How Employees Can Improve the Customer Experience

By: Ethan McCarty
Mar. 1, 2020
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What’s so internal about internal communications? Employees go social every day with comments about their work and their employers. Companies blush when emails and memos leak. You don’t need a hacker to make you feel exposed.

Despite a drastically changed communications environment, the perception persists that employees are a private audience waiting to receive messages from their organizations. They aren’t. Employees are as segmented as customers and make all supposed “firewalls” porous — for better and for worse. 

Internal communications haven’t been internal for a long time. As communications professionals we need to embrace this reality and build teams and systems designed to enable, not just allow, employees to take action and contribute in meaningful, positive ways.

Activating the workforce

In an era increasingly influenced by the gig economy and digital disruption, employees have more agency in the marketplace than ever. Digital platforms have changed the way that we receive information, access capital, build networks and gain new skills. We expect brand experiences to be customized to our needs, nonlinear and multichannel. Why would those expectations disappear at work? 

Whether employees work on the manufacturing floor or in the C-suite, we should respect them just as we do our customers. After all, customer experience is the flip side of employee experience. It’s hard to imagine a world in which employees treated poorly and kept in the dark decide to treat customers fabulously.

To build stakeholder engagement and trust, organizations can use the potent combination of their brand’s authority and the personal authenticity of their employees. This is the strategic idea behind “activating” employees, or encouraging them to express themselves and interpret the brand with few or no compromises. 

To build even greater value for their customers, companies can invest in their employees’ experience at work. Deliberate, disciplined employee experience powered by thoughtful communications can motivate a workforce to drive customer experience and business outcomes. 

As communications professionals, we can create systems that improve the overall company experience for employees. We’re in a position to build confidence within the workforce, help employees iterate and adapt to shifts in priorities or policies, and show them new ways to do things. But we need buy-in from partners in departments such as human resources, information technology, sales operations, facilities, product and security.

Here are five ways to activate employees and thus create better experiences for them and for customers:  

1. Listen across the enterprise.

To understand how close or far your organization is from providing an ideal employee experience, “listening” systems regularly capture feedback that goes well beyond that gathered by annual engagement surveys. Tactics such as “pulse surveys” (fast, frequent employee surveys that measure an organization’s health), listening tours, employee councils and focus groups provide insights not just to executives and middle managers, but to the people who provide direct customer service or build your product

2. Enable employees to create and share content.

We should encourage employees to create content and experiences; they’re already doing so as consumers. To encourage their participation, you might also offer them access to content worth sharing. A structured social media program is one way to activate employees on the company’s behalf. Are there ways you can crowdsource customer service, market research, and advertising using Twitter? Yes! Equip employees to handle social media comments in a way that aligns with your strategic goals, brand tone and understanding of your customers’ experience.

3. Remember that employees help recruit employees.

Employees also help companies recruit employees. They tend to know other successful people like themselves who would excel within your organization. 

Invite your top employees to write Glassdoor ratings that bolster your company’s reputation (unhappy employees are already headed there). Incentive-driven referral programs might work in the short term, but once the incentives end, so do the referrals. At Bloomberg, we posted videos on our YouTube channel featuring employees who possessed the skills we sought in new hires. The employees were the stars, so they would share the videos with their social media networks and thus provide us with a steady flow of qualified candidates.

4. Remove roadblocks.

In the area of corporate governance, many organizations have policies that restrict employees from using social media. In an effort to contain risk, legal departments and policy frameworks often focus on the “don’ts” of social media use. 

Instead, I recommend policies and systems that encourage employees to activate positively on social media, on the organization’s behalf. Middle management sometimes thwarts such efforts, but the communications team can help. Find employees who love living, modeling and telling the organization’s story, and reward them with recognition and support.

5. Generate results, not awareness.

As communications professionals, let’s take responsibility to help improve sales, increase productivity, open doors for our recruiters and increase employee retention. Business leaders are less impressed by soft measurements that indicate awareness (social media clicks and views, numbers of event attendees, etc.), than by measurements that provide insight into business outcomes. 

As a profession, we must augment soft measurements with harder ones. And by collaborating with business leaders, we can better understand business goals. Let’s measure how we help deliver business outcomes through behavioral changes and observable action. We can do so by observing, and by partnering at the data level with human resources, security, facilities and sales. 

Measurement is always easier when it’s baked-in at the beginning. Some metrics measure improvement, or help us gauge the efficacy of our tactics. They might show whether targeted groups within the company behave differently when exposed to various campaigns.

Other metrics measure business outcomes. For example, they might show whether a widely read company intranet article about a new sales technique has led to more salespeople adopting the technique and a subsequent increase in sales.

The true measure of communications performance is our ability to activate employees to improve the business’s financial outcomes, societal impact and customer experience. As communications professionals, we have to understand those dimensions of the customer’s experience that tie most directly to employee experience. With that insight, we can then help our organizations invest in activating employees.

photo credit: digital visions