Employee experience (EX) management platforms are designed to listen to employees by gathering insights via surveys, text analytics, sentiment analysis and workplace application monitoring. They can provide integrations with existing workplace applications like collaboration tools and provide recommendations for managers and organizations how to better connect to employees and keep them engaged.

Forrester researcher David Johnson shared those insights in The Forrester New Wave: EX Platforms for Large Enterprises, Q1, 2020 released in March. EX management platforms are promising but still lag behind more mature analysis tools, according to Johnson. “I would say that employee experience programs are several years behind customer experience programs,” Johnson said in an interview with CMSWire. "Even though some of these vendors in this space came out of the customer experience space (like Medallia and InMoment). The maturity of employee experience programs is very different."

Can These Platforms ‘Harvest the Digital Exhaust’?

At their core EX management platforms distribute and manage employee surveys, whether it be periodic long-form surveys or ongoing pulse surveys, to gather data continuously, according to Johnson. “All the vendors have some sort of methodology for surveys that they use, that they developed, and it's proprietary over time,” Johnson said. “The methodology is as important as what the platform can do, in terms of its validity and how well proven it is.”

“But what I think is interesting, though, is that surveys are not going to be the only way in the future,” he said. “What's changing right now for these platforms is being able to harvest the digital exhaust: the activities that employees are engaged in every day, whether it be responding to email or being involved in meetings, or using applications and using their devices, and so on. Gathering insight from that to get a good picture of how engaged somebody really is in different areas of work.”

But do employees want to be in an environment where their digital footprints are tracked? There is the matter of privacy with which to contend. For instance, company compliance with GDPR, the 2018 privacy regulation implemented by the European Union, had a positive effect on employee morale according to 79% of company executives surveyed for a Capgemini 2019 study. Collecting data on employees can evoke fear in employees, according to Johnson. “The advice that we would give companies is absolutely do not do this with an intention to punish or an intention to find slackers,” Johnson said. “That's the wrong approach.”

Study the patterns and be thoughtful and open. “You may find that your most engaged people spend an hour watching Netflix every day or YouTube every day, but when they're actually involved in their work they are intensely focused on what it is that they're doing," Johnson said. "They're incredibly productive.”

Related Article: What You Need to Know About Employee Engagement Software

Beyond Surveys: Text Analytics, Data Collection, CX Integration

Digital workplace tools that measure employee engagement and collect surveys are not new. We reported last year that the employee engagement software market comes in many different forms and names, depending on which analyst firm or crowdsourcing site you consult. Capterra and G2 Crowd list a number of vendors under what they call employee engagement software. Gartner calls software in this space “worker engagement platforms,” which it cites in its Hype Cycle for the Digital Workplace, 2018 (paywall). 

These platforms are also progressing in areas such as text analytics with integrations with platforms like Microsoft Teams. They gather insights from the language employees use to communicate with each other to better understand their sentiments. They’re also tapping into email communication streams.

“When somebody leaves a comment they can get some sense of when another person is frustrated or whether or not that person is happy,” Johnson said. “They can also get a little bit of an idea of what they’re speaking about. They may give comments that are about how the technology that they're using every day is really frustrating with security policies and they're frustrated with some other things. You can use that as part of your data to develop world clouds and other things from it.”

According to Forrester, some capabilities for EX management platforms include:

  • Surveying methods.
  • Validity of and correlation of results.
  • Ability to gather data from other workplace applications like Office 365, kiosks, social media, etc.
  • Integration with third-party data analytics.
  • EX insights, visualization and benchmarking.
  • Recommendations and workflow.
  • Ability to improve analytics models.
  • Ability to consider and integrate CX data.
  • Text analytics.

Related Article: What's at the Core of a Successful Digital Workplace?

Taking Actions Based on Recommendations

One thing is clear: Firms call this software different names but they all claim to capture employee data and therefore improve employee engagement. But the real magic, as Johnson points out, is being able to "harvest the digital exhaust" and make specific recommendations on how to fix the problems uncovered by the employee data.

For example, if data indicates a team of 10 people are feeling disengaged, it can offer their manager specific actions based in cognitive science. EX platforms can also serve as a dashboard for management across the broader enterprise. “And I think that even more broadly it can make recommendations to executives about their entire organization and let them know they've got a pretty low engagement score,” Johnson said. "And here are some things that could help with that.”

It could lead, perhaps, to better change management programs. “Let's say that the way that the organization does change leaves employees feeling disengaged," Johnson said. "That could lead to developing a really good change management discipline so that when things have happened, and you're going to make changes, people feel more included and involved."

