Why the employee experience is the new customer experience
July 26 2019
by Conner Forrest
As the war for talent quietly rages on, companies are looking inward to determine the best possible methods for improving and fortifying their talent management strategies. In a recent 451 Research survey on workforce productivity, we asked respondents where their companies need to improve strategically, with 42.5% (the highest percentage) listing the ability to recruit, retain and develop employees. In the quest to improve their talent strategies, many firms seem to be gleaning wisdom from their customer-experience journeys to build out a new employee-experience paradigm that can drive business outcomes in recruitment, development, productivity and retention.
There is a lot of inspiration that can be taken from how enterprises are transforming the ways they interact with their customers and bringing new levels of intelligence and context to the experience. The intensifying use of artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning (ML) is generating deeper and more actionable insight, paving the way for more automation and personalization, and in the process birthing the next generation of the customer intelligence platform. These trends, combined with the general consumerization of enterprise technology and its impact on employee expectations for enterprise software design and usability, are giving businesses new avenues to explore the employee experience and how it can be implemented within their organizations.
We believe the employee experience is the new customer experience – it draws on five parallel themes to create a data-driven environment that supports employee growth and seeks to maximize the value of each individual within an organization.
The 451 Take
The employee experience has become a central tenet of modern talent management strategies, and is a paradigm that has the potential to drive better business outcomes in recruitment, retention and employee development. The customer-experience concept, which is far more mature in its implementations and use of metrics, provides a foundation from which CHROs and other talent leaders can draw inspiration and seek parallel themes from which to build their employee experience. Workers want to be provided with the same contextual, relevant, feedback-driven experiences they are offered as a customer. The employee experience is an avenue through which that can be achieved.
An enormous driver of both the customer experience and employee experience is feedback. On the customer side of things, one of the ways companies measure critical feedback data is through the use of a customer 360 strategy, which collects data from a variety of sources and uses it to help customize and personalize the customer experience. A customer 360 strategy can leverage data such as sentiment analysis from company reviews, customer interactions, demographic data and behavioral data to better predict future customer behavior and streamline interactions.
Within the employee experience, feedback is typically gathered through employee-engagement platforms that utilize short, regular pulse surveys to gather data on how employees feel about company policies, their managers, their teams and other aspects of their daily work lives. Where customer 360 helps companies understand the relationship of the customer to the business, employee engagement tools help clarify the relationship between the organization and its employees. The idea is that a highly engaged employee will outperform their less-engaged peers and take more ownership of their work and team.
These tools don't always manifest themselves as simple pulse surveys. Some options include two-way conversations (employee-to-employee and employee-to-manager), gamification, analytics and reporting on application usage and behavior, eNPS tracking, app integrations, and more. Additional intelligence can be derived from tracking employee usage of different applications – and the generation and leveraging of metadata from those activities to get a better sense of what it was the person was doing or trying to do. Some of the most interesting employee-engagement tools on the market today include tinyPULSE, Waggl, Motivosity, Peakon, Qualtrics, Glint and Culture Amp.
Crowd-sourcing is often used in the customer realm to gauge customer interest in a new feature. There is also potential for this trend to make its way into the enterprise, with opinions crowdsourced from employees on new workforce initiatives. Waggl uses a form of crowdsourcing in its employee engagement surveys and responses, and we believe there's an adjacent opportunity to use similar functionality for workforce innovations.
Of course, one big challenge looms over the use of data to drive customer experience and employee experience outcomes: managing privacy and trust. Just as consumers have to trust that their data won't be used for irrelevant marketing or be lost in a breach, an employee-engagement tool must prove its value by only using necessary data, and must create new value for the worker whose data is being collected and analyzed.
If a company wants to pursue an employee experience that includes some of the activity and usage tracking mentioned above, it must be very careful about how it approaches the privacy and trust implications of such a strategy. According to 451 Research's Productivity & Collaboration, Work Execution Goals and Productivity Challenges 2019 survey, only 26.9% of respondents said they would be completely comfortable with their employer monitoring or recording activities on a company-owned device. When asked about their employer monitoring or recording activities on their personal devices used for work, only 14.6% said they were completely comfortable.
Additional context is brought in through conversational interfaces and embedded communications platforms. Customer services enhance the customer experience with multiple options for communication, including live chat and social support. The pervasiveness of AI and ML shines in customer-service chatbots. Customers also have access to self-service support portals and employee-to-customer collaboration tools for screensharing and more. There's also a growing number of conversations explicitly between customers and employees. One example is Fastly using shared Slack channels to quickly resolve certain support issues.
Chatbots are present in the employee experience, but to a lesser degree. Companies like TextRecruit and XOR offer AI-powered chatbots for recruiting, while offerings like X.ai can help with interview scheduling and Mya helps with hiring. On a smaller scale, some firms have deployed proprietary chatbots for expense reporting and benefits enrollment. Chatbots are also used for conversational search and conversational interrogation of data. In this vein, a relevant example would be SAP Conversational AI, a chatbot-building platform that can facilitate such use cases. Additionally, Amazon's Alexa for Business and the Google Assistant are growing in enterprise applicability.
