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Aligning your employee and customer experience to boost performance – at pace

Insight

“If you take care of your people, your people will take care of your customers, and your business will take care of itself” - JW Marriott, Marriott International

The 2020 Coronavirus Pandemic has changed the working world forever. Every employee, from the C-suite to the front line, has been required to change or adapt; everyone has been thrown into an uncertain future which continues to unfold. Whether we like it or not, this new work-life reality is here to stay.

Businesses could be tempted to dismiss the importance of their employee experience (EX) during the crisis, focusing instead on customers who directly impact the bottom line. It’s undoubtedly more challenging to create a better EX with many offices closed and people working remotely. However, lessons learnt from previous recessions show that it’s your committed, dedicated employees who will carry your business through the storm. Even organisations that had a healthy, thriving culture before the pandemic can’t assume they will thrive in today’s world. Now, more than ever, EX should be a corporate priority.

This blog explores:

  • Aligning employee experience (EX) and customer experience (CX) for competitive advantage
  • HR and Marketing collaborating to strengthen your corporate brand
  • ‘Living the brand’ through your employees to deliver brilliant CX
  • The role of transformational leadership
  • Why multiplying EX and CX is a winning combination

Aligning EX and CX for competitive advantage

Even in more precedented times, businesses have traditionally treated their EX and CX as distinct, developing separate strategies and employing different providers to improve each. In 2017 research conducted by Management Today and Sopra Steria, more than half of CEOs and Directors admitted that their organisations cared less about EX than the quality of service they gave to their customers.

CX is a memory; an impression that can stick in the mind of the customer forever. A positive experience can lead to lasting loyalty, brand advocacy and onward recommendation. A negative experience, by contrast, can instantly mean the end of the brand relationship.

So why should you apply as much focus to EX as you do to CX? The answer is simple - happy employees = happy customers.

Numerous studies have revealed a strong relationship between satisfied employees, satisfied customers and business performance. Evidence suggests that employees are key to developing a differentiated service - not only through their positive attitude, but also through the emotional values evoked by a distinctive style of service.1 These intangible brand characteristics are far more difficult for competitors to copy than the more tangible ones. If you study the most successful service brands what’s apparent is the strong emphasis they place on their people delivering a distinct brand experience. This argument is strongly advocated by Starbucks’ founder, Howard Schultz, who claims:

“The most important component of our brand is the employee. The people have created the magic. The people have created the experience”.

Happy, engaged employees will focus on improving every part of your buyer journey and customer experience because they truly care. This will result in each customer receiving individual, customised attention. Offering a great EX will not only result in delighted customers, it will also give your business a competitive edge in the war for talent. Despite the widespread job uncertainty resulting from the global pandemic, the most talented employees will still be picky about where they want to work.

If you fail to treat your EX and CX with equal importance, it won’t just be your customers who will shop around. 

Today’s forward-thinking companies are now asking themselves what EX and CX they need to develop to be the market leader of tomorrow (not today). For some it will be tweaking what they have, for others it will mean completely restructuring or redesigning their business.

Regardless of the extent of the change needed, if your brilliant customer experience reflects a positive internal culture experienced by employees, your brand will become a major source of competitive advantage.

HR and Marketing collaborating to strengthen your corporate brand

Companies who consistently succeed in building brand equity view their corporate brand as a central organising principle for all company activities, not just something they sell to customers. This encompasses everything from recruitment to onboarding, training, internal communications and performance management, as well as the daily, small experiences that impact how people think, feel and carry out their work.

Although various authors have acknowledged the importance of HR and Marketing alignment in strengthening the corporate brand, the marketing literature still tends to focus on communications as the main source and solution to organisational issues. The role of HR is generally restricted to communicating brand values rather than being the source and driver of them.1 Perhaps this has historically created reluctance amongst HR to participate in brand-building initiatives, perceiving them to be more ‘style over substance’.

Aligning internal branding (i.e. workplace factors such as onboarding, reward and remuneration) with employer branding (which focuses on attracting external talent) should lead to a closer working relationship between the HR and marketing functions, a strengthened corporate brand and an increase in organisational performance.2

‘Living the brand’ through your employees, to deliver a brilliant CX

“If it doesn’t happen inside, it can’t happen outside. If a brand doesn’t live on the inside, it can’t thrive on the outside. And if the brand isn’t built from the inside, few may believe it on the outside” 3

It is well-established in academic literature that the impact of EX on brand is more powerful than traditional marketing activity.4,5 Whilst external marketing and communications have their place as brand-building tools, their importance in delivering an exceptional brand are over-weighted.

The literature strongly argues that person-to-person encounters (i.e. those between employees and customers) are more influential in communicating brand meaning than market-driven, mass marketed messages. Businesses should recruit, select, train and motivate their employees to perform their service roles in a manner that represents the company’s espoused brand personality. Only then can customer-facing employees truly ‘live the brand’ to deliver the desired CX.6

The role of transformational leadership

“Get the culture right, and we’ll deliver the customer experience we want our customers to have.” Tony Hsieh – Former CEO, Zappos

Culture is shaped by leadership, and crises are opportunities to lead. There has never been a better opportunity to change and adjust your company’s culture to become future-ready, post-Covid-19.

