Getting the Employee Experience Right: Creating Employee Experiences that Drive Business Growth

As many businesses are beginning to look towards economic recovery, we’ve seen a growing recognition of the importance of the employee experience.   I suspect this may be a recognition of the vast amount of stress in the workforce.   For many companies, significant portions of the employee base are facing deep economic hardships.  Employees have been working harder than ever in an effort to keep their jobs and pick up the slack as their companies have cut positions and reduced spending.   As the economy and the job market improves, these employers may be facing latent turnover of some of their best people.

At the same time, companies interested in making more strategic investments to accelerate growth will need to have a highly engaged and aligned workforce.   Over the past several years, we’ve been working with a diverse set of of clients on a rigorous integration of customer and employee experience design.

Here is a summary of what we’ve observed and what to do about it:


  • The experience customers have with any organization is the product of behavior that emerges from a complex organizational system.
  • Every organization is strongly predisposed to deliver the current customer experience based on deeply entrenched legacy effects, beliefs, values and unwritten rules. These legacy effects are reinforced by employee experiences at every level of the organization.
  • Most customer experience efforts significantly underestimate the difficulty of shifting legacy effects. In some cases, organizations create a vision for the desired customer experience that is fundamentally at odds with the character and culture of the organization. As a result, their initiatives fail to produce a noticeable shift in the customers’ actual experience.
  • Any effort to fundamentally improve the customer experience must first decode how and why the organizational system produces the current experience. This understanding allows executives to identify what changes are feasible and what specific interventions are necessary. Without this understanding, efforts to change the behavior of the organizational system are likely to be naïve.
  • Delivering a substantially different customer experience requires a holistic, end-to-end perspective on the employee experience. Within that holistic perspective, targeted employee experience interventions must address and rewrite any “unwritten rules” that produce behavior inconsistent with the intended customer experience.
  • By creating a strong linkage between the customer experience required to drive profitable growth and the employee experience required to generate this customer experience, a company can justify and prioritize investments in the employee experience.


  • Describe the experience you intend to deliver to customers. Describe what customers are trying to accomplish and map the end-to-end activities customers follow to accomplish those things. Then detail the experience you want them to have. What do you want customers to feel after their interactions with you? What are the company’s ultimate goals for delivering a powerful customer experience beyond the transaction itself – for example, additional sales, word-of-mouth marketing?
  • Identify the organizational and individual behaviors required to generate that customer experience. What do people and the organization need to do consistently to create the intended customer experience? What specific changes in behavior are needed? What must front-line employees do differently, and what decisions should front-line employees be empowered to make to solve customers’ problems? How do the work and behaviors of behind-the-scenes employees, plus their interactions with the front line, affect customer experience?
  • Identify the business processes, practices and unwritten rules that have to change to produce the required behaviors. Diagnose how and why your company generates the current customer experience. This must be based on rigorous examination of the experience from your customers’ perspective. Identify where bottlenecks in service occur, where the smooth flow of customer interaction is interrupted. Measure alignment of customer-facing processes, roles, measurements and rewards, and surface the unwritten rules that drive individual and group behavior related to the customer experience. What exactly do the unwritten rules encourage people to do, and how do the resulting behaviors facilitate or interfere with the intended customer experience?
  • Design specific employee experience interventions that remove the barriers and rewrite the unwritten rules. Map the end-to-end employee lifecycle and identify what your employees experience along the way. Model and segment employee populations, measure their fit with “ideal employee profiles” for different roles and correlate with customer experience and business performance. The appropriate interventions may be in how you attract, incorporate, engage, retain or enrich employees’ work. Because useful interventions can be made anywhere in the employee lifecycle, you must be rigorous in determining where to intervene and where to invest in employee programs. The goal is not just to design a compelling customer experience, but to enable employees to understand their connections with the customer experience and feel empowered to deliver the designed experience.
These observations and recommendations are described in more detail in the following white paper:   CI – Getting the Employee Experience Right 2011
You can also check out the following related blog posts:

Customer Experience: Beyond Better Sameness

So… we’re ten years into the Experience Economy and, over that time, there’s been an explosion of attention and investment in creating and improving customer experiences.  Even in this midst of very challenging economic environment, it’s hard to find a company that isn’t either actively involved in or planning customer experience investments.   As the economy now starts to show signs of turning around, we’ve observed an increasing level of interest in getting closer to customers.

