Customer and employee experience

Time to join the dots

What do customer experience (CX) and employee experience (EX) have to do with each other? Surely these are separate areas with different stakeholders and budgets? Well, that certainly reflects the way many organisations work, but there’s a strong case to be made for considering them together. Indeed, I’d argue that it is not possible to have excellent CX without also having good EX. To explain, let’s walk through some of the history and logic.

The CX imperative

Few would dispute the importance of customer experience. Delivering a good experience from first contact, and onwards through sales, delivery and support, is vital to attract, retain and profit from customers. If you track the right metrics, the tangible impact of CX is measurable in terms of revenue, costs, and ultimately profit and competitive advantage. Against this background, we’ve seen a great deal of focus on CX over the last two decades. Investments in areas such as marketing automation, digital customer engagement and call centre optimisation have been relatively easy to justify, at least in comparison to many other aspects of the business. Quick wins are often possible, as well as long-term benefits, which has helped to get buy-in and approval from senior stakeholders in marketing, sales and operations, and at main board level.

Mind the gap

Until quite recently, though, we hadn’t seen the same level of commitment to employee experience. Indeed, in our research at Freeform Dynamics we’ve spent years tracking the ‘digital divide’ between customers and employees. What we saw was that, while customers increasingly enjoyed well-designed self-service portals and mobile apps, with rich and up-to-date information at their fingertips, staff were too often left struggling with clunky and disjointed systems accessed via slow corporate networks and out-of-date desktop infrastructure. Sure, some progress was being made in improving EX, but it was quite slow in comparison to the customer-facing parts of the business.

New foundations to build on

One of the silver linings of the recent public health challenge is that organisations were forced into addressing at least some of their technology shortfalls. Something had to be done, after the sudden realisation that a lot of aging infrastructure would never cope with the transition to homeworking. With a need to support virtual meetings and other mechanisms to replace face-to-face interaction, decisions to modernise were made almost overnight. However, this speed of movement has been a double-edged sword. Some great new technology foundations have been laid, but the accelerated implementation cycles frequently allowed too little time to think and prepare properly. Comments like: “We have seen more digital transformation in the last 18 months than over the previous two decades,” often heard from marketers, therefore exaggerate what really took place in many organisations. The truth is that more still needs to be done before claims of full workforce transformation can be justified. Add to this the requirement to support hybrid working in its various forms, as the world opens up, and it’s not surprising to hear many HR executives and line of business managers arguing for further investment. The discussion of how to strengthen IT systems and facilities to create the right kind of environment for employees going forward is now very topical. Considerations here include employee well-being, satisfaction and motivation, but harder-edged motives are also at play. Providing a good employee experience enhances your ability to attract, develop and retain talent, which in turn impacts both costs and competitiveness.

Common interests

When you put these dynamics alongside constantly evolving customer expectations, a number of areas of overlapping interest emerge. The more you look at it, the more it becomes apparent that enhancing the employee experience will almost always have either a direct or indirect impact on the experience that customers receive. We might even go further and say that paying adequate attention to EX is essential to achieving CX excellence. Let’s walk through some of some specific examples to illustrate the kind of relationships and dependencies I’m talking about.

Human interaction still matters

While the design goal of digital engagement systems is typically to avoid or minimise the need for expensive person-to-person interaction, the reality is that exceptions will inevitably arise and problems will occur that need a human to get involved. There are then certain high-value interactions and transactions where it makes sense to maintain the personal touch. In situations requiring the involvement of a member of staff, it’s not good for anyone if that person has to do battle with unfriendly applications and services to get things done. Not only do they struggle to provide what the customer needs, they also get frustrated and potentially demotivated. We’ve probably all been on the receiving end of customer service calls in which the person we are speaking with sounds weary and disillusioned, even quite hostile in extreme cases. Ironically, the slicker the digital experience received by the customer at the outset, the more their expectations will have been raised – and the greater the negative impact can be when they encounter a disgruntled employee or one who is clearly hampered by internal systems and processes. And it’s the bad experience they’ll remember when it comes to contract renewal time or considering that next purchase, not how easy it was to interact with the website or mobile app.

Harmony vs discord

Building on that last example, another type of situation familiar to most of us as customers is when the organisation you are dealing with is very fragmented. Manifestations of this include receiving conflicting information from different representatives, excessive handoffs during your interactions, and even internal finger-pointing in extreme cases. Some of the poorest customer experiences stem from lack of internal coordination and the unwillingness of anyone to take responsibility. Inadequate systems and process integration can be a contributor here, but organisational and cultural disjoints and mismatches are often also evident. A common problem is that roles, structures and lines of demarcation often reflect what was needed in the past rather than the present. Technology advances allow you to invent and roll out new products, services and business models more rapidly today than ever before, but changing the organisation typically takes a lot longer. Success with digital transformation is therefore as much about people and culture as it is technology.

Exploiting the opportunities

From an IT systems perspective, the watchwords are modernisation and integration. This applies to everything from your SAP or Oracle-based operational systems, through specialist applications and services used at departmental level, to the general-purpose productivity and collaboration tools included in your Microsoft or Google environment. Most modern solutions not only deliver a better employee experience, but also provide open APIs that allow them to work more seamlessly with other systems. But you can only benefit from the latest technology if you take advantage of what it offers. So, coming back to my earlier observation about things like Office 365, Google Workspace, Zoom, Webex and many other solutions being rolled out in a hurry, it’s worth reviewing the capabilities you have in place. You can then optimise how they are used to create the best EX as well to drive speed, efficiency and harmony. Overarching all of this, consider how to help your employees adjust and grow as the environment they work in, and what’s expected of them, continues to change. Companies like Microsoft and Salesforce are helping here by embedding learning and development into their application suites. From big players like SAP to small specialists like 5App, we then have some really interesting options for employee engagement to get and keep everyone aligned and working in harmony across the business. There’s a lot more I could have touched on, including the role of RPA, AI-based assistants, embedded analytics and much more. Suffice it to say that, as soon as you start thinking in a joined-up manner, you’ll discover lots of opportunities to exploit CX/EX synergies. Originally published on Computer Weekly

Dale is a co-founder of Freeform Dynamics, and today runs the company. As part of this, he oversees the organisation’s industry coverage and research agenda, which tracks technology trends and developments, along with IT-related buying behaviour among mainstream enterprises, SMBs and public sector organisations.