Five ways to impact customer experience through employee initiatives

The Intercept Group's Andrew Au explains how to make employee experience a priority.


By Andrew Au

As marketers, our north star is customer centricity.

We invest in ethnography studies and social listening platforms to ensure we understand customer pain points, motivations and desires.

However, we often overlook how our internal employee morale can directly impact the customer experience. In the words of Richard Branson, “Clients do not come first. Employees come first. If you take care of your employees, they will take care of your clients.” Simply stated, happy employees equate to happy customers.

Today, workplaces face a cultural epidemic. According to Gallup Research, up to 70% of employees are disengaged. Further, they estimate that an actively disengaged employee costs an organization an incremental 34% of their annual salary. Employee turnover triggers another cost estimated at 40% of salary, which means unhappy employees are almost twice as expensive as happy, productive employees. When you compound these economics with lost revenue as a result of poor customer delivery, bad morale becomes a significant profitability drain.

Arguably, good culture has never been more important because of the constant state of change in which we operate.

The Harvard Business Review completed a study of 422 executives from a variety of industries and sizes who were rolling out change initiatives.

Around nine out of 10 organizations experienced change initiative failure, which identifies the gap between our expectations and the reality of change programs. When they probed into the driving factors for failure, poor communication (62%), insufficient leadership support (54%) and lack of understanding for the purpose of change (50%) topped the list. The commonality here is that they are all human factors. In other words, a new technology stack, additional budget or extended timelines will not resolve your business transformation challenges.

Change has become the norm, not the exception. As we accept this new reality, we must also accept that cultural intelligence – not artificial intelligence – is what will accelerate our business transformation.

Here are five ways you can enrich the employee experience.

Establish your benchmark

If you can measure it, you can improve it. A critical first step is establishing your key culture indicators (KCIs), such as connection with company values, feeling fulfilled and likelihood to recommend an employer. The second step is establishing a regular cadence of collecting employee insights.

Create your rituals

Like any successful change, consistency is critical. This can take the form of a live annual retreat where your team can openly discuss the past year’s performance. Or, a monthly “ask me anything” digital event where your executive team openly answers questions from employees in your organization.

Celebrate culturally aligned behaviours (not outcomes)

As results-driven professionals, we tend to value outcomes, not behaviours. This philosophy incentivizes us to maintain the norm and not challenge the status quo. Rather than reward great outcomes, celebrate great behaviours that are aligned to change initiatives. Find small, yet meaningful examples of how your employees are living your newly refreshed culture and organizational mandates.

Introduce “skip a level” meetings

Legacy hierarchy can often stifle change programs. “Skip a level” meetings give employees the opportunity to connect directly with senior management, one level above their immediate supervisor. It empowers greater accountability and transparency within the organization.

Prioritize up-skilling vs. onboarding

The reality is that the skill sets we are seeking  high digital acumen, high data proficiency and high emotional intelligence  are not fully developed or widely available today. While the allure of onboarding a “better” team is persuasive, investing in employee up-skilling offers the path of least resistance and fosters employee loyalty. As new technologies like AI, quantum and mixed reality evolve, so too will the nature of our jobs. In certain cases, some positions will become redundant. While we can’t protect jobs, we can protect the people who are committed to our mission.

Set a new north star: Employee centricity.

Our north star needs to evolve from customer centricity to employee centricity and we will get there by applying customer lifecycle management principles to nurture morale.

Consider how you manage the customer lifestyle from acquisition to engagement to retention. You have clear benchmarks and are actively collecting more data to metricize performance. I encourage you to apply this same approach to measuring and optimizing your team’s morale in order to future-proof your bottom-line.

AndrewAu2Andrew Au is the co-founder of Intercept Group, a marketing consultancy with offices in Toronto and Boston.