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In an increasingly competitive business world, some of the biggest brands today are focusing on the employee experience to deliver better products and services to their customers.

“Our mission is to be the most hospitable company in the world,” Matt Schuyler, Hilton’s chief human resources officer, recently told Quartz. “You can't do that without great people, and you can't get great people without being a great workplace. “

It’s a sentiment that’s being echoed across the business world as companies are starting to switch on to the power of engagement.

What is employee experience (EX)?

If customer experience (CX) is the sum of all interactions that customers will have with your company, then employee experience is your workforce’s relationship with your business. That encompasses every interaction they have with you, from their first contact as a potential recruit to their final interactions as an employee.

It includes every aspect of your business from the C-suite to the IT department, and even the physical environment your employees work in. In short, EX is about anything that will improve your company’s culture and give your workforce the tools they need to succeed.

Why employee experience is so important

A happier workforce is just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to the benefits of embracing EX. We’ve previously written about a growing body of research that shows the correlation between  a more engaged workforce and a better customer experience. Investing in employee experience can also lead to  better innovation, productivity and profitability.

The Harvard Business Review recently published a study by Jacob Morgan, one of the world’s leading authorities on employee experience, which analyzed  more than 250 organizations in an effort to quantify these business benefits. The study found that there was a direct correlation between employee experience and company performance.

One of the metrics Morgan used to judge EX’s impact was the companies’ appearance on the most renowned “Best of” lists:

“Those that invested most heavily in employee experience were included 28 times as often among Fast Company’s Most Innovative Companies, 11.5 times as often in Glassdoor’s Best Places to Work, 2.1 times as often in Forbes’s list of the World’s Most Innovative Companies, 4.4 times as often in LinkedIn’s list of North America’s Most In-Demand Employers, and twice as often in the American Customer Satisfaction Index.”

The benefits were even more striking when you consider the financial data. In the same study, Morgan found that companies that focused on EX had four times the average profit and more than twice the average revenue of those who didn’t.

Companies that focused on employee experience had four times the average profit and more than twice the average revenue of those who didn’t.

Given the benefits of investing in employee experience, it’s no wonder Forbes contributor Denise Lee Yohn has named 2018 “the year of employee experience.”

Improving your employees’ experience

According to Gartner, 89% of companies now expect to compete primarily on the basis of the experience they provide customers. As a result companies that are looking to gain an edge on the competition should consider the importance of their employees when it comes to getting ahead.

Some of the ways you can improve your employee experience include the following:

1. Go beyond the foosball tables

Buzzy perks like foosball tables, gym memberships and free lunches have become common sights in those companies looking to brand themselves as a great employer. But it’s important to understand that these feel-good tactics aren’t the answer when it comes to employee experience.

While these may end up being part of your overall strategy, these techniques are designed to mask the symptoms. Employee experience should be the search for a cure. After all, our work lives are about so much more than the perks. Modern employees want to work in a great environment—they want to know their contributions are valued, that their work has meaning and that their employers listen to them.

Improving your EX is about considering every touchpoint employees have with your company. It’s about designing an environment where your workforce is committed and engaged with their employment.

2. Create a dialogue

Improving your employee experience is a two-way conversation. You need to listen to your people, and have that conversation regularly.

According to some companies, employee surveys are still a great starting point for business leaders looking to engage with their workforce. The team at Facebook, for example, still consider surveys to be a powerful tool to getting the pulse of their employees.

"Not having a regular survey sends a clear message: you don’t care about people’s opinions," the company stated in a recent article in Harvard Business Review. "The act of filling out a survey gives them a specific channel for expressing voice. At Facebook, even though we can often gain the insights we need from a sample, we often invite the whole company to participate so they have a chance to contribute to the conversation. Passive monitoring loses that employee feeling of active ownership."

Engagement should be done regularly. The performance company Cirque Du Soleil, for instance, has taken employee engagement to the next level by ditching the traditional survey in favor of a process that generates constant feedback from team members.

"Somewhere along the way, we've forgotten that organizations are human living systems, essentially a bunch of people coming together every day," Valerie Pisano, Talent Manager at Cirque Du Soleil, said in a recent Inc article. "We've significantly overemphasized our focus on system, process, policy, rule...and we've mostly disregarded everything that science, psychology, and neuroscience have figured out about how human beings function and what they need to be the best version of themselves."

That’s why the company gives equal weighting to employee feedback as they do data points. Cirque Du Soleil has developed a series of short quarterly surveys that ask genuine questions of their employees to better understand how they feel about the company.

It’s an example of the kind of dialogue companies should look to create to boost their employee experience. By truly understanding what your workforce wants, where their pressure points are and what tools they need to succeed, you can improve their overall experience.

Many companies already perform this kind of interaction in the form of annual staff surveys. But just like customers, modern employees are more sophisticated than ever before with access to technologies and real-time information that is changing the face of engagement. The result is that the annual survey has gone the way of the Dodo. According to one study, 70% of employees simply don’t respond to annual surveys, and 29% think these surveys are pointless.

Companies need to look beyond outdated practices and annual surveys in favor of creating a community and having regular ongoing dialogue that drives the kind of engagement that employees want.

3. Don’t lose sight of the customer

Though focusing on the employee experience will deliver a range of benefits to your business, it’s vital that you don’t lose sight of the customer in the process. After all what’s the point in creating a great company culture that keeps your employees engaged if it doesn’t extend beyond your own four walls.

Indeed your customers should be central to everything you do, and they should be at the core of all of your employee experience decisions. Telstra, Australia’s largest teleco, is a great example of how a company can use employee engagement to drive customer experience. The company actively involves its employees in new product development, using the in-house team to test-drive new developments and experiences before launching programs to its 820,000 customers.

Testra’s approach shows that by aligning your employee experience with your company values, you can ensure that a happy workforce equals happy customers. From the boardroom to the front lines, your team should be able to fall back on your company’s core values at all times. It doesn’t matter if they’re engaging with a colleague or a customer, the key is creating a consistent experience for every stakeholder.

There’s no time like the present

For customer facing brands looking to unlock the power of employee engagement, the time to act is now. With more and more companies catching on to the importance of customer experience, it’s not only going to help to give you the edge on your competition, but also to make your company a better place to work. The very definition of a win-win.

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