Employees are increasingly collaborating through enterprise social networking platforms like Workplace by Facebook, intranet offerings such as Jostle, and team collaboration tools like Slack. However, there is a clear greenspace for improvement in how company information and goals are communicated to employees. In the survey mentioned above, 451 Research asked respondents what ways, if any, their organizations could clarify how team or personal performance goals relate to the overall business strategy. Nearly 40% of our respondents said that such clarification could happen through the organization actively communicating its business strategy to employees through mediums such as emails, webinars and presentations. Additionally, 38% of senior managers think their employees should be allowed to contribute to the formulation of their employers' business strategy.
A large part of the employee experience is contextual communication around work, so a rising trend that 451 Research sees as a part of the employee-experience toolkit is embedded communication tooling as a part of daily work applications – such as a content-creation platform or office suite. This allows conversations to happen where the work is executed and prevents context-switching in collaboration, improving the experience.
Mobile is a foundational piece of the customer experience and has been for some time. As a large number of customers rely on their smartphone as their primary computing device, customer-focused firms have had to adopt responsive design, modern e-commerce platforms and a mobile-first marketing strategy to keep up. At 451 Research, we believe mobile is such a pervasive aspect of a modern customer experience that we typically do not call it out as an independent theme.
Mobile is also common for employee communication. In a custom survey 451 Research did for a client in May and June, 80% of respondents said it was 'very important' that their messaging tools be optimized for mobile-specific working. In that same survey, we asked which personal devices an organization's employees were allowed to use for business purposes, with 92% answering smartphones – the largest percentage for that question. Lastly, 64% said they used a smartphone several times a day for business purposes, and while it is common in terms of communication, it is nascent in other aspects of the employee experience, including HR. For this reason, it is worth separating for the point of drawing a parallel.
In the vein of consumerization, employees are familiar with the mobile-friendly UIs and mobile-specific features they enjoy from their consumer applications, and are beginning to receive similar experiences from their corporate applications, as well. This starts with mobile hiring platforms like talentReef, SmartRecruiters and Jobvite. Once employees are onboarded, they can access their HR documents and benefits information through mobile versions of additional HR tools like Sage People, Benefitfocus and others. For hourly workers, scheduling tools and shift-swapping applications are increasingly launching as mobile-first, as well.
Designed for the journey
When thinking about the customer experience, the phrase customer journey is often used as a framework for understanding the combination of all the experiences a customer goes through with an organization. This is specifically helpful when it comes to key milestones, such as converting an individual who has been marketed to into a first-time customer and then helping that individual become a repeat customer or subscriber, if applicable.
HR practitioners and HR tech vendors are slowly beginning to advocate for employee journey mapping, as well – tracking employee experiences from the moment they apply until they leave the company. This is the most conceptual theme on this list since it represents the culmination of all the employee experience technologies at work. Employee engagement tools play a large part in this, and vendors like Qualtrics have advocated for employee journey mapping, but there are many more components to the employee journey. The employee journey is also impacted by the design of the job requisition, automation in the recruiting and hiring process, UI design of employee tools, HR integrations and benefits, communication, and more.
Milestones are a large part of the employee journey, as well, but they look different. Upskilling, goals and various other metrics play a part in getting an individual to convert from a job candidate to a fully onboarded employee. Much like the customer experience, mapping the employee journey is a great starting point that will define how an organization will approach its employee experience and what technologies it will invest in to make that experience a reality. Vendors like HROnboard focus on employee journey mapping across the onboarding process, while tools like Whatfix help with onboarding onto new tools and applications.
Measurement and attribution
Data is the fuel of both the customer experience and employee experience. For the customer experience, proper measurement and data analysis tell companies where bottlenecks and friction points may exist in the customer journey. This data can come from measuring conversion rates and KPIs, from voice-of-the-customer software or elsewhere. Data provides not only a more contextual and personal experience, but also a more streamlined and efficient experience.
For the employee experience, bottlenecks and friction points often happen around productivity and individual employee development. To improve this aspect of the experience, tech skills platforms like Pluralsight offer individual skills assessments and role proficiency, while also offering managerial tools to measure skills utilization. Additionally, vendors like Concentra take a more data-driven approach to organizational planning that eases processes such as team changes or employee integrations following a merger or acquisition. Other skills marketplaces, such as Udemy for Business, help to contextualize upskilling for employee development, while Udacity, Skillsoft, DataCamp and others remain popular options for talent growth through skills training.
Workday's Skills Cloud and its focus on skills as enterprise currency is another unique measurement concept that – following its acquisition of Adaptive Insights – will play a huge role in more effective planning and an improved employee development experience. Ultimately, 451 Research believes that employee skills and proficiency measurement will become a more integral part of broader corporate resource management, with advanced skills appraisal and skills-based resourcing fundamentally impacting the employee experience.
The parallels between CX and EX are not simply an academic excursion of comparison; rather, 451 Research believes the two to be interlinked. It has been shown that a company that focuses on its employee experience tends to see a correlation to a positive customer experience, as well.
We tend to think of CX-focused professionals as being one of a few personas seated in marketing, advertising, customer service or sales. However, the customer experience is ultimately defined by the degree to which all employees interact to deliver a customer's interactions with a firm, not just those specific personas. As a more unified EX impacts more employees, new potential emerges to enhance the customer experience. As how we think about CX is changed by how we think about EX, the next question to ponder is the degree to which it will make sense to speak of them as separate things at all.