Jane, a young marketing graduate, started her first job working as an assistant business development manager. In her first year, she felt valued, with her manager regularly telling her what fantastic work she was doing.
Despite being a junior, she was given the responsibility to work on big proposals and draft contracts. She also sat in on big meetings with the CEO and COO. To top things off, she was promoted to business development manager at the end of the year and received a bonus and a special note thanking her for all her hard work.
This is but one example of employee experience (EX), which can profoundly shape the entire customer experience (CX). But what is employee and customer experience? Why should you care? How does employee experience impact customer experience? And, how can you create great employee experiences?
Read on for answers to these questions—and more, including insights from award-winning journalist, author, speaker, and workplace happiness expert—Jennifer Moss. She shares learnings on burnout, the remote evolution, how they’re affecting employee experience, and what companies can do to build a better workplace.
Employee experience—the sum of many interactions and elements
Employee experience is the many interactions and elements in a company that shape an employee’s perception of their job. These include onboarding techniques, training programs, and compensation to cultural norms, leadership styles, and work environments. These experiences can be both negative and, as was the case with Jane, positive.
What is customer experience?
Customer experience is the interactions and various elements (e.g., branding and people) that shape a customer’s perception of a company. It’s how customers feel about a company during all stages of the purchasing process: pre-purchase, consumption, and post-purchase. Customer experience is not the same as customer service. Rather customer service is but one element of the entire customer experience.
Why does employee experience matter?
Employee experience is crucial because it has a ripple effect on the entire organization, affecting happiness, productivity, customer experience, and profits. More specifically, a better employee experience matters because it leads to:
Better customer service, experiences, and retention. Employees with positive work experiences are more productive and committed to delivering their best work. This desire to always want to do their best work leads to better customer experiences and service, which boosts customer loyalty. We explore the connection between employee and customer experience in more detail in the next section.
More revenue over the lifetime of your customers. Loyal customers are more likely to recommend you to others and make repeat purchases. It’s also easier to upsell to existing customers than new ones because they trust you and what you offer. In fact, 78% will do business with these companies again even after they’ve made a mistake. Your customer acquisition costs are also lower because you don’t have to constantly invest money in finding new customers.
Retaining the best employees, which reduces cost. Happier employees tend to stay longer with one company, which reduces costs that come with recruiting, onboarding, and training new hires.
Employees becoming advocates. Ever heard your friend rave about their company? Perhaps it was the company's excellent onboarding program or how they let employees nap in the afternoon.
These individuals, knowingly or unknowingly, are promoting their company. They are brand advocates. Employees who love their job can become advocates over time, helping you attract the best talent and even acquire more customers.
How does employee experience impact customer experience?
Employee experience impacts the customer experience directly: A positive employee experience leads to a positive customer experience and vice versa.
Study after study supports this notion. One study, by Forbes, for example, found that companies that thrive at customer experience have employees who are 1.5 times more engaged. These same companies are also more likely to generate higher returns, outperforming their competitors by 147%.
Research aside, this makes sense: employees who have positive experiences (in contrast to those who simply occupy their job) are more productive and want to put in the extra effort. They want to do a fantastic job for their customers, managers, colleagues, and themselves because they feel valued and take pride in what they do.
You only have to look at the many top companies who live by the “people first and the customer experience will follow” mantra to know this is true. Take Starbucks, for example. They are constantly at the top of customer experience ratings and offer employees competitive wages, stock options, training, and health benefits.
Or what about Marriott International. J.W.Marriott once said: “Take care of associates, and they’ll take care of your customers.” As a company that’s constantly top-rated for customer experience and as a place to work, they make staff feel valued, offer many different training programs, value diversity, and even publicly reward their employees.
Burnout: understanding its impact on EX and CX
Though always a big concern, burnout became even more of one in 2020 when the pandemic hit. With millions of people losing their jobs and financial security—all while coping with the realities of staying safe from a virus—burnout ran rampant. With no signs of slowing, we are now, in the words of Jennifer Moss, “in the midst of a burnout epidemic.”
But what is burnout? And how does it impact EX?
Burnout—it’s an occupational phenomenon
Burnout is a workplace condition caused by unmanaged workplace stress. Symptoms include:
Mental and physical exhaustion
A mental disconnect from one’s job or negative feelings toward it
Reduced performance and professionalism at work (simple tasks often become difficult to do)
How does burnout impact employee experience?
Burnout can therefore affect the employee and customer experience in a profound way. It negatively affects their entire work experience, performance, and health and can have a massive effect on a company’s ROI, leading to absenteeism, poor customer experience, and reduced profits.
Top performers are not exempt from experiencing burnout. They may, in fact, be more inclined to experience it. “Highly engaged, high performing people tend to have perfectionist concerns,” explains Jennifer. “Or, they’re driven and don’t take care of themselves. They can be engaged and yet burned out.”
The remote evolution’s impact on EX and CX
The pandemic has also accelerated the remote evolution with more and more people working from home. And, while many people pushed for companies to offer remote work as an option before the pandemic because it offered better work-life balance, they now realize that it has its own challenges—and an alternative approach is needed.
The workplace is much lonelier than it once was—and while a video call may seem to do the trick, it isn’t enough. Humans crave emotional and physical interaction.
“Video conferencing is a good substitute, but it isn’t actually doing what you need,” explains Jennifer. “There’s an inability to have these serendipitous moments where you bump into each other, and you talk about the kids or the family or the dad that is sick or whatever those things are that let you create these bonding moments.”
So, how can business leaders create great employee experiences?