Despite the attention paid to customer experience, with a few exceptions, people are no happier with their experiences as customers today then they were 10 years ago.  It’s as if the majority of customer experience efforts have produced little more than “better sameness.”   Better sameness is doing what you’ve always done… and what pretty much all your competitors do… a little bit better and faster; providing friendlier customer service, incrementally faster response times,  a more appealing retail environment, a more streamlined web catalog and ordering processes, etc…

The problem is, customers don’t perceive these incremental differences.  If you’re looking for a competitively relevant improvement, you need to do something that actually grabs the customer’s attention and positively influences how they feel and what they do.  These are the only things that actually improve your competitive differentiation.  Moving beyond better sameness demands doing something that isn’t just a difference in degree; it demands doing something that’s a difference in kind.

For examples:

Southwest and JetBlue represent a difference in kind experience compared to the other major US-based airlines;

Umpqua Bank represents a difference in kind financial experience is a sea of highly undifferentiated consumer banks;


Wegmans, and Nugget Market is a difference in kind experience compared to most other major grocery retailers.

wegmans_food_markets nugget_markets

Unless what you’re after is better sameness…

…the most common tools for improving customers’ experiences are insufficient ! !

This includes:

Customer Satisfaction Measurement: Most companies ask customers for subjective evaluations of the company’s or product’s performance on the assumption that these expressed attitudes drive behavior, such as repeat purchases or positive word of mouth.  Unfortunately, decades of research into the correlation between evaluations and subsequent behavior show, although the link exists, it tends to be relatively weak.  Most customers who switch said they were satisfied.  Satisfaction is not an emotional state that powerfully drives behavior.  In order to get beyond better sameness, companies need to surface how the the experience influences customers’ perceptions and feelings about themselves not the company.

Voice of the Customer Insight: Listening to customers is critical for gaining insight into their lives, their goals, their needs, as well as, their frustrations, feelings, and behaviors.  However, as Henry Ford said, “If I asked customers what they wanted, we’d just have ended up with faster horses.”  In addition, what customers say they want is not often well-correlated with the deeper goals and subconscious factors that influence their behavior.  In many cases, what customers say they want is inconsistent with what ultimately drives their behavior… leading companies to invest in the wrong things.   Getting beyond better sameness involves engaging customers in fundamentally different kinds of conversations and getting beneath the surface of what they say to understand their deeper goals and the experiences they’re having.

Touchpoint Mapping and Service Level Improvements:  Touch point mapping is a highly company-centric activity.  Customers’ experiences do not just happen at your company’s touch points.  Customers follow an end-to-end set of activities that make sense to them given the goals and needs they’re trying to address.  You can’t understand and meaningfully improve the customers’ experience by just looking at and incrementally improving service levels at your touch points.  As customers go about their busy lives, they rarely pay attention to or act on any of the incremental service improvements at the existing touch points.  Getting beyond better sameness involves creating high contrast, signature experiences that get customers’ attention, influence how they feel, and shape the story about what you stand for.

Training and Motivating Front-line Service Employees:  Having engaged, well-trained, and motivated service employees is important.  However, a lack of training and motivation is rarely the real issue behind a poor experience.  The experience customers’ have with any organization is the product of behavior that emerges from a complex organizational system. The root of that behavior is a leadership, management, measurement, and cultural environment that reinforce “unwritten rules” inconsistent with employees doing the right thing for customers.  Focusing on training and motivating employees without surfacing and addressing the unwritten rules is like hacking at the leaves rather than striking at the root of the problem.  Getting beyond better sameness involves surfacing the unwritten rules and leadership and management beliefs and behavior that constrain the experience.

