Experts Discuss the Convergence of Employee & Customer Experience

By: ITA Group
ITA Group experts, Max Kenkel & Tanya Fish

Today, we’re sharing excerpts from a conversation with two of ITA Group’s leaders, customer experience expert Max Kenkel and employee experience expert Tanya Fish. They sat down with us to talk about the crossroads of customer experience and employee experience, the root causes of poor customer experience and how the pandemic has changed brand expectations for customers and employees alike.

ITA Group: How would you summarize the relationship at play between customer experience (CX) and employee experience (EX)?

Tanya Fish: If you can get happy and engaged employees, the result will be happy and satisfied customers—which will create lower customer churn. And as a result, there’s more revenue for the company. And what company isn’t after more revenue?

Max Kenkel: I always tell my clients that bad customer experience is not the problem, it’s the result. Whether the underlying issue causing that result is the way employees are treated (and in turn treat customers), that’s what makes a customer experience bad. But the inverse is true, too—if you provide a great employee experience that generally leads to great customer experience.

ITA Group: Do any examples come to mind of how you’ve seen the cyclical nature of CX and EX play out in your own experience?

MK: Think about a company like Apple who doesn’t even have a loyalty program—that’s rare in retail. Why can they get away with that? Because the experience is the loyalty program. They have the best people showcasing their products and engaging their customers. It just feels great when you go in there. And that experience is what companies should focus on creating, not the purchase loyalty.

TF: I love how you say that it’s really the experience we’re after—not the loyalty. It's creating that experience, which in turn drives loyalty. What defines the customer experience and how positive or negative it is comes down to what they remember—the critical moments where things work or they don’t.

MK: And when they don’t, it’s a disaster. For example, I once ordered a free birthday pizza and it was late, looked like a war zone and it was kind of cold. Which is bad enough—but when I called to complain I was basically told to deal with it because it was free. Then they hung up on me. Ten years later I’ve never gone back. I’d rather not eat than eat pizza from there.

TF: Wow. But what’s interesting about that is the issue started with the product—not the employee. But just like you said earlier, customer experience isn’t exclusively the result of one thing, it’s the result of the interactions and memories you take away from the situation. So, in your case, the employee was reacting to the product delivered but chose the wrong way to manage your problem, which turned it into a service issue.

Unfortunately, I often find the root of mishandled situations aren’t so much personality issues as they are underlying issues with tools, resources and empowerment given to employees.

MK: I totally agree. The more you dig into issues with customers, the more you see that it’s almost always something inside your own walls—improper training, lack of motivation, poor leadership, burnout—the list goes on.

ITA Group: What would you suggest to companies who might be unsure of how they can better equip their employees to deliver those positive customer experiences?

TF: It’s a multi-faceted strategy. Incentives in the right place. Reinforcement of the right behaviors through strategic recognition. Conversations with leaders that empower people and confirm that they're making good decisions and celebrating them when they do. Events—think of something like a training event where they see the difference between one way of interacting with the customer and another and how that feels if they would be the customer. There are a lot of tactics to consider implementing.

But, at the end of the day, it all starts with leaders who are inspiring their people, enabling them and empowering them to then go out and do the same with their customers. By guiding them to share their passion, share their expertise, share discretionary effort and give them a good experience, they’re creating those critical moments where employees can give the good experiences.

MK: I’d add that gathering the data is important—ask your customers and your employees how you can improve. But that data doesn’t matter if you don’t do something with it. And that’s something I’ve seen happen. Like my dad used to remind me, “Only a fool keeps doing the same thing and expects different results.”

ITA Group: How has the pandemic impacted customer experience and employee experience?

MK: I think it’s changed how quickly customers will abandon a bad experience. And they’re not giving out as many chances to get it right. It comes back to the relationship and it comes back to how I as a customer feel you care about me. I want to feel like your brand is committed, empathetic and decent during this time. And the best way to show me you’re those things starts with how your employees treat me. But maybe more importantly, show me how you are treating your employees, too. I’ve noticed myself changing my expectations from front line customer service. I tend to give more grace and I’m probably a little more polite than I used to be, because they are at higher risk. They are helping me, not the other way around.

TF: I agree; that authenticity is what employees are looking for from their employers as well. The Edelman Trust Barometer assessed who employees trust for crucial information related to COVID-19 and people absolutely are first looking to their employer for that personal information.

But that comes with responsibility, too. We saw that when employees felt like communication was lacking, engagement scores went down. So it really has underscored the importance of strong employer brand messaging as a way to create trust in the company and alignment for employees to latch on to. And, to your point about customers valuing those on the front line more now, you’re right! As an organization, now is a great time to enable customers to recognize employees. I just found myself in this situation where I wanted to individually recognize somebody who helped me and I scoured the website of the retailer to find a way to celebrate the service I received. But surveys were the only option and I didn’t really want to fill out a survey—I wanted to recognize one person. Recognition from inside the organization is important to show employees they are appreciated but sometimes the stories that come from the outside through the voice of the customer are even more powerful! Now more than ever, as a customer, I want to show some love to those serving me.

ITA Group: Do you have any parting advice for organizational leaders looking for inspiration on where to go from here as we begin to feel like a post-pandemic world is within reach?

TF: Every tough situation also creates opportunity. Max mentioned earlier how brands only get one or two chances to make an impact and it needs to be positive. So now is the time to craft the narrative you need your employees to believe in and live every day. When you create that strong brand story—and also get the tools and the resources and the programs in place to support and empower employees—you’ll see the outstanding customer experiences start to happen.

MK: I agree, I think brands have an opportunity for a fresh start because so many dynamics of brand experiences have changed. I’d recommend starting with research. Ask questions to uncover things like new customer segments that have emerged, new paths to purchase and new expectations that customers have of your brand. And don’t forget that customer experience is a result—focus on enhancing the things that are driving that result to change the outcome.

Whether you’re focused on employees or customers, your goal should be to inspire brand advocacy to drive organizational success. Learn more about how you can do so with our ebook, Brand Advocacy & the Emotionally Connected Customer and our white paper, Motivating & Empowering Your Employees to Advocate for Your Brand.

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