happy customer
PHOTO: Katy Belcher

Everyone knows customer experience is important, but just how important it is may come as a surprise. To stay competitive, it is absolutely essential. According to IBM’s annual Global C-Suite Study, 68 percent of C-suite executives expect organizations to emphasize customer experience (CX) over products.

So how do you improve customer experience? You may want to look at making your employees happy first.

Employees Provide the Inside Scoop on Customers

Employees are the face of the company. As we all know, one bad experience can make a customer turn away from a company for life. What’s even worse, there is a good probability that disgruntled customers will tell others about their negative experiences. As Warren Buffet said, “It takes 20 years to build a reputation and five minutes to ruin it. If you think about that, you’ll do things differently.”

Many companies need to shift their perspectives on the role of employees, especially front-line employees. It’s true that that these employees are internal team members who are representing their companies when they deal with customers, but companies should also think of them as customer advocates — or, as some companies would say, the “voice of the customer.” In many cases, support personnel or other front-line employees are the only people customers will interact with — which means it’s not the CEO or the paid spokesperson that is the face of the company, it is the person on the other end of the phone, computer or cash register.

In addition, employees are a company’s best asset when it comes to identifying common customer problems and complaints, such as product defects, friction points and broken experiences. Because front-line employees speak with customers day in and day out, they can identify common problems, and the information they collect can enable the company to fix problems before they become widespread.

Employees will feel valued if they see that company leaders welcome their customer insights, and if they see that the information they share benefits the company as a whole. And when employees recognize that their efforts are valued, they will feel energized and will strive to go above and beyond for customers, and to provide feedback to the company when something needs to be fixed. In such scenarios, problems are escalated to management’s attention quickly, and management, in turn, is positioned to respond quickly.

Related Article: How an Engaged Front-Line Workforce Contributes to Great Customer Service

Improving Employee Experience: Where to Start?

While improving employee satisfaction levels and the overall company culture can sound like a quite an undertaking, the key is to start with specific focus areas and then enhance the program as you go along. Jumping in head-first and then failing to follow through with promised programs and goals can have a negative effect.

Here are a few simple steps that you can take to get the process started:

  • Listen to what your employees want. Whether it is through one-on-one conversations or companywide surveys, understand what your employees want, not just what you think they want.
  • Appoint a dedicated culture champion. Once you know what your team wants, you must do something about it. Having a “culture champion” who oversees cultivating company values is one way of making sure that having a strong culture stays a priority. It is also essential to remember that, in a big company, there will be nuances in what each location wants. A culture champion can personalize companywide initiatives, but also respond to specific suggestions that are important to individual company locations.
  • Appoint a chief employee experience officer. Hiring (or developing) someone to fill the role of chief employee experience officer (CEEO) is an important step for any company looking to confirm that employees’ needs are met. Having one person in the C-suite responsible for enhancing every phase of the employee life cycle — from recruitment to retirement and everything in between — is a critical part of ensuring that employee experience is taken into account and prioritized in every discussion and business decision. On the flip side, a CEEO can make sure that employee experience initiatives are aligned with the company’s business strategy.
  • Provide training and other skill-building opportunities. As employees increasingly take on the role of company ambassadors, it is imperative for businesses to put a greater emphasis on employee development and overall experience. Happy employees who have been adequately trained will be confident in their interactions with customers, and they will have the drive to go the extra mile — employees like that become a company’s greatest asset.
  • Keep employees informed. Employees want to understand how their roles fit into the overall business strategy. Every employee contributes to the success of the company, so make sure they understand how they do that. Plus, when decisions are made — no matter how big or small — explain your rationale. A simple explanation can go a long way.

Related Article: 7 Ways to Improve Your Company's Employee Experience

Start Small, But Aim High

Creating a new (or improved) company culture does not happen overnight. It’s a long process, and it takes buy-in from all executives. However, the effort will pay off with long-term rewards. Putting employees at the center of the workplace, and providing them with the tools they need and an environment that fosters growth, will boost both employee morale and customer satisfaction.