Vendors Get Their Say

So what’s on the mind of vendors who operate in this space? We asked four to explain the pain points EX management platforms solve and what stands out about their platforms.

Learning Opportunities

Confirmit: Flexibility is Driving Force

EX management platforms offer the ability to identify and resolve issues across many areas: employee engagement, diversity and inclusion, leadership development, and performance management, according to EJ Sieracki, senior director of voice of the employee at Confirmit. “The greatest benefit of an EX management platform is that it can provide direction when it comes to rethinking employee engagement strategy, particularly critical in today’s uncertain times,” Sieracki said. “EX management platforms allow organizations to create an agile approach to employee feedback to identify areas of improvement that then directly translate to business impact.”

Sieracki said Confirmit’s EX platform stands out due to its market approach, customization, recommendations and workflow criteria. Flexibility is the key. “Confirmit’s platform offers the flexibility to address the EX management requirements of complex organizations without sacrificing quality or depth of insight,” he said. “Whether teams are in offices, based at home, or much further afield, their voices can be heard online or offline, though mobile, web, paper, or any other channel. And managers can view tailored dashboards to understand where to take action.”

Qualtrics: System of Action Moves Beyond Measurement

EX management platforms have traditionally done a great job of helping HR teams measure employee engagement through annual or quarterly engagement surveys, according to Jay Choi, Qualtrics EVP and GM of EmployeeXM. However, he added, today’s leaders face challenges they never have before and EX management platforms have to adapt. Employee experience platforms should help leaders and managers beyond HR understand their employees’ sentiments, expectations and needs, what Qualtrics calls “experience data.” More importantly, they need to help organizations take action on that feedback to close experience gaps.

Choi said Qualtrics helps organizations create a “system of action” by moving beyond measurement and driving action. For example, Qualtrics created employee experience solutions designed to help organizations navigate through the COVID-19 pandemic. “Instead of relying on operational data like hospitalization rates or availability of testing, our solution helps organizations assess when employees may feel ready to return to the workplace and what they need in order to feel comfortable doing so,” Choi said. “We’ve also added other solutions such as a workforce symptom check and workforce contact tracing to help organizations safely open the workplace.”

InMoment: Employee Voice Leads to Better CX

Stacy Bolger, vice president of global employee experience at InMoment, said the best EX management platforms are designed to solve experience outcomes but also real business problems. “This technology should help your business leverage experience insights to drive expense efficiencies in your servicing centers, and identify how you can monetize the impact of improvements in EX and CX to help drive decisions related to processes, channels and products,” she said.

Most EX management platforms help companies collect feedback on a pre-defined cadence (e.g., twice a year) with a generic and loosely defined goal of employee engagement. InMoment built its platform purposefully to help companies better recruit, retain, develop and fulfill employees, according to Bolger. “Our solutions are built around moving from measurement to action, focused on specific use cases such as leadership development, organizational change and using the employees’ voice to improve customer experience,” she said.

Medallia: Humanizing How Feedback Gets Shared

Sunita Khatri, senior director of solutions marketing for Medallia, said EX management platforms give companies tools to collect real-time feedback as experiences occur. Those experiences can be something big like the first day at work, on-the-job training or even a crisis like COVID-19, as well as smaller moments that matter like finding information on a policy or getting IT to reset passwords. "With the right EX management platform, companies have access to real-time insights that get routed to the right people who can resolve issues with speed and also design programs and experiences that are inclusive of what employees really want," Khatri said.

Medallia’s Employee Experience solutions help organizations build and design better work experiences by enabling companies to reach employees more frequently with capabilities like voice, audio and video. Medallia’s AI-enabled analytics provides actionable insights from structured and unstructured data sets which can be shared directly with HR, executive, IT and management teams, Khatri said, so they can take the right action in the moment.

Can Platforms Evolve With Organizations?

Johnson of Forrester believes the biggest opportunities for these platforms exist in their ability to harvest the digital exhaust of employee data. Can they gather the insights each organization wants and be flexible in their product development and services as organizations’ needs for employee engagement evolve?

Will they be able to tap into important organizational efforts like employee wellness to determine if employees are getting enough sleep and analyze how many hours in the day they are working? And can they pair that with principles of cognitive science and psychological research to help employees remain healthy and productive? “These organizations understand the price of burnout pretty well,” Johnson said. “So they're focused on wellness and they realize that contributes to employee engagement over the long haul. It's a marathon not a sprint.”