Strategy & Operations » Leadership & Management » Putting employee and customer insight at the heart of business strategy

Putting employee and customer insight at the heart of business strategy

It may seem odd then that we’d see investment in long-term, continuous Employee Experience (EE) and Customer Experience (CX) programmes as a critical component of an agile corporate strategy. But that’s exactly the approach we advise. That’s because employees and customers are the most valuable business asset in a world of continual flux.

Modern businesses have a lot to contend with. Commercial cycles are shorter than ever, disruption is continual and change is now the norm for many organisations. Agility, speed and flexibility are prerequisites for success.

It may seem odd then that we’d see investment in long-term, continuous Employee Experience (EE) and Customer Experience (CX) programmes as a critical component of an agile corporate strategy. But that’s exactly the approach we advise. That’s because employees and customers are the most valuable business asset in a world of continual flux.

The two groups are essentially the ‘eyes and ears’ of your organisation: they both influence and react to market trends, reflect even subtle changes in the economy, and act as a highly accurate indicator of industry health as a whole.

Not only, then, can the insight gathered from these two groups help to predict change and inform new strategic direction, but a continual, two-way dialogue with them ensures that they are on board with change as it happens.

Harnessing EE and CX at board level

Listening to your employees and customers is not a ‘touchy-feely’ approach to management. It’s a real driver of investment, since change driven by everyone is much more likely to lead to long-term success than initiatives led by an individual’s ‘vision’.

Harnessing insight from strategic employee and customer experience programmes can therefore be as important a tool in managing and driving business change as other, more established corporate planning tools. In fact, used in the right way, they can be the catalyst for highly profitable organisational transformation – particularly if they’re integrated with financial, operational and product or service programmes.

This is equally applicable to B2C and B2B organisations. Whether your customers are consumers or businesses across your supply chain, measuring, reacting to and improving the experience you deliver to them is a key battleground for competitive differentiation.

By the same token, the experience you deliver to – and the feedback you gather from – your employees, is just as important regardless of the industry you operate in, the hierarchical structure of your teams, and the geographical or departmental spread of your departments.

Your customers know your business

Taking a systematic approach to capturing customer experience (CX) across your organisation is a highly cost-effective way to drive business improvement that not only affects the customer, but also impacts processes, efficiency and profitability. That’s why we see companies who place emphasis on the value of clear journey mapping, consistent customer metrics, real-time reporting and individual case management succeed in the most competitive markets.

Here, gathering customer intelligence across multiple touchpoints is vital, offering the ability to deliver action-driven insight to business leaders. Strategic dashboards, with drill-down data capabilities, provide a proven mechanism for identifying the big issues affecting your customers. This allows your board to focus on business actions that will drive the most improvement and success across key metrics.

Your employees drive your business

If your customers are the barometer of how well your organisation is serving your market, then your employees are the mercury driving this measurement. Employees can no longer be considered a business cost, but a critical asset that bridges the gap between strategy and reality. They are your front line, and your best resource for ideas generation and improvement, having first-hand experience of how well your customer service, internal processes and operational systems work.

But your employees’ value goes much deeper than this. Employee experience programmes are becoming a firm fixture for the C-Suite because, with better ways to analyse business metrics, leadership teams are learning that engaged, positive and motivated staff are critical to bottom line success.

Evidence now firmly demonstrates that unhappy or disengaged employees are a huge problem for businesses, not only in terms of corporate culture but also in terms of cost. They are less productive and have higher churn rates which results in greater recruitment costs. Conversely, happy, engaged employees provide better customer experiences which helps retain customers and spread positive word of mouth.

As a result, we’re seeing organisations expand beyond traditional annual employee surveys into more sophisticated employee engagement or Voice of the Employee (VoE) programmes. Not only does this enable companies to better engage their employees, it ultimately provides a huge boost to customers – and by natural extension to profitability.

It’s not enough to pay lip service

Of course, with the rise in popularity of both CX and EE programmes, there are no shortage of businesses making claims about customer – and employee-centricity. But simply putting a few customer-friendly words on your web site and creating an internal comms social network for your employees to share their thoughts is not enough.

You need to actually take action. Just as importantly, you then need to monitor the action you’ve taken, and prove its value. You can’t allow there to be anything ‘warm and fuzzy’ about the experience programmes you run. They need a solid, measurable business focus.

There are some key steps your organisation can follow to ensure this is the case:

Secure wider buy-in by talking in the language people understand

People will only get on board with CX and EE initiatives if they can understand why it’s important and how their role contributes. The good news is we’re starting to see a greater understanding of the need to consider the goals that matter to individual teams. For the c-suite, this often means talking about cold, hard financial numbers and explaining how driving change through CX and EE can help to achieve them.

Focus on business outcomes, not metrics

Of course, metrics are a way to measure different elements of CX and EE and understand where changes have improved or adversely affected customer interaction with a business. We’re not suggesting that we do away with metrics, but the goal of a CX or EE programme must never be to hit a particular score. To be relevant to the business, experience programmes need to drive decision-making that improve business outcomes.

Share real-life stories that drive viral change

Numbers can never tell the whole story. Once we have people’s buy-in and delivered the metrics we’re measuring, we need to bring the numbers alive with real stories that demonstrate what success looks like. This means getting leaders and team members to understand the implications of the decisions we make as a business on real live human beings.

This goes deeper than simply sharing good news on the company intranet. It requires leaders to think like an evangelist and embed a process of enabling individuals to see things happening differently and to want to get involved.

Understanding the inextricable link between employees and customers

We’ve talked about employees and customers as separate entities, but they are deeply embedded with each other. Engaged employees not only drive more engaged customers, but also provide great insights into what is working and what is not – often deeper and more actionable than the feedback from customers themselves.  Understanding the employee experience is very much like understanding the customer experience, and we’re seeing an increasing number of businesses aligning their Voice of the Employee and Customer programmes to provide a more holistic business monitoring capability.

Inspire cultural change at every level

Often, driving business transformation requires a shift in cultural mindset across an entire organisation, not just its front-line employees, CX or marketing teams. To change a culture, we need to get people to start doing things differently. It requires a pragmatic approach, helping everyone to understand what being customer-centric means in their individual role.

Building this culture starts at the top. It’s a slow process, and for most companies it will take years. But it has to start now – and we’re seeing more c-suite executives embracing the opportunity to not only get much closer to their customers and employees, but to approach the two as part of a holistic programme of strategic, organisational, positive change.

Linking CX and EE to broader corporate success

By implementing comprehensive employee engagement and customer experience programmes, organisations are making a clear statement that they understand the critical role that employees and customers alike play in corporate success.

But these programmes can’t be standalone. They can only work as part of an integrated approach to gaining deeper business data and insight from sources across the organisation. And this can only work if there is close alignment across all leadership functions – from the CEO, heads of HR, marketing and product, to those in charge of operations and finance.

That’s why, as CFO, I’m talking at length about customers and employees – subjects not traditionally associated with the finance department. Working in our traditional silos is no longer an option if we want to get ahead and succeed in our ever-changing business world. To take advantage of new opportunities, understand where we need to be heading, and learn what mistakes to avoid, all business leaders need to have the fuller business picture at our fingertips.

It’s this fundamental change in leadership behaviours that will really drive competition in the future – not only making experiences for our employees and customers the best they can be but also maximising our opportunities to stay agile, plan for disruption and truly embrace change.

About the author:

Halvor W. Stokke joined Confirmit as CFO in 2017 and holds responsibility for the company’s financial stability and growth. In this position, he focuses on the long-term strategy for Confirmit, including both organic growth and all merger and acquisition opportunities.

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