Customer First Doesn't Have to Mean Employee Second

Successful organizations place the customer at the center of everything they do. In recent years, we've seen companies entice customers with perks such as free delivery and discount vouchers and woo them away from competition through personalized and preferred services. Customer-obsessed businesses go above and beyond to keep customers content. These companies measure themselves and their employees based on customer satisfaction. But customer success cannot come at the expense of employee morale. How a business treats its employees reflects directly on its customers and their experiences. Empathy shown to the former inevitably extends to the latter and directly corresponds with productivity, innovation, performance, and, above all, trust.

Even before the coronavirus pandemic, companies recognized the importance of keeping their workforces happy to ensure they delivered superior results. This has become even more challenging in a virtual world, requiring a group of leaders, including direct managers, business heads, cross-functional teams, peers, and colleagues, to help employees thrive. It's no longer just HR's role to improve employees' experiences; everyone plays a critical role in ensuring every employee has a favorable experience. Today's top companies also understand that fostering a positive employee experience includes embracing diversity and inclusion and focusing on equality. Regardless of race, ethnicity, gender, age, and sexual orientation; employees must be recognized for their talents, skills, and what they bring to the table.

An engaged workforce and an engaged customer base are mutually reinforcing, leading to greater return on investment. But when either set of stakeholders feels neglected, the business suffers. Imagine you go to a store looking for a specific item. You walk up and down the aisles unable to find what you need. You ask for help from the person behind the counter, and she shrugs or responds rudely. Your immediate thought is to consider visiting another store in the future. You leave the store, dejected, and suspect either mManagement fails to align employee incentives with its commitment to customers; and/or management itself falls short in its commitment to customers.

In this scenario, the vendor has lost a sale, damaged itsrelationship with the customer, and hurt its brand reputation. According to McKinsey, 70 percent of buying experiences are based on how customers feel they are being treated. Employee Experience (EX) = Customer Experience (CX).>

Companies invest substantial resources into listening to customers. Net Promoter Score surveys, voice of the customer surveys, and chatbots are some of the most prominent listening tactics today. Putting the same investment toward employee listening can reap both short-term and long-term benefits. Sometimes a customer's testimonial reveals exemplary behaviors of employees, which can help in attracting potential customers and also retain those who are considering the competition: "X was tremendous in ensuring the issue was resolved. X demonstrated an unwavering commitment to my organization's success. X was focused, knowledgeable, courteous, empathetic, and extremely committed to ensuring that a resolution was identified and implemented."

For companies to ensure their customer experience strategies are impactful, they must build a culture internally that supports success. Here's how you can make it happen.

1. Listening to employees.

How often do you ask your employees how they're doing? What barriers hinder their productivity? What impact is their work environment having on them? With remote work increasingly common, do they have a good work/life balance?

Instituting regular pulse checks allows employees to feel heard and builds trust. The more an organization checks in with its employees and does so authentically, the more likely employees are to do the same with its customers. When resolving customer issues, they will demonstrate empathy while focusing on resolution. Meanwhile, protecting the anonymity of participants helps to elicit candid feedback that can be leveraged to draw insights and lead to meaningful improvements.

2. Two-way communication.

A good leader encourages employees to ask questions openly during town halls and to voice opinions without fear. They can address uncomfortable questions head on and provide solutions to employee challenges. When employees at all levels are engaged in forums that can lead to real change, the best ideas come forward to improve the business, and who better to improve customer experience than those closest to customers?

3. Building the relationship.

By creating a culture of openness and empowerment, companies establish trust with their employees to carry out their responsibilities. During uncertain times, these relationships are even more critical, especially when working remotely. As employees become more independent, leaders must avoid micromanaging and trust that tasks are being carried out as assigned. At the same time, when approached for guidance, leaders must steer employees in the right direction. Such experiences increase loyalty, development, and retention. An employee's choice to stay with an employer is also driven by leadership that cares and demonstrates similar behaviors toward customers, internal or external.

4. Access to technology.

Providing the most efficient technology for the workforce enables employees to gain access to company-wide tools and resources that can be valuable for them to do their jobs. Leveraging online tools to gather feedback, improve collaboration, and achieve a consistent voice when working with external stakeholders drives efficiency and productivity. Social media can help employees reach customers and engage with them online, thus building the relationship beyond email and phone calls.

Employee experience is the future of customer experience. To put customers first, organizations also need to put employees first, positioning themselves to experience healthy growth for years to come.

The best-performing employees are customer-obsessed and will drop everything to help answer customers' questions and concerns. If businesses expect this level of commitment from their employees, they must pay it forward and lead by example, putting their employees' needs first as a business imperative.&

Chad Crook is senior vice president and global head of customer engagement and adoption for procurement solutions at SAP.