For a long time, customer and employee experiences have been considered separate things. But COVID-19 surfaced for many the interconnectedness of each. As we all move into a post COVID new normal, the question is how leaders transform both in lock step with each other.

According to the research of Andrew Chamberlain at Glassdoor Economic Research, “customer and employee satisfaction should be seen as two sides of the same coin. There is a strong statistical link between employee well-being reported on Glassdoor and customer satisfaction among a large sample of some of the largest companies today.”

And while employees can do heroics to deal with the silos and spaghetti experiences, I would contend that making employees jobs easier makes customer experience better.

But what do CIOs think?

Relationship Between Customer and Employee Experiences

Before delving into what drives customer and employee experiences, I want to first dig into the CIOs perspectives on relationship and causality. First CIO Deb Gildersleeve says, “A bad employee experience will find its way to the customer experience. You want to continually invest in and improve the employee experience so employees can focus on what is best for the customer instead of fighting systems and processes to get their work done.”

Given this, Michigan State CIO Melissa Woo astutely adds, “The experiences of customers and those who provide services must be aligned.” City of Asheville CIO Jonathan Feldman agrees with Woo and says, “EX absolutely drives CX. Employees have more power than ever before. Even before the pandemic, they had information symmetry — in the same way that we have an information advantage over yesterday's car buyer and salesperson, today's employees have an advantage over pre-digital employees and bosses.”

For this reason, author Isaac Sacolick claims, “Siloed experiences with no/subpar connection from sales, marketing, to customer support functions with customer journeys and product/service usage? That is a road to disruption.”

It seems clear that if a company’s digital transformation is focused on the customer, they need to understand the tie between employee experience and customer experience. They are intertwined. As such they need to be aligned. For this reason, it does not make sense to think of them separately.

How many CMOs think this way?

Related Article: Digital Trailblazer: Drive Consequential Digital Transformations

Listen to Voice of the Customer

Now that we have established a causal relationship, let us examine what is involved in transforming customer experience. According to Gildersleeve, everything should start by following the customer journey to find points of friction to work on. You need to find different ways of interacting with customers to learn where things could work better, she said.

This starts by talking to customers. And the definition of customers’ needs to change. In the new book, "Future Ready," the authors tell the story of CEMEX. “While in the past, IT had relied on input from the business managers, they now developed systematic, continuous conversations with the customers of all new developments.” For this reason, Miami University CIO David Seidl, says CIOs need to, “Find ways to listen to the voice of the customer and not just the loud ones. How you listen varies from organization to organization and need. As a customer, my short list would be:

  1. Make it easy to interact with you.
  2. Try to follow through consistently, and identify when and where interactions fail.
  3. Find ways to get feedback from a diverse and broad range of customers.
  4. Use it yourself so you see where processes go wrong.”

Related Article: EX and CX Come Down to the Same Thing: Put the Person First

Transforming Customer Experience Starts With Employee Experience

With CIOs and IT leaders connected to customers, it is important to take a holistic view of the whole experience including all aspects of employee experience. That view if properly put together should provide a wealth of information on needed improvements. According to Feldman, “The biggest thing an organization can do to transform customer experience is to evaluate the organization's employee experience and take steps to improve it. This creates a virtuous cycle that will retain the right employees and create a better company reputation to attract more good employees.”

With a supportive employee experience in place, Woo says, “walk the proverbial mile in the customer's shoes. The example I often use in higher education is to walk — both physically and virtually — through the onboarding of a new student. It is usually a disjointed experience involving multiple offices.”

Wow, I remember going into a cage and getting a bunch of punch cards to sign up for classes. The question is how much easier is the experience today? In terms of how to complete the process, analyst Dion Hinchcliffe says, “It is important to put one CXO in charge of end-to-end customer experience. This will nearly guarantee dramatic improvement. Beyond this, it is critical to deeply empathize with the customer in the journey. Design thinking can help this process, as well as getting profoundly immersed in their needs. With this knowledge you have everything to design a digital customer experience.”