Creating positively and profitably influential experiences, that go beyond better sameness, requires a more fundamental shift in perspective.  You have to focus first on how customers HAVE experiences… not on how your organization or product DELIVERS experiences.  This includes being very clear on:   What are customers really trying to accomplish?  What influences the pathway they follow in pursuing those goals?  How do they actually construct preferences and make choices along that pathway?  How does the process make them feel about themselves?  How does the experience influence the relationships they care about?  In most cases, understanding how customers HAVE experiences, leads to a completely different set of strategies for creating experiences that really make a difference for customers and the business.

Customer Innovations follows a unique Cognitive-Affective-Behavioral Engineering approach that enables companies to design products, services, and experiences from the mental model of the experiencer… not just the mental model of the company.  Over the course of 25 years track we’ve helped leading organizations realize bottom line results of 10-25% in the form of increased retention, incremental sales, reduced acquisition costs, positive word of mouth, higher price realization, and improved productivity of customer-facing operations.

The Customer Innovations approach is driven by three toolsets deliberately structured to push companies beyond better sameness:

  • Behavioral Portraits – Generates deep insight that enables you to understand why customers behave as they do and identifies the most important behavioral drivers for specific groups of customers.
  • Trigger Analysis – Surfaces how people perceive, interpret and evaluate their experience and identifies the specific customer interactions that elicit positive or negative behavioral responses.
  • Influence Strategies – Designs the product, service, and experience interventions needed to influence customer behavior and creates the mechanism for consistent delivery of those changes.

The Anatomy of Wow!

Over the past year, I’ve had the chance to post a wide range of thoughts on the ways that organization’s can leverage a deep understanding of their customers in order to design and engage customers in experiences that drive the growth of their business.  I recently took the opportunity to step back and reflect on the most important things I’ve learned over the past 25 years.  This post summarizes those most important things.  I’ve tried to make this concise… but will provide links to other posts that provide more insight.


Designing Influential Experiences

Wow Experiences exert a powerful influence on how people think, feel, decide, and act… because they’re designed from the mental model of the experiencer not the mental model of the provider.  Wow experiences create a high level of commitment, energy, and “word of mouth” by improving peoples’ lives.

  1. Wow Experiences change how people feel and are designed from a deep understanding of what people desire.  People don’t buy products or services, they buy Desired States.  What Emotional Outcomes should the experience generate?
  2. Wow Experiences deliver Innovative Solutions to people’s underlying, end-to-end problems. Finding these solutions requires getting below-the-surface of existing touch points.
  3. Wow Experiences generate viral stories.  Prime the story people will tell around an influential Experience Storyline.
  4. Wow Experiences resonate with the seemingly irrational ways people decide.  Design experiences that shape Preference Construction and overcome Behavioral Barriers.
  5. Wow Experiences are pleasantly surprising.  Design a small set of highly differentiated Signature Experience Elements.
  6. Wow Experiences are engaging and personal.  Enable people to Co-create and Personalize the experience, as well as, Influence and Collaborate with others.
  7. Wow Experiences recognize everything communicates!  Eliminate negative cues and align positive cues to influence the story and how you make people feel.


Delivering Influential Experiences

Customers’ experiences with any organization result from the behavior of a self-reinforcing, deeply entrenched organizational system.  Traditional approaches to defining and implementing a new experience fail because they underestimate limits imposed by legacy mindsets, processes, systems, and culture.

