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Great Customer Experience Starts with Great Employee Experience

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Great Customer Experience Starts with Great Employee Experience

If you only get three things from this blog post, one would be, you can’t fool your customers if your employees aren’t happy. 

We recently did a project for a company in San Diego where the company was not delivering on their brand promise, and then expecting marketing to try to solve it by papering over it.

You can’t have employees that are grumbling and grumpy and don’t like their job and still deliver an excellent product with excellent customer experience. You can probably deliver a mediocre product and a mediocre customer experience, but without that true employee journey being as good as it can be, you’re not going to get there. You’re not going to get their above and beyond, their creative thinking in their free time because they love their job. Their passion is going to be missing.

This is not a Human Resources responsibility. What we are talking about here is a positive employee experience on a day-to-day basis, which HR does not have any control over. We’re not talking about the annual retreat, and how fun is that sexual harassment training, and do we all get bonuses at the right timeframe. This stems from something in the workplace called Team Alignment and Psychological Safety.

What Does Great Employee Experience Have To Do With Great Customer Experience?

Absolutely everything! Here’s a simple definition: team alignment is the team’s ability to work together and learn from each other. As researchers have tried to study and measure this trait, they have settled on the term “psychological safety” and defined it as having four key domains or areas that can be assessed:

  1. Attitude to risk & failure: does the team see failure as a necessary byproduct of growth and innovation? Or is it punished and avoided at all costs?
  2. Open conversation: do team members feel comfortable expressing concerns and reservations as they work together? Can they learn from one another and hear constructive feedback in the spirit it is intended?
  3. Willingness to help: Does the team have a spirit of being “in this together” and do they easily pick up slack for the benefit of the whole? Does this shake out fairly or do some team members take advantage of others?
  4. Inclusivity: Does the team work hard to ensure all perspectives are represented, even from those who are not always first to speak?

The Benefits of Psychological Safety

People want to come to work at a place where they have these four qualities so they feel included. They want to know they can fail in front of each other without repercussions. 

Can I say to my boss, “I think that’s a terrible idea. It’s probably going to flop and or I want to try this thing that might flop.” Are you going to punish me for it? An environment rich in psychological safety fosters attitudes of “I like the people I work with”, “I feel trusted and respected, and I can get my job done.”

So again, not HR stuff, but middle manager kind of stuff. This is what makes teams work well together. The pain points of misaligned teams, people who hate coming to work and they’re not working well together are plainly visible. When you fix it, it works.

If you ask a CEO, what makes people stay, they’ll spit out a list about salary raises and bonuses and PTO all these HR things. And if you ask people, in a lot of exit interview surveys, for example, why do you leave? They talk about all the things about psychological safety. 

Sure, employees need to have benefits, a good salary, and baseline advancement opportunities, but those aren’t the ante for staying in the game. After that, employee experience and employee satisfaction are the above and beyond things. If you look at the research about employee satisfaction and why they stay at their jobs and employee engagement, it really comes down to “I like working on my team.”

Asking your employees to start going above and beyond for your customers requires you to start going above and beyond for your employees.

From Employee Experience to Customer Experience

You can see we’ve connected the dots from Team Alignment to Employee Experience. Now we can connect the next dot from Employee Experience to Customer Experience. Happy employees make happy customers. If you care about CX, you must care about employee experience; if you care about a positive employee experience, you must care about team dynamics. These can be measured through this concept of psychological safety.

From Employee Experience to Customer Experience

Employees are not going to be able (or willing) to do more, unless they’re getting more, and these are low costs. There isn’t a capital investment necessary for people to feel like they can have open conversations on their teams. It’s about setting an expectation with managers, holding them accountable, and finding ways to qualitatively survey your employees monthly or quarterly in an anonymous way where they can tell you whether or not they feel good about these four qualities.

Don’t employees always want more? Yes. There will be individuals that are satisfied at a lower bar. Then, there will be individuals that are never happy and will leave no matter how awesome you are. But what we’re trying to do is get that bell curve where most employees feel safe and heard and challenged.

Taking Customer Experience from Good to Great

When we think about what makes a customer experience go from good to great, it’s about a bunch of soft skills. It’s about listening to your customers. It’s about focus grouping; it’s about taking the time to journey map where there might be pain points that they’re not telling us.Moderate or mediocre average CX comes from solving known pain points, while excellent CX comes from uncovering unknown pain points. That takes the effort of digging for problems that did not present themselves to you.