Because employee experiences are shaped by many elements and interactions, the strategies you use will have to be just as diverse.
That being said, with the proliferation of burnout and challenges around remote work, an excellent place to start would be to focus on strategies that address these two areas.
Read on for some ideas.
Strategies to prevent burnout and improve EX
Before implementing any strategies to prevent burnout, you need to recognize two things:
Think beyond self-care.
Organizations need to move beyond offering self-care and wellness strategies like gym memberships or Yoga. While these are great, and Jennifer recommends that organizations continue offering them, these strategies generally only work well for those already doing well.
But for those suffering from something like mental illness, a different approach is needed. “These are things that can’t necessarily be solved just by individual self-care,” explains Jennifer. “These things are potentially systemic. It could be overwork. It could be people not being able to talk to their manager when they’re feeling burned out or seeing the symptoms of burnout.”
It’s a “we” problem.
The responsibility for dealing with the problem doesn’t just rest with an individual or organization. “It’s a ‘we’ problem,” explains Jennifer.
1. Set up regular check-in meetings that encourage open communication
Once leaders have recognized this, Jennifer recommends starting small because making these changes takes time. For example, have regular check-ins in a Friday meeting where you ask these three questions:
Was this week particularly stressful?
Why or why not? So, what were the things that helped you feel motivated or stressed?
What can I do as a manager or leader to make next week better?
“That checking in part is really the secret sauce,” says Jennifer. “It’s [about] consistently checking in. It’s looking for language like ‘I’m tired all the time,’ repeated themes of people feeling cynical like they can’t change. It’s really getting to the root of those problems way further upstream than tackling them when someone is actually taking a long-term disability for being burned out.”
These check-ins should take place one-on-one in person, and in teams to destigmatize workplace stress by encouraging open communication. “We also need to talk about how we, as a team, can collaboratively support each other,” explains Jennifer. Often we live in a silo, and it’s the team dynamic—lack of community and feeling like we’re not bonded as a team—that is a predictor for burnout.”
Questions asked by employees in front of the team should also be answered by the manager in front of the team to re-enforce that open communication is encouraged. It doesn’t help if you say you support open communication but then don’t allow it. You need to lead by example. Your behaviors need to model the better company culture you want in your organization.
Related reading: 11 company culture hacks for happy customers and employees.
Strategies addressing the challenges around remote work
2. Implement a hybrid work approach to encourage connection
Jennifer recommends a hybrid work style where people can still connect in person but have the flexibility to work from home.
How you implement this approach in your company will depend on your company’s and employees’ needs. For example, you could gather the team for three days once a month and have them work at home for the rest. Or, you could do what Google now does and have three days in the office and two days remote. The choice is yours.
Other strategies for improving employee experience
3. Create a welcoming program that makes employees feel valued
Imagine these two scenarios:
Scenario 1: Joe, fresh out of college, walks into a company on his first day, is properly welcomed by everyone, gets a welcome pack with a laptop, has an introductory meeting, is told what he will be doing in his first week and who he must report to, and has an end of week briefing so the manager can check in.
Scenario 2: Jerry, fresh out of college, walks into a company on his first day, does not get a welcome pack with a laptop, doesn’t have an introductory meeting, and is totally unsure what he should be doing. He looks confused and spends a large portion of his time asking colleagues questions about what to do. When his manager eventually gets around to helping him, he is dismissive and provides little support.
Two very different scenarios. Two very different experiences. Needless to say, unless things change drastically for Jerry, he probably won’t be at the company for long.
4. Implement proper training programs, so employees are empowered to do their job
Training should start on day one and be ongoing. Training equips employees with the knowledge to do their job properly and is a superb way to show them you’re invested in them, making them feel valued. For example, Adobe invests in training staff to understand customer experience metrics and how each employee’s role affects the entire customer experience.
5. Regularly gather employee feedback at different touchpoints
There are many different touchpoints employees experience during their employee journey. By gathering customer feedback, you can stay attuned to how they feel personally and about their work.
Just make sure you’re gathering feedback often, so you’re aware of their changing feelings over time and aren’t just relying on a static snapshot every few months. Also, collect feedback at the beginning, various stages during, and the end of employment.
6. Make sure employees get proper benefits and compensation
Employee experiences aren’t just shaped by how much they earn—there are many other drivers, as studies show. However, nothing causes more resentment towards one’s job than knowing you’re getting underpaid. So, make sure employees never feel that way. Also, ensure they have an excellent benefits package that takes care of them.
7. Provide opportunities for advancement
Someone who is well-compensated but has no opportunity to move up the ladder in your organization will likely, at some point, leave. So, provide room for growth, e.g., offer promotions and create new roles for employees who are performing well and can grow with the company.
Improve employee experience to improve customer experience
Investing in employee experience is a win-win: you're helping people be their best, but you're also helping your business' bottom line. It leads to happier and more engaged employees, contributes to better customer experiences and retention, and boosts your bottom line.
That’s why it’s essential to implement strategies to improve it, including check-in meetings, a hybrid work approach, proper welcoming and training programs, benefits packages, and opportunities for advancement.
Just remember to not get totally attached to these strategies and be open to making adjustments. It’s key to “look at this as a trial and error time,” explains Jennifer, “not get married to our tactical solutions, and actively listen to find out what people need.”
Watch Episode 6 of Front CEO Mathilde Collin's video series Leading from the Front to learn more about workplace burnout and how to prevent it: When Passion Meets Burnout with Jennifer Moss.
Written by Nick Darlington
Originally Published: 27 May 2021