Customer Experience Starts with Your Employees

Providing a great customer experience creates sustainable competitive advantage and higher profits. Here’s why that starts with designing a great employee experience — and how to do that.

There’s a solid argument to be made that “customer experience” isn’t just another business buzzword. As products, stores, and services increasingly begin to look alike, customer experience will increasingly define and differentiate a brand. Features, quality, and even price are (relatively) easy to match. Customer experience — not so much.

The term is (almost) impossibly broad, covering potentially everything from design, packaging and promotion through the sales transaction, use, reliability, and customer service.

Is the product thoughtfully designed and easy to use? Is the service easy to get set up with, and (at least for the most part) reliable? Does the offering provide good value for the cost?

How easy is an organization to do business with? Do new customers feel welcomed? If something does go wrong with the product or service, can the issue be resolved quickly, pleasantly, with a minimum of hassle? Is it easy to get questions answered?

The objective of providing great customer service may seem too broad to be anyone’s responsibility. Actually, its scope makes it everyone’s responsibility.Every employee — not just those who are “customer-facing” — has a role to play in optimizing the customer experience, from design to assembly to marketing, installation, billing, repair, and anything else that can impact the customer’s experience with the product, service, store or brand.

Which is why providing a great customer experience starts inside the company, with providing a great employee experience. Research has shown that happy employees make for happy customers.

Part of this pertains to the interpersonal aspects of management. Managers who are responsive to workers and value them demonstrate to employees they should be responsive to and value the company’s customers. This is why enterprises like Zappos, Southwest Airlines and Marriott are known both for their highly engaged employee culture as well as great customer experiences.

But there are more practical elements to providing a great employee experience as well. For example:

Employee onboarding: is there a smooth, organized process in place to onboard new employees, so everything is in place for them to be productive from day one on the job?

Employee provisioning: are there systems in place for employee provisioning that make it easy for workers to obtain anything needed to do their jobs, from equipment to furnishings to office supplies?

Shared services: is it easy for employees to request services like system access, printer repair, PTO, getting a broken window fixed, etc.? Are back-end fulfillment processes automated to deliver internal shared services quickly?

Having solid processes and systems in place in these areas models the importance of optimizing the new customer onboarding process and being responsive to customer needs throughout their ownership and use of the product or service.

But it also makes employees more productive. By removing distractions and impediments to employees performing their job tasks, such processes and systems enable staff to focus their efforts on their role in creating a great customer experience (rather than “babysitting” their requests, managing cumbersome manual processes, or waiting for and wondering where the service tech is).

As choices in nearly every product and service category proliferate, providing a great customer experience is what will make brands stand out. Want to be one of the winners? Start by providing a great employee experience.

A version of this post was first published on Medium on 10/19/2015