  1. Wow Experiences start with clear description of the intended experience – from the customers’ perspective. Align on an Experience Specification that describes the customers’ emotional & rational outcomes.
  2. Wow Experiences rely on Experience Value Management to focus improvements on fundamentally shifting the economics of customer relationships.
  3. Wow Experiences require shifting organizational behavior. Surface the Unwritten Rules that predispose the organization to deliver the current experience.
  4. Wow Experiences require specific employee experiences not just “engagement.” Diagnose how employee experiences reinforce Unwritten Rules and design specific Employee Experience Interventions to shift those Unwritten Rules.
  5. Wow Experiences require the holistic design of enabling Processes, Structures, and Management Systems.
  6. Wow Experiences have a limited shelf-life. Continually Refresh and Preserve a differentiated experience.
  7. Remember that, no matter what business you’re in… You’re in the Hospitality Business!


Here are a selection of links that provide some more insight into the points summarized above:

Why Customer Experience Initiatives Fail?

The Customer Experience Does Not Happen at Your Touchpoints

Cognitive Ergonomics: Designing Experiences that Fit the Customers’ Mental Model

Personae-Driven Customer Experience Design

Optimizing the Most Critical Elements of the Customer Experience: Customer Choices 

Cognitive Ergonomics: Customer Experience and Our Search for Meaning

No Matter What Business You’re In, You’re In the Hospitality Business 

Helping Customers Lose Wait

How Employee Experiences Drive Organizational Behavior

Centers of Gravity: Levers for Shifting the Customer Experience

I’ve heard many executives and consultants talk about the importance of training and motivating front-line employees in order to improve the customer experience.  While I agree that having highly engaged, well-trained, and motivated front-line employees is important, it is very far from sufficient. 

In this post, I will make the case that focusing on front-line employees is generally NOT the most important place to start if your goal is to significantly improve the customers’ experience.

In order to make this case, I’m going to refer on one of the most important lessons from military strategy.  In the early 19th century, Prussian military strategist, Carl von Clausewitz introduced the concept of the Center of Gravity (CoG) of any strategic system (e.g., political, military, or organizational system).  The Center of Gravity describes a system’s most critical sources of strength; the elements that are most influential for stable and successful operation of the system.  The optimal military strategy is typically the one that achieves well-defined objectives by attacking the enemy’s “system” at it’s points of maximum influence or vulnerability.

Col. John Warden, ex-Commandant of the Air Command and Staff College and chief architect of the Desert Storm air campaign, has argued that the Center of Gravity of any strategic system consists of five concentric components — leadership, system essentials, infrastructure, population, and fielded forces.  (See:  Reining in” the center of gravity concept – Features – US Armed Forces, Air & Space Power Journal,  Summer, 2003  by Antulio J. Echevarria, II).   This can be shown as follows:

Center of Gravity 1

From this perspective, attacking the enemy’s field forces has relatively minor influence versus attacking leadership, essential resources, or communications infrastructure.  Instead, Col. Warden’s has argued for using airpower to simultaneously strike at each system component thus overwhelming the opponent and irreversibly shifting the state of their system.  This was a key to the success of the Desert Storm air campaign.

The central lesson is that systems change when their centers of gravity changeThe experience that customers’ have with any organization is driven by the emergent behavior of a complex organizational system.  If you consider the center of gravity of a complex organizational system it looks something like this:


If you want to shift the behavior of an organizational system, front-line employees are actually the furthest component from the organizations’ true Center of Gravity.  However, the most critical components of the organizational system are:

  • Leadership including the aspirations, capabilities, and beliefs of the executives, as well as, the something called the operating state of the organization.  Operating state establishes the context for how the organization works together and includes four dimensions: Power, Identity, Contention, and Learning.   Note:  Operating state is described in more detail in the post:  How Employee Experiences Drive Organizational Behavior?
    • Power. Do people have the sense of possibility and the power to accomplish what is important to the organization… and to them?
    • Identity. Do people identify with the mission and the commitment of the organization as a whole or do they identify more narrowly with their function or department?
    • Contention. Can people deal constructively with disagreement?  Can they face up to breakdowns, build alignment, and move forward?
    • Learning. Are people open to learning about the changing needs of customers, real strengths and weaknesses versus competitors, and ways the organization must change in order to continually improve the experience
  • Unwritten rules that drive the real behavior of the organization independent of the espoused ideals and formalized processes and systems.
  • Management systems that define how the organization measures, manages, and rewards performance, as well as, how priorities are determined and resources allocated.

