Baseball team, likely Little League because they look young, in a huddle.
Editorial

Is It Time to Combine Customer Experience and Employee Experience Programs?

6 minute read
Patrick Gibbons avatar
Given the strong link between employees and customers, should customer experience (CX) and employee experience (EX) programs be managed together?

I have become somewhat of a collector of bad customer experiences. I’m often intrigued by the stories of friends and colleagues who have endured struggles with airlines, restaurants, internet providers and vendors they deal with in their jobs, and it’s interesting to consider why experiences turn bad.

Without a doubt, I’ve found that most involve an employee who is frustrated, not engaged, or not empowered in their job. Of course the opposite is true. A caring, engaged, empowered employee can make all the difference. As the saying goes, “happy employees make for happy customers.”

Given the strong link between employees and customers, should customer experience (CX) and employee experience (EX) programs be managed together? This has emerged as a popular topic among customer experience leaders, and this article examines why it makes sense, considers obstacles to anticipate and offers ways to get started.

The Clear Link Between Employees and Customers

It’s amazing how much employee and customer experiences have evolved. It used to be that an employee was simply happy to have a job that paid a decent wage. Today, employees demand much more. They want to work in a fulfilling environment that supports their beliefs, ambitions and work/life balance.

For customers, it’s no longer simply about low prices or good quality. They’ll favor one company over another if the experience is better. This evolution of the experience has changed the way CX and EX programs are managed. It’s not enough to focus on measuring satisfaction of employees and customers. Instead, CX and EX programs are much more proactive, focused on intentionally designing the optimal experiences for customers and employees.

It’s also important to recognize that employees have many of the answers to customer experience issues. In particular, frontline employees — clerks, cashiers, account managers, contact center reps, and others — interact with customers every day. They know their thoughts, their feelings and their frustrations.

And yet, most companies don’t do enough to take advantage of this rich resource in a regular, reliable way. Asking employees what really matters to customers can be one of the most practical and efficient ways to identify issues that need the most attention.

Finally, it’s important to realize that every customer issue involves employees, and every employee issue affects customers. For instance, if your company decided to change the way they take orders, deliver goods, offer support, or any other part of the experience, the role of employees will change. Conversely, if your company puts new policies in place or reorganizes departments, it will affect the way customers are served.

By looking at CX and EX holistically as one entity rather than two, it is more likely the interests of both customers and employees will be considered.

Related Article: Why It's Time to Embrace Employee Experience

Combining CX and EX — Obstacles to Anticipate

Clearly, customer and employee experiences have a tightly woven relationship. But does that mean you should combine your CX and EX programs? At a minimum, I believe they should be closely aligned, designed with each other in mind, and in close communication.

However, there are some practical factors to consider. The most obvious is that most organizations currently have separate and distinct programs for CX and EX that are run by completely different people. Employee experience programs are almost always administered by human resources, while customer experience is typically managed by a group that reports into marketing, quality or strategic planning.

To get started, the two groups need to connect, to understand their respective programs, and to consider how they can collaborate together.

Learning Opportunities

Even after uniting CX and EX leaders, you may find existing practices are rigidly in place. Each team may have longstanding processes they do not want to change. And yet, to really develop a more practical and aligned program, change may be necessary.

I would also argue that now — emerging from a global pandemic — is an excellent time to consider how customer and employee behaviors have changed and how your programs should reflect those changes.

Finally, your CX and EX programs may be running on separate and different technology platforms. These platforms have become essential for efficiency and working from the same system can enhance the alignment of CX and EX. While not critical in the short term, it is a factor to consider when evaluating the ways you will collect and analyze customer and employee insights in the future. What’s more, the technology solution providers are already developing impressive tools to monitor customer and employee experiences in a more holistic manner. 

Related Article: The Secret for Any Customer Experience Strategy: Listen to Frontline Employees

Combining CX and EX — Getting Started

If you are like most organizations, your current CX and EX programs are separate and distinct. So what would it look like to combine them? And what are the right steps to get started?

Here are three practical ways to align your CX and EX programs:

  • Team up. The first step is to get those involved in CX and EX to begin working together. That could mean combining your teams into one experience management function. Or it may be an easier transition to keep the two groups separate, but establish a regular, structured way to routinely work together. Whatever the structure, it’s most important that the people who lead customer experience and employee experience initiatives connect and identify the most productive ways to share, learn and design their programs to deliver great experiences for both customers and employees.
  • Collaborate on VOCE. As I mentioned earlier, most organizations don’t do a good job of inviting employee suggestions to improve customer experiences. A simple solution to this is to conduct a VOCE program — voice of the customer through the employee. In other words, ask employees to put themselves in the shoes of their customers to provide their perspective. Those that interact regularly with customers hear their frustrations and will have plenty of insights on what’s working and what’s broken. A VOCE program is a practical way to benefit both employees and customers. What’s more, it’s a great project for CX and EX teams to collaborate.
  • Report together. Another way to get started is to simply report EX and CX results together. Even if they are completely separate reports presented back-to-back it sends a message to the organization that customers and employees are clearly linked. It has even more impact when you can report connections in your analysis. For instance, if customer ratings of the contact center are low, you will likely find frustration amongst the contact center employees. Or if customers indicate that account managers are not responsive enough, there could be insights from employees that indicate they are stretched too thin. Reporting together encourages CX and EX leaders to search for key connections and incorporate them in their action planning.

Conclusion: Separate CX and EX May No Longer Be Optional

Does it make sense for your organization to combine CX and EX programs? Ultimately, that’s up to you.

However, it’s clear that by managing completely separate programs you’re likely missing important insights that could help you enhance the experience of your most important stakeholders.

About the author

Patrick Gibbons

Patrick Gibbons is Principal/SVP of marketing and experience management at Walker, an experience management services firm. He has published and/or contributed to a number of articles, papers, and blogs on customer intelligence topics and has been a featured speaker at a wide range of conferences and has produced a series of educational events for customer experience leaders.