Forget Customer Experience, It’s All About the Employee Experience

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Dec 12, 2016
This article is part of a series called Higher Performance Workforce.

“Taking care of the customer is our number-one priority.”

“The customer is always right.”

At least that’s what I’ve always been told. And I’ve practiced it, preached it, and believed it. But, I’ve learned that approach is short-sighted. Maybe the laser focus on the Customer Experience (CX) has worked in the past, but this single-minded approach doesn’t cut it any more. There’s more to it. Maybe it’s time to think “Employee Experience” (EX) first.

Let’s step back a moment. Is the customer still king? Sure… kind of. Reports by the American Customer Service Satisfaction Index show that leaders in customer service outperform the Dow by 93%, the Fortune 500 by 20%, and the NASDAQ by… hold on… 335%!

However, according to The Consumer Conversation 2015 report, only 37% of businesses surveyed said they were “able to tie customer experience activities to revenue and/or cost savings.” Good for the almost four-in-ten that say they’re doing it. Too bad for the others.  That’s a lot of wasted money and effort. In fact, an Accenture report concluded that half of companies’ CX initiatives do very little to retain customers. With the market for customer experience management services and technology predicted to be worth $13.2  billion by 2021, the customer-comes-first focus has some heavy money tied to it.

Your employees move the needle

The customer is the reason you have a job to come to. Still, few organizations are getting it right, despite investments in customer care programs, marketing, and extensive customer survey platforms. The answer isn’t in buying customer loyalty and affection. It’s not in increasing the marketing budget. It’s not bribery. And even innovation doesn’t last long—competitors out-innovate the innovators. The answer is right in front of you. It’s your employees!

The problem is, most organizations today are so obsessed with the Customer Experience that they ignore the primary factor in creating that experience—your employees. Few organizations treat employees as though this were true.


[clickToTweet tweet=”An extraordinary Employee Experience is the basis for successful Customer Experience.” quote=”An extraordinary Employee Experience is the basis for successful Customer Experience.”] The degree to which your employees are nurtured and cared for dictates the degree to which your EX efforts will bear fruit. In other words, EX = CX.

Last Fall I walked into a bakery that was in a section of a supermarket. Despite being housed within a large store this bakery was privately owned. It was known for its pastries, and I had my mouth set on a fresh apple fritter. As I stood at the counter, I overheard a man I assumed to be a supervisor chiding the teenage counter worker in the back room. Others nearby also heard the berating.

I rang the counter bell, and the young girl came out. The first words out of her mouth were, “What do you need?” Not, “Welcome,” or “How are you today?” or “Would you like a sample?” She didn’t even have the courtesy to look me in the eye.

My first thought was to walk away from the bakery. But as I thought about it, I realized it wasn’t the fault of the teen in front of me. My Customer Experience was a direct result of her Employee Experience. I asked for the manager, let him know what I had overheard, and then gave him a lecture on taking care of his employees (I’m a consultant, that’s what I do). I walked away, without purchasing the best fritter in town.

(As a side note, the bakery closed over six months ago, and still hasn’t reopened.)

Customer experience is determined by employees

[clickToTweet tweet=”Employee Experience determines Customer Experience.” quote=”Your employees are your brand.”] If your brand is a promise, your employees are responsible for fulfilling that promise. They are the face of your brand — the face of your business to the customer. Many companies sprint past EX on their way to building their CX. It doesn’t work. The CX is the result of the engagement and behaviors of your employees.

Think of it this way: The last time you experienced a customer snafu, did you ask the question, “What type of experience are we providing for our employees?” Probably not. But, odds are that problem was the direct or indirect result of someone failing to correct a problem, step up to quality issues, provide that extra bit of customer service, build a relationship, or fulfill a promise or obligation.

EX has the ability to change the direction of the needle — up or down — on whatever metric you choose: customer satisfaction, quality, revenue, patient satisfaction — you name it.

Congruent experience law

Think about the costs of implementing a world-class customer service effort in an environment where employees are disengaged. Some organizations even go to extremes to design employees out of the system, coming up with elaborate schemes to keep employees from damaging the customer relationship. Why? The Employee Experience is poor, and employees simply don’t care about delighting the customer.

We call this The Law of Congruent Experience.  It says:

Employees will deliver a customer experience that matches their own experience in the organization.

Indifferent employers mean indifferent employees. Indifferent employees create indifferent customers. Think about the employee that was just berated by her supervisor. Do you really think that the next apple fritter will be served up with a smile and a “Thank you for your business?” Doubtful.

Despite the title of this article, I’m not advocating ignoring your CX. But there’s a step that many businesses leave out in their quest for the holy grail of Customer Experience and that’s the Employee Experience.

EX = CX.

This article is part of a series called Higher Performance Workforce.
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