These most central elements create an environment within which processes and technology, along with front line employees and supervisors come together to deliver service to customers.

Most systems are surprisingly resistant to change.  Unless these three components that are close to the Center of Gravity are addressed in a coordinated and holistic way, I would expect that efforts to train, motivate, and engage front-line employees will lead to marginal results.   As Col. Warden has emphasized, shifting the state of an organizational system requires a coordinated, simultaneous intervention on each of the concentric components.

How Employee Experiences Drive Organizational Behavior

As I’ve discussed in previous posts, the key to a consistent and differentiated customer experience is a set of deliberately designed employee experiences.  The experience that customers have with most businesses is the product of very complex organizational behavior.  The experience that employees have within the organization is the driver of that behavior.  In addition, the nature of employee experiences has a profound impact on the organizational agility required to make improvements to the customer experience.  This post will explore the connection between employee experience and organizational behavior.  But, first things first…

What is an employee experience?

I believe the most productive way to define “employee experience” is as something that resides with the employee rather than being a characteristic of the organization.  Its how the employee “experiences” things rather than what the organization does that is most important.

The working definition of employee experience we’ve been using is as follows:

The employee experience is how employees react rationally and emotionally… to the how their organizational and external environments… enable them to achieve goals and satisfy needs that are important to them.

I consider this a working definition since I’m sure we’ll end up tweaking it as we continue to learn.  However, there are three things that have made this definition productive in our employee experience design work:

  1. The context for an individual’s experience starts with what they are trying to accomplish; what’s important to them.  We’ve found that different employees tend to have significantly different “experiences” of the same set of organizational conditions dependent on their goals and needs.  As a result, what an organization does to create effective employee experiences cannot be “one size fits all.”
  2. An employee’s experience is influenced not only by what happens within the organizational environment but also by external factors like the economy, the job market, world events, etc…  Although these factors are outside of the control of leaders within the organization, they cannot be ignored because they have a significant effect on employee’s moods, priorities, and behavior.
  3. In addition to the individual goals described above, employees have rational and emotional reactions that are driven by an underlying set of beliefs and temperaments which can be characterized by different “employee personae.”  For example, BSG Concours’ research has shown that an employee that can be described as a “self empowered innovator” will have a fundamentally different experience of the same situation than an employee that can be described as a “fair and square traditionalist.”

In the end, all of this becomes strategically relevant when employees’ rational and emotional reactions produce behavior that either enables or gets in the way of the organization working together to deliver a customer experience that allows them to win in the marketplace.  Organizational behavior generated by employee experiences can be described at two levels:  Operating State and Unwritten Rules.

Employee Experience and the Operating State of the Organization

Operating State is a way of diagnosing and describing how people work together.  It has a profound impact on the agility that any workgroup or organization has in the face of changing business needs.  Based on work done with CSC Index and DiBianca Berkman, Operating State describes how people relate around four things:  Power, Identity, Contention, and Learning.  As you read these, I’m sure they’ll resonate with experiences you’ve had in organizations that you’ve been part of.