Removing the 'Drudgery and Repetitiveness' of Employee Experience

It is clear that CIOs think that employee experience is an antecedent to customer experience. Prior to the COVID-19 crisis, the percentage that thought this way was small. But the great resignation made the need to respond clear to every organization.

Learning Opportunities

Seidl says, “A lot of organizations just do things to employees. That is us! Today organizations need to step back, think about the experience. They need to find ways to make people feel valued, listened to, empowered and confident at using systems, technology and processes. The more times you can take friction out of interactions, the better. Additionally, the more often you can provide a path for feedback and demonstrate that you are listening, the better. Start by looking for ways to remove the drudgery and repetitiveness. A large portion of digital experience is simply fixing this.”

Beyond systems, leaders need to get out of command-and-control mode. The days of barking out orders are over. Instead, leaders need to start involving and doing things with employees. They need to ensure there is good change management for every initiative that touches employees. At the same time, it is important for leaders to show they care about employees. This can start by enabling lifelong learning and truly supporting hybrid work and work/life balance. And finally, that employees are empowered to self-serve data, make decisions experiment and make mistakes.

Just providing world class technology is not enough. Leaders need to make sure employees know where to provide feedback. To build world class systems, employees should evaluate what is created. They clearly know which processes and systems are working and which require change. Part of doing this well involves rewarding inclusive and collaborative behaviors.

Hinchcliffe says, “Stop making technology culture change something you do to employees and customers. Instead, do it with them. Yes, this is harder and slower. But it is far more rewarding and effective.” Part of doing this well, Capgemini Executive Steve Jones says is, “Simplifying, smoothing and removing boundaries, and tailoring to the employee, not requiring the employee to tailor themselves to departments and processes.” This is similar to what Geoffrey Moore calls the move from systems of record to systems of engagement.

Related Article: Is It Time to Combine Customer Experience and Employee Experience Programs?

Making Customer-Facing Systems Less Complicated

There is work to make customer systems less complicated. You have to deal with the silos and spaghetti. Sacolick claims, “The lack of cohesive experiences is a byproduct of closed enterprise systems and workflows patched together by meetings, email and spreadsheets. SaaS, APIs, low-code integrations and cloud databases offer the potential to fix CX and EX, and yet it is still a struggle. Ask the CIO about what system and data customer support can access. The CX data is usually not in the CRM or the ticketing system, so customer support has little real-time information. Fix that integration to start. Let us remember that today's products and services are not cookie cutters. They have plenty of exceptions. Low-code and no-code can fill the gaps — either fix poor CX (round peg, square hole experience) or provide tailored EX support workflows.”

Organizations need to implement and make customer experience systems maintainable. In terms of what to fix first, Hinchcliffe claims, “Low-code and integrations improve customer and employee experience by making it easier to make user experience and process improvements. In this process, it is important to let citizen developers make customizations and add features. At the same time, there needs to be reduced context switching and friction by connecting pieces of apps together in one experience.”

Low-code applications can offer customer-facing personnel a way to help themselves. A better view into data will help as well, or two systems pulled together would improve the process. Part of making things better includes addressing tech debt. According to Seidl, “Tech debt is a place where you can reclaim time and focus. It is a place where you can redirect resources to make things better. Even better, tech debt causes more of the bad customer experience issues so you may get a multiplier effect.”

Operational efficiencies can come at the expense of customer experience. According to Gildersleeve, “Organizations should continually create operational efficiencies and reduce tech debt in order to provide a better foundation to update customer experience and free up time to do so.”

Parting Words: An Inevitable Marriage: CX and EX

It seems clear that customer and employee experience are intimately tied together. To be effective, CIOs need to fix both together. Feldman puts it well: “You cannot exactly serve customers without employees. Thus, EX must come before CX.”

For this reason, doing well at both requires authentic caring and working simultaneously, so they are congruent and work equally well for every stakeholder.

Learn how you can join our contributor community.