Improve Workers’ Digital Experiences and Customers Will Notice

It’s simple: Improving workers’ “digital experience” has a direct effect on the customer experience, which has a direct effect on the bottom line.

Business managers get this, but most are struggling to figure out just how to connect the dots between enhancing their internal digital capabilities so their workers can better do their jobs and how that ultimately impacts business outcomes, according to the report, “The Worker Shapes The Customer Experience: A Clear Worker Experience Strategy Ensures A Healthy Business,” by Appirio and Forrester.

Many companies—even ones great at providing exceptional digital experiences for their customers—don’t have consistently good digital experiences for their workers, says Harry West, vice president of human capital management transformation services at Appirio.

“Their internal systems may be clunky, it may be hard for employees to get the information they need to properly do their job, or it may be hard for them to connect with other people internally and collaborate with them,” West told Chief Executive.

Indeed, 88% of the 450 managers across all corporate functions surveyed for the report agree that worker experience affects customer experience, but only 26% have formal worker experience programs.

“no one owns the fact that they are making their employees do silly, unproductive things all the time due to a lack of focus and coordination on maintaining a consumer-grade worker experience.”

“It’s not easy to take a comprehensive look at employee experience,” West says. “It can be heavily determined by what division and what manager an employee works for. There might be vastly different types of worker experiences depending on the business line. Determining how worker experiences can be in line with the company’s brand requires a level of focus that’s hard to establish, and there’s not a single executive who owns it, like on the marketing side.”

According to the report, 87% of businesses agree that worker experience ownership is decentralized, resulting in a conversation that never rises to executive or HR conversations with high priority.

But now the issue is starting to “bubble up,” as there’s a lot of transparency about worker experience seen in internal employee surveys asking whether employees have the tools to do their jobs well, he says. Workers also are sharing their feelings about their experiences in social media, such as Glassdoor, when employees complain that they can’t use their phone to do a specific task, they can’t get the data they need, or it takes too long to process transactions.

“Most companies would never allow outdated customer experiences to define their brand in the marketplace, but no one owns the fact that they are making their employees do silly, unproductive things all the time due to a lack of focus and coordination on maintaining a consumer-grade worker experience,” West says.

To some extent, it’s harder to get worker-facing digital project investments like these tied to ROI, because its impact is more indirect than investments made on the customer experience side, he says. For example, when HR staff hears from employees that they want better collaboration capabilities in an employee survey, it can be hard for HR to ask for a multi-million dollar system replacement if they don’t have a direct line of sight to customer ROI.

So what’s the solution? Here are 4 key steps.

1. Company leaders need a strategy to fix employee experiences, which should be branded and consumer-grade, very similar to customer experiences, West says.

“They need to focus not on playing Whack-a-mole—just handling items individually as they come up in employee surveys, turnover items or IT wish lists,” he says. “Companies instead need to look at real business outcomes, and derive prioritized capabilities they need to establish from there.”

2. Executives should ask themselves whether they have a workforce that is engaged, productive and agile—one in which employees can change direction as market conditions change, and in which the organization is able to plan openly and learn continuously, West says.

“These are the things that everyone should care about because they define the culture of the fastest-moving companies today,” he says. “These are the worker experience outcomes that enable the business to operate better—and which customers will notice.”

3. Companies then need to start tracking the biggest program priorities, and get leaders to buy in, West says. They need to start “painting with a broader brush,” and draw a stronger link between investments in employee-facing technologies and business outcomes as it relates to the customer.

For example, if companies can create an environment where employees realize it’s really easy to contribute knowledge and share content on how to do things better—and those employees are in some kind of support or maintenance role—customers will notice, he says. “They’re going to get better service and not get put on hold for 10 minutes to get their question answered,” West says.

4. Back-office roles also should be looked at—how long does it take and how difficult is it to get a laptop issue fixed? Does the IT team member put them on hold, or route them through a bunch of steps that don’t actually solve the problem? “Ultimately, even back-office functions serve the customer, and have service level agreements, written or implied, with their ‘internal customers’ as well,” he says.

The report details how companies can best measure the effectiveness of their efforts to improve worker experiences, by tying experience concretely to business results. “From the outset, leaders should focus on quick wins that demonstrate a worker experience focus helps P&L holders meet their metrics,” the authors write.

Several managers interviewed for the report agree that superior experiences can affect the business’ top- and bottom-line growth.

“To us, it comes down to a happy [employee] equals a happy customer,” says an assistant vice president of the shared services contact center of an insurance and financial services company.

Another interviewee, the global director of engagement at a travel and leisure company, says, “Everything starts within. To project that we’re a great business, it’s important to create a culture internally that will reflect outward.”

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Katie Kuehner-Hebert
Katie Kuehner-Hebert has more than two decades of experience writing about corporate, financial and industry-specific issues. She is based in Running Springs, Calif.

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