Executive need to listen

ARTICLE | June 23, 2021 | 5 min read

The case for merging customer and employee experience

Treating CX and EX as a unified discipline offers advantages to companies who excel at both

By Laura Rich, Workflow contributor

  • Digital workflows are enabling more connections between CX and EX efforts
  • A more unified enterprise practice, called experience management, is emerging
  • Some models rely on a C-suite leader; others adopt a more holistic approach

Randy Clapp faced a vexing management problem. The retention rate at his call center service was consistently dismal, as was the company’s customer satisfaction scores. And improving employee and customer metrics was critical to retaining the company’s large travel and telecom clients.

The solution, says Clapp, the chief revenue officer for Advantage Communications, was to recognize the two problems as symbiotic: Improving the employee experience for call center agents would lead to a better experience for callers; as customers’ experiences with the service improved, morale and job satisfaction among Advantage’s staff would rise.

As EX and CX teams collaborate more and combine skills and resources, a new strategic discipline, called experience management, is emerging.

Advantage Communications is not alone. Many companies are finding that as they convert more manual processes into digital ones, customer experience (CX) and employee experience (EX) depend on one another to succeed. When they do, the benefits are substantial: Companies defined as leaders in overall digital experience enjoy greater market share, lower capital costs, and other advantages, according to a global survey by ESI ThoughtLab and ServiceNow.

With the help of new digital tools, merging an organization’s CX and EX efforts can help raise employee performance and increase customer loyalty, according to recent studies. The combination also forces more data sharing between teams—something many companies do poorly.

“We’ve looked at and recognized the experience customers are having,” says Aimee Lucas, principal analyst at Qualtrics, a research firm and consultancy focused on experience management. “Their satisfaction comes from the employee—the ones delivering it directly, but also those involved in the design of the product or service.”


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At Advantage, Clapp found the solution to his experience-management problem in the very place where employees and customers meet: in the calls.

First, Clapp’s team used natural-language processing tools to evaluate calls’ literal and emotional content. They found that the chief difference between more and less successful calls was the agent’s level of confidence.

“A really good performing agent just feels better and better the more they have successful calls,” Clapp says. “One bad call after another, your psyche gets damaged.”

To improve agents’ confidence, Advantage added software that would listen in and provide scripts to agents on the fly, depending on how the conversation was going. Agents would also create “playbooks” that laid out scripts and best practices for the calls.

“Now, agents feel great about their work, and customers get what they’re calling for,” says Clapp. After a three-month test of the new approach, the company went from completely turning over its staff of agents to an attrition rate of 20%. A key customer satisfaction measure increased 20%.

Randy Clapp, Advantage Communications. Photo: May Truong Randy Clapp, Advantage Communications. Photo: May Truong

Companies that made CX a top priority from the C-suite to the front lines, according to McKinsey research, saw gains of up to 20% in both customer satisfaction and employee engagement. Their customer service costs also fell by as much as 20%.

“The way employees experience work has become more important than ever before,” says Chris Pope, global VP of innovation for ServiceNow. “This is critical for how organizations transform, adapt, disrupt, and stay relevant.”

Digital technology and supporting expertise are needed to make the transition from specialized EX and CX teams into a combined XM practice. For example, tools that can detect emotion and interpret unstructured data in speech and text can be combined with predictive models that make sense of the data, and then that information can be presented in a usable form at the moment the employee needs it, as in the Advantage call center.

Experience management is still in its early stages, and a clear set of best practices has yet to emerge. But the examples of a few early adopters provide some insight into how companies can navigate the process.

Nuance Communications, a speech recognition and artificial intelligence company, found that data sharing between CX and EX teams was a critical strategy in merging the two practices.

Carolyn Galvin, Nuance’s director of market and competitive intelligence, focuses most of her time on customer experience, measuring consumer loyalty with such metrics as net promoter scores. Early in her tenure, she connected with her EX counterpart to share strategies and best practices for getting feedback in both camps.


Gains in both customer satisfaction and employee engagement when companies make CX a top priority

Galvin noticed a symbiotic relationship between the two feedback loops. Employees on the front lines are usually the first to notice issues that arise with customers, Galvin says, while customers who interact with engaged employees generally have better overall experiences with a brand.

Potential problem areas “tend to be reflected in both communities,” she says. “If we empower employees with data and insights that help them address potential problems quickly, we can nip the problems in the bud.”

Galvin and her EX counterpart have discussed developing a shared dashboard for visibility into both areas. Once the dashboard is set up, Galvin says, it might include information about employees’ roles, tenure, region, and department. The information could be matched with net promoter scores or other customer metrics that rate their ease of doing business. Managers could also view teams’ trend lines, where they diverge and where they come together.

Setting up an experience-management practice can mean redrawing lines in the org chart, but it doesn’t necessarily have to. XM structures can come in a variety of forms and can be run by different executives.

At Starwood Hotels, the company’s former chief human resources manager, Jeff Cava, introduced an early form of experience management shortly after he joined the company in 2008 and had XM teams report to him. (Cava left Starwood in 2016 and now is a senior external adviser at McKinsey.) Cava recruited the support of the CEO, set up a “guest experience index” that integrated customer and employee data and showed the impact of both, and established incentives among both teams to keep the index high.

Still, experts say a chief experience officer who heads up both CX and EX could more neatly align the two organizations. “Designating a chief experience officer can serve as a powerful signal to the organization about how important XM is,” Lucas says.

Adobe, for example, installed an executive with specific XM responsibilities. Donna Morris, the company’s former executive VP of customer and employee experience, focused on aligning the two sides through feedback, metrics, and incentives among both teams, with a focus on engagement and retention, attraction, and development

Assigning a single chief of XM can help keep both teams focused on the same strategy and meeting the same standards, says Isabelle Zdatny, XM analyst at Qualtrics, and “can influence how employees think and act to align with the company’s XM vision.”

Designating a chief experience officer can serve as a powerful signal to the organization about how important XM is.

Adds Lucas, the Qualtrics analyst: “Start with small, doable things in places where there are natural connections and teams are open to doing it. Get those success stories and make the organization accountable.”


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Laura Rich is a longtime business journalist whose work has appeared in the New York Times, Fast Company, Wired, Quartz, Fortune and many others. She writes about tech, innovation, and entrepreneurship.

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