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Developing an integrated customer and employee experience strategy

We explore what customer experience and employee experience have in common – and the benefits of combining them

In many organisations, customer experience (CX) and employee experience (EX) are separate areas, each with different stakeholders and budgets.

This may well reflect the way many organisations work, but there is a strong case to be made for considering them together. Indeed, it could be argued that it is not possible to have excellent CX without also having good EX.

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, there has been a great deal of focus on CX over the past 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 board level.

But until quite recently, the same level of commitment had not been applied to employee experience.

Analysts at Freeform Dynamics have spent years tracking the “digital divide” between customers and employees. What they have seen is that while customers have increasingly enjoyed well-designed self-service portals and mobile apps, with rich and up-to-date information at their fingertips, all too often staff have been left struggling with clunky and disjointed systems accessed via slow corporate networks and out-of-date desktop infrastructure.

There has been some progress in improving EX, but it has been quite slow in comparison to the customer-facing parts of the business.

New foundations

One of the silver linings of the Covid-19 public health crisis is that organisations have been forced to address at least some of their technology shortfalls. The sudden realisation that a lot of ageing infrastructure wouldn’t cope with the transition to home working meant something had to be done. With the need to support virtual meetings and other mechanisms to replace face-to-face interaction, decisions to modernise were made almost overnight.

This speed of movement has been a double-edged sword, however. Some great new technology foundations have been laid, but the accelerated implementation cycles often allowed too little time to think and prepare properly. Comments such as, “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 an organisation’s ability to attract, develop and retain talent, which in turn affects 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. You could even go further and say that paying adequate attention to EX is essential to achieving CX excellence.

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 require human intervention. There are also certain high-value interactions and transactions where it makes sense to maintain the personal touch.

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In situations that require staff involvement, it’s not good for anyone if that person has to battle with unfriendly applications and services to get things done. Not only do they struggle to provide what the customer needs, but they also get frustrated and potentially demotivated. Most of us will have been on the receiving end of customer service calls where 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 will remember when it comes to renewing a contract or considering their next purchase, not how easy it was to interact with the website or mobile app.

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 hand-offs 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 application programming interfaces (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 the earlier observation about collaboration tools such as Microsoft Office 365, Google Workspace, Zoom, Webex and many other systems 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 such as Microsoft and Salesforce are helping here by embedding learning and development into their application suites. From big players such as SAP to small specialists like 5App, there are some really interesting options for employee engagement to get everyone aligned and working in harmony across the business.

There’s a lot more I could have touched on, including the role of robotic process automation (RPA), artificial intelligence (AI)-based assistants, embedded analytics, and much more. Suffice to say that, as soon as you start thinking in a joined-up manner, you’ll discover lots of opportunities to exploit CX and EX synergies.

Dale Vile is CEO and distinguished analyst at Freeform Dynamics.

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