpreted and analysed using machine learning and algorithms to establish employee behaviour, emotion and the things that really matter; so that companies know what is working, what isn’t and where to focus to improve things? No longer do organisations have to make assumptions, work with hunches or guess what lies beneath the employee scores that they get. They have real evidence to make data-based people decisions. Employee feedback that is quick to get, completely flexible, easy to digest and easy to action.

Employees are happier to give their feedback and share their voice if it takes very little time and effort – and they can feel that they are contributing to something whereby and they will see actions following from their feedback. Employees also feel less straight-jacketed in their responses if they don’t have to wade through the rows and rows of multiple choice questions. They feel entrusted, engaged to give their own, open responses which will this in turn makes for truer, better quality insights. We find that the type of survey described will get on average 100 word responses. People do like to share their story and their experience.

Harnessing valuable people data and taking intelligent action should be part and parcel of great people management. Delivering a great employee experience is inextricably linked to delivering a great customer experience. By capturing and analysing people data in the same way that technologies are allowing us to do with customer data and acting on the emerging ‘pain points’, will lead to a rise in employee engagement.

Ensuring the voice of employees is heard and identified challenges addressed, creates Smiling companies, Happy Customers.

Amanda Davis

Amanda writes and shares Thought Leadership, drawing on her 15 years of coaching, guiding, mentoring and consulting for clients in various sectors and sizes around the world. She helps establish organisations understand how to connect to customers; find ways to align their expectations with the culture & capability of the organisation. She has a particular focus on customer experience transformation in the digital age, ensuring that technology development starts and finishes with the customer. Amanda has been a regular featured columnist and advisor for Customer Think since 2018.


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