  • Power. Do people have the power to accomplish what is important to the organization and to themselves? The state of power within any organization can range from Possibility to Resignation.
    • Possibility. At one end of the spectrum, some organizations seem to be unstoppable. Employees have experience which encourage them to be ambitious, resourceful, to take risks, and to accept accountability.
    • Resignation. On the other hand, many organization seem be in stuck. Employees experience the organization as an immovable object. As a result, they are can be highly frustrated, easily stopped, and, as a result, avoid risks and accountability.
  • Contention. How do people deal with disagreement or misalignment? In some ways, this is the most critical element of how people work together in a changing business world. Contention within an organization can range from Safety and Resolution to Fear and Suppression.
    • Safety and Resolution. Ideally the experience that employees have within the organization encourages them to surface and address differences of opinion ; to safely challenge the status quo or prevailing thinking. The experience reinforces “straight talk” rather than submerged disagreement.
    • Fear and Suppression. Alternatively, many organizations have a hard time with conflict. People avoid saying “what’s so” for fear of being seen as “not on board” or “not a team player.” Many times there are subtle “kill the messenger” reactions that lead to distrust and issues that become undiscussable.
  • Identity. Do people identify with the mission and the commitment of the organization as a whole or do they identify more narrowly with their function or department? The state of identity within an organization can range between connectedness to separateness.
    • Connectedness. When an organization is operating from the state of connectedness, holistic thinking prevails. People work hard to optimize the performance of the organization as a whole rather than just the performance of their function. As a result, it’s possible for the organization to take coordinated action and be responsible for cross-functional and cross-divisional objectives.
    • Separateness. When an organization is operating from a position of separateness, narrow thinking prevails. Employees primarily consider the requirements for success within their function or role. This naturally leads to sub-optimal overall performance. People take independent action that is in many cases misaligned and, as a result, there can be a lot of finger-pointing.
  • Learning. Learning is the way an organization maintains its differentiation. In order to move forward, organizations must be open to learning about the changing needs of their customers, their real strengths and weaknesses versus competitors, and the ways the organization must change in order to continually improve the experience for customers. Commoditization is a by-product of the lack of learning. Learning within organizations can range from Inquisitiveness and Receptivity to Arrogance and Defensiveness.
    • Inquisitiveness and Receptiveness.  Ideally the employee experience reinforces an environment in which people are open to new ideas, look for new possibilities, challenge existing mental models, try new things and learn from their failures.
    • Arrogance and Defensiveness. However, in many organizations, people have a hard time safely challenging the existing thinking. Many times employees trust and follow the “authoritative view” of their superiors. In addition, some organizations reinforce critical thinking that leads employees to “look for the fatal flaw” in the ideas of their colleagues. People are distrustful of ideas that come from outside their group or organization. In many situations its hard for the organization to learn from failures because they have a hard time admitting failure.

As you can probably, tell each of these interconnected components of an organization’s Operating State can have a profound impact on the organizations’ ability to navigate change and improve the quality of the experience customers have.  These Operating State components are strongly reinforced by the experience employees have within the organization.  Based on our work with clients to shift these conditions, it’s first necessary to understand how the employee experience reinforces these components before you can develop meaningful and well-directed interventions.

Employee Experience and the Unwritten Rules that Drive Behavior

Regardless of the formalized policies, processes, and procedures, the actually behavior of people within an organization tends to be driven by a set of unwritten rules that, to employees, seem like the sensible ways to behave.  There are many Unwritten Rules that result from and reinforce the Operating State components described above.  For example, common unwritten rules might include:  “Don’t admit you’ve made a mistake,” “Regardless of the overall mission of the organization, you need to satisfy your boss,” “Don’t disagree with your superiors in public,” “If you question a major program, you won’t be seen as a team player,” etc…The unwritten rules within any organization are unique and have a lot to do with long legacy effects; how the organization has dealt with change in the past and what strategies have worked.

These Unwritten Rules are reinforced by the existing set of employee experiences and have a significant impact on the organizations’ ability to deliver a highly engaging and differentiated customer experience.  As I covered in the post, Why Customer Experience Initiatives Fail?,  Unwritten Rules are one of the primary reasons why customer experience efforts often don’t produce the desired results.

Every company has Unwritten Rules that are just inconsistent with delivering the kind of customer experience they would intend to deliver.  This ranges from Unwritten Rules like, “The stars are out getting new customers, not serving the existing customers,” “We need to compete against other divisions for the customers’ attention,” “We talk about customers but ultimately you get rewarded for making your numbers,” etc…  The list is potentially endless.