If you’ve got employees that feel like they understand their mission and the mission of the company culture is aligned to CX, tell them:

“We trust you to innovate. We’re not going to slap you on the wrist. If you dig up a problem, it’s not necessarily going to be your problem to solve. We’re going to be in this together.”

Can we guarantee improving the employee experience is going to improve the CX? I don’t know that one could guarantee that. However, I can guarantee you can’t get to a good CX or a great CX without a great employee experience.

Great CX is digging up problems that your customer is not telling you about. Employees aren’t going to dig for problems without a level of comfort that comes from a good employee experience.

Great CX Is Digging Up Problems That Your Customer Is Not Telling You About.

Great CX is about taking up problems your customers maybe haven’t told you about yet. 

The real crux of this problem is that no employee is going to go looking for problems if they’re afraid it will make more work for them. They have to know whatever work comes out of it will be distributed fairly. We want our employees to be motivated to go above and beyond and to really have that sense of “CX is my job”. Great CX requires every employee to feel, “This is my job”, regardless of their job title, or where they sit in the organization.

Whose Job is Customer Experience?

The best CX has all-in employees who take CX as their job very seriously. 

Think about the stores that provide a great customer experience, and anyone on the floor will help you. You never get an attitude of, “Oh, that’s not my department” kind of thing. Think about how this translates to an individual’s motivation: “What motivates me to make CX part of my job?” 

Daniel Pink’s book Drive: The Surprising Truth About What Motivates Us, provides a framework of autonomy, mastery and purpose. Those are the things that get individuals up in the morning to change the way they’re doing something.

A lot of companies will never achieve great customer experience until they go through this painful process of internal change management. It has to be done at many different managerial and operational levels, culture on down, and everything all-in to change the course of that massive ship. Until that gets done, all the new software, all the new training programs to make their CX meaningfully better is going to fail.

If a CEO heard a high-priced consultant prescribe that medicine, a very likely response would be, “You’re absolutely right. We need a companywide two-day retreat. We’re going to hire the best Human Resources culture trainer to do a thing.” No, no, no. That is not what you need. 

Set Up Psychological Safety for Great Employee Experience

It is a bottom up, almost like one-to-one combat kind of thing. Survey all the teams that work together, find the teams that are not working well. Go to that manager and work on team alignment and say, “These qualities you didn’t score high on, let’s talk about it and train on the ones that are the worst.” 

Be open to setting these expectations. Say you are open to failure, and that you’re going to have open conversations like these. Bottom-up solutions that don’t come down from above. 

Ask questions like, “How is this working for you?”, “How does this team feel to you?”.Your employees will tell you. Honestly they’re dying for you to know these answers. Undeniably they will tell you, if they have a safe place to do it. Thus try an anonymous survey or some other mechanism. And if they think something’s going to come out of it.

Isn’t Psychology Safe the Same Thing as Trust?

We bring this up again because people ask, “Isn’t that just trust?” No. 

The Difference Between Trust and Psychological Safety

Trust is typically between two individuals. I can trust you, but when you and I go to the UX team meeting, if there’s a trust dynamic in that room where everyone can trust each other and enjoy having coffee together in the conference room. 

The way the team operates is its own personality; it’s a culture of that little team. So, think of the trust element of a team dynamic as opposed to all the different individual dynamics.

What Next?

  1. Take a hard look at your organization, across all departments and assess — really use a process that gathers unbiased data — to assess the degree of whether each team’s dynamics are broken or running like a well-oiled machine.
  2. Use that knowledge to formulate a plan to improve the areas in the worst shape, with an open mind to determine what degree of change management is probably required. This isn’t easy.
  3. Create your UX task force (much better word than “committee”) to establish their group’s culture, process, goals, expectations, and accountability. Publicize this internally for all to see. Remember, CX is everyone’s job!
  4. If needed, seek guidance and outside expertise at any stage of the process. Great CX is not a destination, it is a journey that has the potential to surprise and delight your most disgruntled customers. This flows to the bottom line.

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Jenny Magic is a Strategist with Convince and Convert with additional expertise in Strategy & Team Alignment, a true “Marketing therapist” for teams with big goals and a top-rated speaker & workshop facilitator.

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