What Does Your Employee Experience Look Like?

10 minute read
Joyce Hostyn avatar

Most of us have to put up with airline travel several times a year. Few of us look forward to it. Some of us actively dread it. And yet, does the flying experience have to be something we dread?  

Consider the contrast between the experience American Airlines and Singapore Airlines are each famous for. 


[Employees] had little awareness of the overall work process, and instead had a tendency to understand their own piece of the process to the exclusion of the rest. When asked what they were doing and why, American employees typically explain their own tasks without reference to the overall process of the flight departures.Employees involved in the flight departure process displayed a great deal of blaming and blame avoidance towards each other for late departures and other negative outcomes.

Jody Gittell The Southwest Airlines Way 

What Singapore Airlines has done is, they focused on subjective issues, what they called human software. Their first way of differentiating themselves from their competition was to focus on in-flight service. They have the gold standard in in- flight service. Right from the process of recruiting in-flight personnel, flight attendants, all the way through the specific touchpoints with passengers during the flight, before the flight, after the flight, they've honed this down to an art.
... It's really how well their flight staff are trained. First of all, Singapore Airlines focuses largely on what they call the front part of the cabin, that is, the first class and the business class passengers. And they have a superb database on their frequent fliers, on their loyal passengers, loyal customers. As soon as a passenger is seated, even before he or she asks for, let's say, a drink, the flight attendant knows exactly what kind of whiskey, how many cubes of ice, whether soda or water goes into it. So they're scripted in knowing exactly who the passengers are and what they want.

Singapore Airlines' Winning Strategy

Om Malik shared a story about one of his recent flying experiences along with his epiphany about what user experience is really all about:

"The comparison between the two flying experiences crystallized one thing for me: user experience is not pretty logos, lovely web design or rounded corners. A smile is a user experience and so is an honest and candid reply to a tweet. Experience is not just physical. It is delivering happiness across as many touch points as often and as frequently as possible, is the ultimate user experience. Apple and Virgin are good examples of that whole experience package."

A smile is a user experience.

An honest and candid reply is a user experience.

Delivering happiness across as many touchpoints and as often and as frequently as possible is the ultimate user experience.

What do all of these have in common?


Employees are the lynchpin of great customer experiences.

Employees are an organization’s most important touchpoint.

The experience an organization delivers to customers is a reflection of the organization and its employees. Employees who are motivated, empowered and enabled with the information, tools and technology they need to deliver on the brand promise can make or break the customer experience. This goes far beyond employee engagement. This means taking the design and measurement of employee experience just as seriously as the design and measurement of the customer experience.

The CEO of o2, Ronan Dunne, sums it up in a nutshell: “If you cannot turn your employees into fans there’s no way you will turn your customers into fans.”

How do we shift our focus from measuring employee engagement to designing great employee experiences that turn employees into fans who excel at delivering happiness, making you smileor solving for the customer?

Enterprise as a Design Challenge

Most organizations don’t yet approach the enterprise as a design challenge. But what if we steal a little from service design, a little from design thinking and a little from screenwriting and bring an element of play into the enterprise? What if we think of the enterprise in terms of story? We can think of the enterprise then becomes a stage for delivering memorable experiences.

An easy way to wrap your mind around this is to think about a restaurant.


Front stage (tangible evidence)
Front stage is the restaurant itself. The tables. The food. The website. The menu. The lighting. How is the space designed? Does the food engage all your senses? Is the meal an experience to linger over? Be inspired by? Or is it quick, efficient and fun?

On stage (service contact)
On stage is where contact between employees and customers take place. Friendly family service, efficient cashier or a knowledgeable server in a bow tie. Is your food handed to you on a tray or carved at tableside? Just when you start wondering why dinner is taking so long does the server surprise you with a complementary aperitif?

Back stage (invisible actions, support & sequencing)
How is the kitchen designed? Is each meal carefully hand crafted or is there an efficient product line? How are ingredients sourced? What’s the story behind the food? How is the meal experience scripted (greeting & seating, delivery of the cocktails, food, wine and finally the conclusion of bill and departure)?
Purpose, mission (the controlling idea around which every decision is orchestrated)

Contrast Chick-fil-A’s purpose: “To glorify God by being a faithful steward of all that is entrusted to us and to have a positive influence on all who come in contact with Chick-fil-A” and mission “To be American's best quick-service restaurant.”

