It all begins with your employees. Creating a wonderful, profit-boosting Customer Experience is like gardening. You can’t order up the results you want––healthy plants––just by waiving your hand. Gardening is a process-based activity; you attend to the components that create the desired outcome and then hope for the best. That means using soil amendments, watering, and weeding. The gardener can’t do much more than that, but if he or she does it well, the odds of a strong, plentiful harvest are high.
Growing an organization works in the same way. Success comes through quality products, sensible pricing, strong customer support, and employees who care personally about delivering an extraordinary experience every time. When an organization creates a top-notch Employee Experience, the likelihood of a superior Customer Experience increases exponentially. When Employee Experience is poor, chances are the customer will see the effects.
Your employees are the soil and nutrients in which your Customer Experience grows. If you have a workforce of engaged people who feel respected and appreciated, and if they trust their leaders enough to take risks and invest emotionally in the organization, your Customer Experience will take care of itself.
Conversely, if you don’t have that foundation of great people who care about providing a terrific experience and making customers’ lives better, all the technology and systems in the world won’t keep your Customer Experience from being a money-losing mess.
Employees will deliver a Customer Experience that matches their own experience in the organization.
Employees are the face of your brand. They’re on the front lines and in direct contact with your customers. Sure, customers are also seeing your website, marketing, and real estate, but those do not outweigh a salesperson who goes out of her way to solve a problem or a school counselor who stays late to help a student with college scholarship forms. Consumers are human, and humans intuitively respond to human interactions more than they do slogan, packaging, or discounts.
Read the Book: The Employee Experience
That’s why the Employee Experience (EX) has far more potential than the Customer Experience (CX) to move the needle for your organization, by whatever metric you choose: revenue, growth, retention, customer satisfaction scores, number of students registered, patient satisfaction, and so on. But putting Employee Experience before Customer Experience also serves as a way to prevent your organization from diving down expensive, time-consuming rabbit holes.
Think about the costs, financial and otherwise, of implementing a Customer Experience management program where employees’ hearts and minds aren’t fully engaged. Some organizations spend a fortune on elaborate customer service safety nets designed to keep employees from damaging the customer relationship. Why? Because their employees don’t care. They’re having a lousy experience, so they’re not motivated to provide anything more than that to the customer. We call this the Law of Congruent Experience.
“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 percent, the Fortune 500 by 20 percent, and the NASDAQ by… hold on… 335 percent!
However, according to The Consumer Conversation 2015 report, only 37 percent of businesses surveyed said they were “able to tie customer experience activities to revenue and/or cost savings.” Good for the one-third that say they’re doing it. Too bad for the other two-thirds. 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 or increase revenue. With the market for customer experience management services and technology predicted to hit nearly $11 billion by 2020, the customer-comes-first focus has some heavy money tied to it.
It’s Your Employees!
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.
Every organization has a customer. If you’re in retail, it’s the person buying your ripped skinny jeans. In technology, it’s the person downloading your software. In education, it’s the student. In government, it’s the citizens of the community. The customer is the reason the organization exists (and why you have a job).
But with the increased emphasis on CX, we treat CX as if it’s both the end goal and the process by which we obtain that goal. A superior CX is like a garden. A healthy garden from which we can harvest fresh produce is the end goal. But you can’t create results by waving a wand and taking daily measurements. You have to attend to the activities—planting the seeds, watering, fertilizing, weeding—that create the outcome you’re shooting for.
Your employees are the soil and nutrients in which your CX grows. If you have a foundation of engaged employees, your CX will be taken care of. Conversely, without a garden bed of great people who choose to take care of your customers, all the technology, surveying, innovation, and massive investment in programs won’t keep your CX from dying on the vine.
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,” “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.)
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. That’s HR’s job. You’re solving more important problems. 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.
The Law of Congruent Experience
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. 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—the Employee Experience.
EX = CX.
Each year, we immerse ourselves in the after-holiday sales, where decorations go on sale for as much as 75% off. The purpose? To replace the strings of lights we disposed of after the last annual “Unveiling of the Lights” fiasco, just a month earlier. For us, lights have become “disposable.” It’s easier to move on with another set than to keep trying.
We live in a do-over society—a culture where mulligans are the norm. And this culture doesn’t just apply to seasonal decorations. “Out with the old and in with the new” applies to the way many are beginning to view employment as well. It’s a new phenomenon that would have been completely foreign to previous generations of workers.
It seems that as we approach the end of the year, we see a flood of articles with headlines like, “Why 2017 is the Year to Change Your Job.” While moving out of a toxic career makes sense, viewing a job as “disposable” can also be dangerous. So, before you quit your job, keep a few things in mind:
First, the logical side:
Job switching is stressful. The well-known Holmes and Rahe stress scale ranks changes in employment as one of the most impactful of life’s stressors. Dismissal from work, business readjustment, change to a different line of work, and change in working hours all rank among adjustments that significantly affect personal health.
There may be a waiting period. While the allure of different compensation or work environment may be enticing, a move may be also financially taxing, even if it doesn’t appear so when the job offer is accepted. For example, many companies have benefits policies that may not kick in for a period of time. Benefits like health insurance and 401(k) often have waiting periods that can be costly in both the short and long term.
And the not-so-logical, but equally important side:
Mastery takes time. Let’s face it. For the first three months of employment, you’re more likely to be a liability than an asset, regardless of how valuable you think you are. Then, at the three-month mark, you may graduate from liability status to simply being a non-nuisance. It’s often not until (at least) the six-month mark that the real contribution kicks in. If a job shift occurs every 18 months (which is starting to be perceived by some as a sign of “promotability” or value), you might have less than a year of true productivity before moving on—not enough time to master a role. Yet, mastery has repeatedly been shown as one of the key factors in job engagement. Are you ready to spend a good part of 2017 as an apprentice again?
Growth is a process. My first professional-level job was a real challenge. Because this was a retail job, the hours left little quality time for family. In that role, I was cursed at (many times), underpaid, confronted in supermarket parking lots, and dragged into court by dishonest employees. I quit, but it took me six years to do so! However, I’ll always value those years, because I grew. I’m grateful for all the times I was yelled at; they forced me to learn. I apply that learning nearly every day in my current profession. In an environment where jobs are disposable, too many take the easy way out of employment, and never grow because the grass is always greener elsewhere. Which brings up the next point…
Maybe you’re the problem. Why are you thinking of making the switch? Working conditions? Growth opportunities? Compensation? All of these are valid reasons. But job interviews often reveal that employees’ reasons for leaving current or previous jobs boils down to what the employer supposedly does or doesn’t do. However, often it’s not just this job; it has become a pattern in their lives. What’s the common denominator here? Are most employers tyrants? Will that new job really value your talents more than your current job? Or, maybe… possibly…is the problem, you? Before making the move, it’s often valuable to look in the mirror. Do these same issues seem to follow you wherever you go?
Before you change jobs in 2017, consider the above. Maybe that switch isn’t what you want after all.
By the way, I know a guy who’s willing to pay well for untangling and hanging Christmas lights. Interested?