One of the most powerful factors in shaping an organisation’s culture is the consistent alignment of leadership behaviours with stated brand beliefs.1 This is particularly relevant in the current context where customers have overtly rejected brands who they perceive ‘didn’t do the right thing’ during the height of the pandemic. For example, those organisations who didn’t provide safe or fair conditions for their employees, or who have been perceived to seek profit from the crisis.

Coupled with this, many employees are still reeling from unprecedented change and great job uncertainty. Leaders have the unenviable task of helping those who are left to feel optimistic about the future, as well as (re)building confidence with customers who’s buying habits may have changed in the new world. Trust in leadership is a big issue, not least because it enhances trust in the corporate brand to which the leader is affiliated.

However, it’s not just senior leaders who can transform EX to deliver a brilliant CX. Whilst senior leaders set the tone and vision for the corporate brand, bringing the strategy to life for employees, line managers have a more direct, day-to-day impact on employees’ interpretation and enactment of the brand. They are key to influencing employees’ behaviours and attitudes, and the way they ultimately ‘live the brand’ with customers.

Why multiplying EX and CX is a winning combination

At Lane4, we have experienced first-hand the power of combining EX and CX, having won multiple awards for both over the years. Our purpose of ‘building winning organisations and improving people’s working lives’ is as relevant to our employees internally as it is to our customers. Along with our values, it’s the central-organising principle that guides everything we do.

Our ‘EX x CX’ product, launched in 2020, reflects our belief that the better experience you give your employees, the better your customer experience will be. We partner with leading customer experience agency, Brand Vista, to streamline this process of culture-customer alignment – bringing over 45 years of combined experience to our approach. Our impact is multiplied as everything works together to drive change and boost organisational performance, at pace.

This process of aligning your EX and CX is broken down into three phases:

Engage and explore

Where are you now?

Understanding your existing EX, CX, brand and culture by engaging your people and senior leadership team in the future ambition. Establishing the likely future direction of the market.

Envision

Where could you be?

Shaping the CX and brand that appeals to your customers, whilst co-creating an EX and culture that appeals to your employees. Creating a change acceleration plan to close the gap between your current reality and future ambition.

Enable and Embed

Making it happen – at pace​.

Implementing your change acceleration plan at every level of your business, through our range of blended tools. Our Brand Alignment Monitor will then measure whether you’re delivering on your employee and customer promises.​

In summary, the business case for aligning your EX and CX is strong.

EX x CX =

A competitive edge - Companies with highly engaged employees outperform their competitors by 147%. 89% of companies expect to compete primarily on customer experience.

Greater profitability - Companies that invest in EX are four times more profitable than those who don’t.

Higher levels of engagement - Companies that excel at CX have 1.5 times more engaged employees than companies with poor CX.

Enhanced profitability - Customer-centric organisations are 60% more profitable than those who fail to focus on their customers.

Sustained customer loyalty - Loyal customers are five times more likely to purchase again, and four times more likely to refer friends. Conversely 48% won’t buy from a brand if a friend has had one bad experience.7

References

[1] Mosley, R.W. (2007). ‘Customer experience, organisational culture and the employer brand’. Journal of Brand Management, 15(2), 123-134

[2] Abimola, T., Lim, M., Foster, C,. Punjaisri, K., & Cheng, R. (2010). ‘Exploring the relationship between corporate, internal and employer branding’. Journal of Product & Brand Management

[3] Hale, R. (2014), 4 Wall Marketing and Branding. Available at: http://4wallmarketing.blogspot.com/2014/03/

[4] Srivastava, R. K., & Thomas, G. M. (2010). ‘Managing brand performance: Aligning positioning, execution and experience’. Journal of Brand Management volume 17, 465–471.

[5] Sirianni, N. J., Bitner, M. J., Brown, S. W., & Mandel, N. (2013). ‘Branded service encounters: Strategically aligning employee behavior with the brand positioning’. Journal of Marketing77(6), 108-123.

[6] Bendapudi, Neeli and Venkat Bendapudi (2005), ‘Creating the Living Brand’, Harvard Business Review, 83 (55), 124–32.

[7] Morgan, B. (2018). ‘The Un-Ignorable Link Between Employee Experience And Customer Experience’.Forbes. 23 February 2018. Available at: https://www.forbes.com/sites/blakemorgan/2018/02/23/the-un-ignorable-link-between-employee-experience-and-customer-experience/#4bd9b5b948dc

MT Staff (2017). ‘How to make employee experience a competitive advantage’. Management Today, 15 Nov 2017. Available at: https://www.managementtoday.co.uk/employee-experience-competitive-advantage/leadership-lessons/article/1450207

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