Ultimately, the experience customers have with your business is the product of organizational behavior… that organizational behavior is a product of the Unwritten Rules and Operating State of the organization…. the Unwritten Rules and Operating State are reinforced by the experience that employees are having.

As a result, designing meaningful and relevant improvements in the experience involves the following steps:

  1. Describing the experience you intend to deliver to customers
  2. Identifying the organizational and individual behaviors required to generate that experience
  3. Identifying what current Unwritten Rules and Operating State components must change in order to produce those behaviors
  4. Determining how these Unwritten Rules and Operating State components are reinforced by the employee experience
  5. Designing specific employee experience interventions that address those barriers.

In practice, employee experience interventions can include changing:  target hiring profiles, recruiting practices, new employee incorporation, mentoring, performance management, measurements and rewards, communications, management expectations, executive alignment, etc…  While many of these are things are done today, this more holistic perspective allows you design these interventions in a way that is much more directed and effective.

For a complementary perspective on employee experience, I would encourage you to check out one of my colleagues, Tammy Erickson’s, interesting blog post:

Integrating Customer and Employee Experiences

A key to delivering clearly differentiated and effective customer experiences is the holistic and deliberate design of the employee experiences that “generate” those customer experiences.

My colleagues and I have spent the last 25 years helping leading organizations design and deliver more innovative and differentiated customer experiences.  Over this time, we’ve developed a deep respect for how difficult it is to actually shift the behavior of the organization in a way that actually produces a different and noticeably better experience.  In fact, our greatest learning over the past decade is probably that the key to getting the customer experience working is to make very deliberate and targeted improvements in the employee experience.

This has little or nothing to do with making employees more satisfied or “engaged.”  We’ve seen many situations where more highly engaged employees just deliver a poor experience more enthusiastically.  I’ve already had a lot to say about that in A Break in the Service Profit Chain:  Why Increases in Employee Engagement Don’t Improve the Customer Experience.

If I were to summarize the key lessons we’ve learned about the integration of customer and employee experience it would include the following:

  • The experience customers’ have with any organization is the product of behavior that emerges from a complex organizational system.
  • Every organization is strongly predisposed to deliver the current customer experience based on deeply entrenched legacy effects, beliefs, values, and unwritten rules.  These legacy effects are reinforced by employee experiences at every level of the organization.
  • Most customer experience efforts significantly underestimate the difficulty of actually shifting these legacy effects.  In some cases, organizations create a vision for the desired customer experience that is fundamentally at odds with the character and the culture of the organization.  As a result, most initiatives fail to produce a noticeable shift in the customers’ actual experience.  (See:  Why Customer Experience Initiatives Fail?)
  • Any effort to fundamentally improve the customer experience must first decode how and why the organizational system produces the current experience.  This understanding allows executives to identify what changes are feasible and what specific interventions are necessary.  Without this understanding, efforts to change the behavior of that system are likely to be naïve.
  • Delivering a substantially different customer experience requires a holistic, end-to-end perspective on the employee experience.  Within that holistic perspective, highly targeted employee experience interventions must be designed to address any “unwritten rules” that produce behavior inconsistent with the intended customer experience.
  • By creating a strong linkage between the customer experience required to drive profitable growth and the employee experiences required to generate this customer experience, it becomes possible to create an economic model of the employee experience.  This economic model can then be used to justify and prioritize investments in the employee experience.

BSG Concours is in the midst of a multi-client research project titled “Employee Expeiences and Business Results” that will extend our thinking about how leveraging the link between employee and customer experiences.  I’ll have a chance to expand on this in future posts.

Human Sigma: Strong on Description; Weak on Prescription

I just finished reading the new book Human Sigma; Managing the Employee-Customer Encounter by John Fleming and Jim Asplund.  I’m excited that an integrated perspective on employees and customers is getting the attention it deserves.  The book is well written and makes a strong case for the importance of both employee engagement and customer engagement.  The authors are executives at Gallup and, as might be expected from an organization that’s sweet-spot is measurement, the book does a solid job of discussing the measurement of customer and employee engagement.

