This week I had the opportunity to meet with Lewis Carbone (Founder and Chief Experience Officer of Experience Engineering, www.experienceengineering.com), an authority on the subject of Customer Experience Management and author of a landmark book, Clued In: How To Keep Customers Coming Back Again And Again (Financial Times Press).
Lew has been a thought-leader for over 25 years, having worked with clients as diverse as IBM, General Motors, Time Warner, Citigroup, Avis, and literally dozens of other household names.
Part of our conversation centered on the relationship between employee engagement and the customer experience. In most companies, employee engagement resides within the domain of Human Resources while customer experience is more typically addressed within areas such as Marketing, or Retail Operations, or perhaps Merchandising.
A critical realization is that every employee, whether in a customer-facing role or not, is inextricably linked to the overall customer experience. For example, systems design, logistics, facilities management, technical and maintenance staff may not interface routinely with customers, but the work they perform will bear on some aspect of how the customer perceives the operation, quality, efficiency and/or commitment of the company.
In a previous post, I quoted a statistic that had been offered up by an executive at Best Buy that for every 0.1 improvement in employee engagement metrics (on a 0.0 to 5.0 scale), there is an associated average improvement in store-level profits of $100,000. It only follows that this would be the case. In his book, Mr. Carbone aptly states that “…success of an experiential approach to customer value will depend on making stewarding experiences part of the culture of the entire organization…<it> needs to be an integral part of everybody’s job.”
How willing will your employees be to go the extra mile to delight a customer if they don’t feel a high degree of commitment to (or from) your company? Can you comfortably rely on an employee who is actively seeking employment elsewhere (or even considering the possibility of leaving) to be the standard bearer for your corporate brand? Probably not.
Customer satisfaction is no guarantee of customer loyalty, just as employee satisfaction has very little bearing on employee engagement. Obviously an unhappy customer is not likely to exhibit loyalty, just as an disengaged employee is less likely to be committed to the organization they work for. But a positive measure of satisfaction is not always enough to keep a customer, or an employee, loyal, committed, or engaged.
Example: Groupon may bring new traffic to your store, and likely will have a direct impact on how happy the customer is with your products or services at that moment in time. However, once they leave, there is no reason to believe that the customer will come back again, or tell their friends about their great experience, or post a glowing review online. Why? Because they weren’t brought in for what they hoped would be a grand experience, they were drawn in by the promise of a great deal. Your happy Groupon customer will very likely leave and move onto the next Groupon deal. Unless, of course, you provide them such a terrific experience that they perceive your regular price to be a strong value without the added discount. And if you focus on taking this approach, you will find that you don’t need to give away profit dollars in order to attract business. Your customers will take care of that.
Imagine the power of engaged, committed employees working to deliver maximum value to customers on the scales and measures that are most important to the customer. Talk about synergy! Consider the times when you have been truly “wowed” by a retailer, or a restaurant or a service provider. What stands out? Was it price? I bet not. Was it how you felt at that moment? I bet so.
Then recall a situation when you were disappointed, frustrated or otherwise let down? You are more likely to recall thinking that you paid way too much, and received such sorry service. In fact, there is no price low enough to make most consumers willingly endure horrible service. The customer experience overrules price as the lead driver of value definition, and a critical factor in customer experience is in the hands of your employees. They will make or break your brand.
The bottom line: Just as Vineet Nayar so brilliantly stated in in his book, Employees First, Customers Second, “when a company puts its employees first, the customer benefit actually does ultimately come first and gains the greatest benefit…in a far more transformative way than thru traditional ‘customer care’ programs and the like.” The relationship between customer experience and employee engagement demands that you invest in maximizing both, and in doing so, you will create a tremendous market advantage. In a volatile economic environment, you need every competitive edge you can get. Best of all, these are factors that are directly inside your organization’s span of control.