Chief Experience Officer

Posted by Allan Steinmetz on 17 June 2019

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What do you think?

Most companies treat customer experience and employee engagement as separate functions. In the last few years, however, I have seen many companies changing this trend and starting to address customer experience and employee experience simultaneously as one function. Many companies have coupled their customer and employee experience efforts to work hand-in-hand to achieve higher brand engagement, productivity, and revenue growth. When they are managed simultaneously in alignment, as one function, there is a compounding effect on performance. When customer engagement and employee engagement led in tandem, it provides exponential results. Therefore, companies should consider employing a Chief Experience Officer among their ranks that manage both customer and employee engagement.

Much like “purpose and culture,” customer experience has entered our new vocabulary within marketing and branding. It has become relevant to improve brand identity and brand positioning in the same way that traditional marketing has influenced within the marketing mix. Think about it. There are differences between brands who provide outstanding customer experience versus an average customer experience. Also, some brands have exceptional employee engagement and others who don’t. Several companies come to mind for me personally. For instance, I find that renting cars from Enterprise Car Rental is dramatically different based on the customer experience they provide versus the poor experience I received when I’m renting from either Hertz or Avis. In the case of employee engagement, Google comes to mind as an organization that benefits from being able to recruit top talent and retaining them over time because of high employee engagement and employee’s commitment to delivering on the corporate strategy.

Research shows that excellent customer experience makes a person five times more likely to recommend a company and more likely to purchase in the future. Forrester reports that 76% of executives say improving customer experience is a high or critical priority, and many companies have established a C-level position to oversee it.

While everyone will admit that customer experiences are essential, it is only half of the experience equation. The employee experience is equally, if not more important. All too often, it is taken for granted and overlooked by senior management. Employee experience/engagement is the sum of how the employee feels about the organization and how well they understand how their work contributes to the overall strategy of the organization. When an employee understands their role and how they can make a difference, it benefits incrementally in an improved effort, advocacy, and performance. Research by Gallup shows that work units in the top quartile in employee engagement outperformed bottom-quartile groups by 10% on customer ratings, 22% in profitability, and 21% in productivity — and they experienced lower employee turnover, absenteeism, and safety incidents. Companies that MIT researchers classified in the top quartile of employee experience developed more successful innovations, deriving twice the amount of revenues from their innovations as did those in the bottom quartile. Moreover, their industry-adjusted Net Promoter Scores were twice as high.

At Inward, we have always promoted the idea that engaged and knowledgeable employees translate into positive and impactful customer experiences. The opposite is also true. When your employees are not engaged, it can hurt the customer experience and brand reputation.

Just the other day, I had one of those unpleasant experiences in my local Citizens Bank. The bank promotes its brand value and mission as “Citizens Helping Citizens.” Sensible and quite appealing. I went into the bank to withdraw 50 $1 dollar coins for a gift I was giving to a 12-year-old for performing an outstanding job for completing a school project. I casually asked the teller that I would like to make a withdrawal in $1 coin currency, thinking that that was a reasonable and straightforward request. The teller informed me that they didn’t have 50 dollar coins and that the only thing she could do was order them for me. Furthermore, she was not able to do that for three days when they usually receive currency from the main branch and even then, she would have to order $1000 of coins which were more than I needed.

In a calm and teaching moment, I explained to the teller that I needed the coins that afternoon, and it would be inconvenient for me to wait five days to give the gift to this young girl. Furthermore, I explained that I don’t need $1000 in coins and asked: “how will she be able to help me.” She told, that there was nothing she can do to help me and that the bank’s policy prevented her from giving me the currency I needed and that I would have to wait for her to order the coins while suggesting to me that that would be a significant inconvenience because she only was able to request a $1000 allotment. Again calmly, I explained that was unacceptable. She offered to have me speak with her bank manager, but they were nowhere to be found. She offered no solution other than saying, “she would be able to order the coins and give me a call the following Tuesday when they arrive.” Once again, calmly I said, that is unacceptable. Just at that moment, the LCD monitor above her head showed the Citizens Bank tagline, “Citizens Helping Citizens.” I asked her to turn around and look at the LCD monitor and read the slogan. I asked her again, what do you think that means? She had no answer and gave me a “look of puzzlement and frustration.”