Unfortunately, I was disappointed with the book for three very important reasons:

  • First, I’m concerned that the focus on employee-customer encounters will perpetuate a flawed belief amongst many executives that the solution to improving the customer experience is about fixing the behaviors of front line employees and managers.  Of course, what customers’ experience is often highly dependent on the interactions they have with front-line employees.  The authors do make a strong point about empowering front-line employees.  However, we’ve found that customer experience shortfalls are almost always a result of organizational issues that are closer to the core of the business.  In most cases, the behavior of the front line employees is just an outward expression of organizational conditions and culture that have deep roots in the beliefs, values, leadership, and legacy of the organization.  Visualize a tree; addressing front-line employee behavior is like hacking at the leaves rather than striking at the root of the problem.
  • Second, the prescriptions described in the book include conducting ongoing Human Sigma measurement and appointing a Chief Human Sigma officer.  In addition, the last two chapters provide short descriptions of actions like: brand alignment, customer advisory counsels, selecting for talent, employee communications, recognition, rewards, motivational retreats, etc…  While these actions may contribute to some amount of improvement, they are superficial bordering on naïve.  They substantially underestimate the complexity of shifting deeply entrenched organizational behavior.  We’ve found that the fundamental character of customers’ and employees’ experiences with an organization are largely determined by the “unwritten rules” that drive the real behavior of individuals throughout the organization… from executive management all the way to the front lines.  Those “unwritten rules” are the sensible ways for those individuals to behave given a deeply embedded set of motivators (what’s important?), enablers (who’s important?), and trigger (how do people get what they want?) that exist in the organizational system.   Any effort to improve the customer and employee experiences that doesn’t deliberately surface and address these barriers is unlikely to shift the real behavior of the organization. (See: Why Customer Experience Initiatives Fail? and A Break in the Service Profit Chain: Why Increases in Employee Engagement Don’t Improve the Customer Experience?)
  • Finally, the book proposes Human Sigma as a measurement that falls between 1 and 6 and summarizes the overall effectiveness of employee-customer encounters. The authors provide no explicit description for how the score is calculated.  The units of measure are not defined.  This “measure of employee-customer encounter effectiveness” doesn’t appear to be based on any information actually derived at the point of these encounters.  It seems like a simple bending of the customers’ stated levels of engagement and employees’ stated levels of engagement.  One can’t help but assume that the point of this book is to make the case for hiring Gallup to do this measurement, since they clearly didn’t intend to enable readers to do it themselves.

On a positive note, the authors make several strong points:

  • Many companies appear to operate based on a risk adverse philosophy that can be described as “Just Don’t Suck.” Many companies think if they deliver an adequate, industry par experience they’re entitled to their “fair share” of the market.
  • Scripting employee behavior doesn’t improve the customer experience. You need to define the outcomes you intend to produce for customers and then allow employees some flexibility in how they get to those outcomes.
  • There is a critical distinction between customers that are rationally satisfied and customers that are emotionally satisfied. Customers that are highly emotionally satisfied deliver the greatest value to the company while customers that are highly rationally satisfied often do not behave any different than dissatisfied customers.
  • For customer or employee experiences, “feelings are facts.” How the people perceive and feel about their experience are the most critical facts, not the objective measures of service levels.
  • There are four levels of emotional attachment that people have towards a company:
    • Confidence.  “A name I can trust; always delivers on their promises”
    • Integrity.  “They resolve problems and treat me fairly.”
    • Pride.  “They treat me with respect and I’m proud to be associated with them.”
    • Passion.  “I can’t imagine a world without them; the perfect company for people like me.”

Overall, I’m glad that this critical topic is beginning to get the attention it deserves.  I’d love to hear other reactions to the book or the points I raised above.