two people on opposite sides of a large megaphone in a public space
Front line employees can share customer insights and feedback before companies embark on traditional voice of the customer initiatives PHOTO: Remi Tu

Customer experience has existed in one form or another for as long as people have bought and sold goods. But in the age of the customer, it’s become one of the final battlegrounds where brands can compete for business and loyalty.

And with good reason. Seventy-five percent of consumers now expect a consistent experience wherever they engage with brands. These investments in customer experience (CX) improvements are paying off: Between 2010 and 2015, CX leaders delivered compound annual revenue growth rates of 17 percent, compared to just three percent for CX laggards.

However, recognizing your customer experience needs updating is different than knowing when and how to execute these changes. When making these decisions, turning to customers for more information is the obvious next step. But that's only part of the equation. To truly understand CX needs and eliminate the guesswork of positive disruption, brands must talk to their employees.

Employee engagement may be a less expected feedback source, but it’s central to any modern CX strategy. Rather than treating vocal employees like squeaky wheels, businesses should focus on empowering employee voices and the data-driven insights they offer.

Looking for Voice of Customer? Listen to Voice of Employees

Customer engagement strategies and platforms are now the norm in today’s omnichannel sales environment. With all eyes on the customer, however, employees’ voices often go forgotten.

What many brands have yet to recognize is how valuable employee feedback is during periods of change. 

Employees are the people who connect with customers on the front lines. They can act as liaisons to customer desires and relay the impacts of CX improvements in real time. 

Likewise, while decision-makers are concerned with how CX improvements impact the end-user experience, these updates must also pass internal usage tests. If a new system doesn’t work for those tasked with actually implementing the change, it’s unlikely the intended CX improvement will trickle to customers. Hearing from employees helps organizations toe the line between disruption and disabling a business.

Even when asked questions about daily work experiences (pay, inter-office relationships, etc.,) employees will surface insights related to the customer experience. That’s because their days — and the routine interactions they have with customers — are intrinsically tied to CX, both good and bad.

In some cases, employee feedback can reveal atypical solutions that otherwise would not be pursued. For example, employees may identify a way around checkout barriers that, while going against existing operational principles, works better in practice. Crowdsourcing on-the-ground insights from employees is the single best source of truth to determine if existing experiences are letting customers down.

Voice of Employee Benefits Extend Beyond CX

Building Voice of Employee (VoE) practices into existing Voice of Customer (VoC) strategies first and foremost gives businesses a holistic understanding of their CX. This alone should be reason enough for businesses to seek out top feedback platforms, which are capable of collecting and analyzing input at scale. But if you’re still not convinced, consider these additional benefits of hearing directly from employees:

Go Beyond Diagnostics

VoC programs typically center on surface-level insights. For example, a customer may indicate where her satisfaction ranks on a 10-point scale, but that information is tough to translate into real-world CX improvements. 

Well-established VoE programs help organizations move beyond these baseline diagnostics and instead earn qualitative feedback. Over time, businesses can develop patterns among qualitative feedback sets to better understand what's happening, why and what they need to do about it.

Be Proactive With Issues

Traditionally, VoC programs function as after-the-fact triage. While it’s important to register and resolve issues after they happen, VoE insights help businesses preventatively avoid the damage altogether.

For instance, customers can only report friction during checkout after the fact. Conversely, when asked, an employee may reveal that shoppers are spending an above-average amount of time at purchase and are specifically voicing frustrations around payment options. The business can take this feedback to make institutional improvements before the next round of shoppers reaches the checkout stage.

Make Employees Feel Valued

When you ask people about their ideas and problems, they feel heard, engaged and part of the solution process — thereby boosting loyalty. Listening to employees not only makes them more engaged in their individual jobs, but also more invested in the overall success of the business.

There’s a great deal of satisfaction that comes when you see your ideas come to fruition. Dave and Buster’s, for example, found great success from this model and now sources all of its new product ideas from employees. The company’s VoE culture supports multiple avenues to pull great ideas from employees, vet them along the chain and then implement them.

This type of workplace environment not only battle tests new changes early on, but it brings all of the associated benefits that come with highly invested employees. Those that want to invest in an organization long term will naturally offer more ideas, and may even bring in strong new hires from their personal networks.

The Real Heroes of the Workplace

However, as noted above, employers must make it clear they welcome feedback and view employees with new ideas not as problems, but as heroes. Otherwise, employees will be too scared of losing their jobs to speak up.

Once a VoE program is up and running, businesses will find exciting opportunities to build customer and employee feedback into every aspect of their company. When it comes to improving CX, the choice should never be between customers and employees. Rather, businesses must decide if they're a company that listens to everyone or one that does not.