So as the professional branding guy that I am, once again, I calmly explained, that it means she is representing the bank as a Citizens employee who helps customers and citizen public (their customers) like me when they need assistance and help. I asked another simple question, “How are you going to help me today and deliver on your banks brand promise?” She seemed more focused on solving her problem than mine. Again, she said, “the only thing I can do is order the coins for delivery on Tuesday and give you a call when they arrive.” I said, “while you may believe that is helping me, it does not. I need the coins today so that I don’t disappoint the 12-year-old girl as her gift that she was expecting by the weekend. I need the coins today, so I don’t disappoint her. So, what can you do to help me today?” Her response to me again was, “there is nothing I can do for you today. I can have you speak to my manager. However, he’s not here right now.” Now, we both had a dilemma, and we were both unhappy and dissatisfied. Both poor customer experience and low employee engagement - not willing to do whatever was necessary to make the customer happy.

Again, calmly, I said, “I hope what I’m about to tell you doesn’t sound like lecturing or upset you. Please consider it as a teaching moment about how you can become a better advocate and employee for this bank. Helping me today would be showing some personal initiative and responsibility and find a solution rather than express bank policies. You could start helping you and yourself by calling some of the local branches within your network to see if they have 50 single dollar coins. You might consider, in the spirit of helping the customer, to pick up the coins from the other branch, or I can drive there myself and withdrawal money.” Also, oddly enough, she hadn’t even considered or thought of that idea and said, “I can do that!” although she did it reluctantly. In less than a minute, she connected with a 2nd local branch that was only a 2-minute drive away. They had all the dollar coins that I needed. I offered to drive there myself and pick them up. When I arrived at the other branch, the manager greeted me and treated me as a guest.

This story is a classic example of what customer experience and employee engagement misalignment. You have a bank employee who is given the responsibility to live the brand values but doesn’t deliver when it comes to touching the customer directly.

A great employee experience leads to excellent customer experience, so employers need to create an environment where employees feel as if they have skin in the game and care about the customer experience as well. According to the Temkin Group, customer experience leaders (the percentage of companies that deliver considerably above average on their customer experience) were five times more likely to earn “good” or “very good” employee engagement ratings than CX laggards (companies that deliver average or below average).

To avoid the perils and examples, I’ve cited above, it is imperative that the customer experience and employee engagement programs be combined as one function within the executive leadership of the company. Moreover, separating the customer experience function and employee engagement functions leads to competition between the two for resources and attention. Unfortunately, that leads to an unintended outcome. Marketing is generally responsible for the customer experience with separate budgets and processes, while employee engagement is usually aligned with human resources or communications with different core competencies and budget limitations. Integrating them into a single department, or at least uniting the two departments with only one leader, lets companies take advantage of synergies between the two.

When customer experience and employee engagement functions are combined under one leaders; their responsibility should focus on the following traits and duties:

  • Improving the understanding of the value of the customer experience to all employees and demonstrating how individual job performance makes a difference in the customer experience. Think of it of it as connecting the dots
  • Drive home to the senior C-Suite leadership and the board that employees understanding and engagement contributes significantly to customer satisfaction and productivity; revenue growth and shareholder value. In whatever way possible, make it tangible through data analytics, internal research, and metrics
  • Combine measurement and indexes of customer experiences and employee engagement to provide measurable and accountable KPIs that can be tracked and measured over time
  • Establish business processes for customer experience and employee engagement, that are tied to strategic objectives and leadership accountabilities and measured annually, just like TQM, JIT, process redesign, etc.
  • The Chief Customer/Employee Experience Officer should be the corporate advocate of the employee and customer opinions and views for the corporation. The voice of the customer should be real and tangible and tied the company’s strategic decision-making. This role should be senior and a member of the executive committee and even the Board of Directors.
  • Measurement and results, accountabilities should be reported and disseminated to the organization like any other business KPI and financial data like earnings-per-share. They should deliver an annual report with results presented at the board level and to the public at large.
  • By integrating and aligning customer experience and employee engagement with a single Chief Experience Officer role, a company centralizes the value in its people-centered functions internally and externally and will maximize the benefits for both constituencies.

If you are interested in learning more about what your company can do to establish a customer/employee experience function within your company, please give us a call. We’d be happy to talk to and explore the steps necessary in the pitfalls to avoid.

 Allan Steinmetz CEO - Inward Strategic Consulting 617-558-9770