With Luke’s Gastronomy: “I have so much respect for the ingredients I have at hand that I choose to make my plates avant garde in presentation. I take months when designing a new dish. Have I contrasted flavours, textures, temperatures, colours, concentrations? This is my way to pay homage to the producers and what they lovingly produce … The biggest reward is making people happy. There are people who say they’re eaten all over the world and this food is absolutely amazing. So the biggest reward can happen any night. That’s why I’m here and that’s why I do what I do.” Luke’s TEDx talk on Heroes (Why not make your own culinary pilgrimage to Kingston to experience Luke’s?)

Now let’s try looking at this using a more abstract model. How do the layers influence and build on each other? (I’d love to hear your thoughts on this model … I’d like to iterate and explore it in future posts.)


Front Stage (Customer Experience)

Front stage is the series of touchpoints where a customer interacts with an organization. The interaction can be personal, digital or physical.

Designers typically take a people-centric approach to designing the front stage experience. Goals may include making the experience usable, efficient, responsive, personalized, unique, transparent or enjoyable.

You can think about each front stage touchpoint as a relationship building opportunity involving an information exchange between a customer and the organization.


Learning Opportunities

On Stage (Employee Experience)

On stage encompasses the employees who interact with the customers at each of the touchpoints. Critically important to an employee’s ability to deliver a great experience at each of these touchpoints are their interactions behind the scenes with the rest of the enterprise (other employees, applications, processes and systems) to service the customer.

How easy (or hard) is it for employees to deliver a great customer experience? Few organizations explicitly design this experience. Instead, they put in place a series of policies, applications and processes. But the rational and emotional journey an employee goes through in their effort to service the customer isn’t considered holistically.

To enable employees to deliver great experiences that build relationships, we need to start taking a people-centric approach to designing our workplaces to support employees.

Employees need the right information, the right way, at the right time to deliver the desired experience.


Employee Experience Journey Map, Craig Goebel for TurboTax

Consider the possible difference in the experience of two employees attempting to service a customer and the impact their experience could have on the experience they’re able to deliver.

Back Stage (Process, Information, Application and Infrastructure)

To deliver great employee experiences and great customer experiences you need a well-architected backstage foundation of interlinked processes, information, applications, interfaces and databases.Back stage goals are traditionally focused on efficiency, productivity, robustness, standardization and scalability.

What’s missing is a holistic linkage that connects this to delivering usable, personalized, delightful or efficient employee and customer experiences.


Image source

Employees are on a journey. Help them create great stories.

How do we inspire employees to deliver great customer experiences? Is it as simple (and as hard) as designing for great employee experiences? Experiences that motivate and support employees as work becomes a place that allows them to learn, slay dragons, be happy, transform and develop mastery along their own life’s journey?


Image source

If you’re ready to cross the threshold along your own journey to transform your enterprise, here’s a possible roadmap for tackling the challenge:

  1. Start with an inside-out look at your core purpose, your reason for existing as an organization.
  2. Map your culture to understand the values currently guiding behaviors and identify the values that bring your purpose to life.
  3. Determine who your customers are (not your market) and who you want them to become.
  4. Map the customer journey to understand what experience you’re currently delivering.
  5. Design the desired customer experience.
  6. Map the employee journey to understand what experience you’re currently delivering to employees.
  7. Design the desired employee experience.
  8. Architect a platform that allows you to deliver on the experience.
  9. Launch a series of trojan mice or little bets and be prepared to pivot.
  10. Treat communications as a strategic activity (think content marketing for employees)

The devil’s in the details. There’s no one right method to deliver great employee experiences that align with the customer experience you want to deliver. Every enterprise is unique. But there are organizations out there that are doing some really interesting work in this area.

As part of my own journey leading customer experience at OpenText I’ll continue to explore the topic of the enterprise as design challenge in future posts. In the mean time, here are a few organizations taking innovative approaches leveraging their employee experience as a brand differentiator:

Editor's Note: We can look forward to more from Joyce, but in the mean time, here's more from our employee engagement focus.

About the author

Joyce Hostyn

Joyce Hostyn is a passionate advocate for the customer experience. She believes that organizations — people-centric organizations — are in a unique position to effect positive change in the world.