How Customer Aggression in the Workplace Has Forever Changed Employee Experience

We know that everyone is sick of talking about COVID, but the pandemic has had far-reaching effects on customer experience (CX) and employee experience (EX) that will persist long after the virus is finally contained. Staying on top of these effects is hugely important to continuous Experience Improvement (XI), which is why today we want to take you through one of the biggest elements we noticed in our recent experience trends report: customer aggression in the workplace.

Even if aggressive customers haven’t been a problem for your brand specifically, you’ve no doubt heard all the horror stories about employees and brands for whom they have been. The problem has become widespread enough that it’s changed many employees’ workplace expectations, and it’s in that context that we all need to consider a few questions. Why has this become so much more common, and how has that problem changed employee experience?

The Roots of Heightened Customer Aggression

Figuring out how best to respond to aggressive customers begins with finding out why this problem is ramping up to begin with. The answer probably won’t surprise you: the pandemic has been, to put it lightly, an extremely stressful time. Our research and that of many other organizations have found a direct correlation between that stress and the customer aggression we’re seeing in workplaces around the world.

As you might expect, this aggression has resulted in big changes when it comes to employee expectations. Whether it’s diffusing unruly airline passengers or a fight over Pokemon cards (not even kidding), many employees are experiencing enforcement fatigue from attempting to uphold COVID regulations in the face of hostile customers. As a result, many employees are expecting brands to make some pretty big changes in the post-pandemic era.

How Customers and Employees View This Problem

Another factor critical to addressing aggressive customers is understanding how experience stakeholders view the problem. That was another element to all of this that we closely researched, evaluating both customers and employees across a few different demographics. What these folks had to say might surprise you!

For example, when asked “what would you think if you witnessed a customer acting aggressively toward an employee at a place of business?” only 48% of customers said they’d perceive that behavior negatively. 6% of customers would develop a negative perception of the employee and the brand. Finally, when we looked at this data against a more generational backdrop, it became clear immediately that Generation Z shoppers would be the most likely to feel empathetic toward the employee.

Impact of Customer Aggression on Employee Experience and Brand Perception
Image #1: Customer responses to the question,“What would you think if you witnessed a customer acting aggressively toward an employee at a place of business?”

To be clear, this question was asked under the assumption that the employee remained calm while the customer was being aggressive. But what happens when we change the scenario to both parties being aggressive toward each other? With that change thrown into the mix, 24% of customers had a negative perception of all customer behavior, Generation Z shoppers became less empathetic toward the employee, and negative sentiment toward the brand among all customers skyrocketed from 6% to a whopping 35%.

Customer Aggression and Employee Aggression
Image #2: Responses if the employee was aggressive in return

Clearly, mutually assured aggression isn’t the solution. What is

Employee Commitment 

The conventional wisdom for a lot of brands here is to closely support employees as incidents like these occur. That’s certainly important, but as The Great Resignation is demonstrating, strictly reactive support is insufficient for employee Experience Improvement (XI).

The answer, then, is for brands to dig much deeper in their employee support, going from reactive employee advocacy to something more fundamental and progressive: employee commitment. You can achieve employee commitment by working hard to drive trust, transparency, and communication, with the end goal being to help employees feel a human, emotional connection to their work. Taking this proactive tack with your employees won’t ‘just’ empower them to deal with aggressive customers; it will help your organization retain talent amid all this unprecedented churn.

Defining how exactly to go about employee commitment is going to look different from company to company. The work isn’t easy and can take some initial time, especially as you identify the end goals your commitment initiative needs to fulfill and then design that program around them. But that guiding ethos of trust, transparency, and communication makes a world of difference for employees who are feeling fatigued from aggressive customers. It’s an approach that will make them feel truly supported instead of just patronized, which will inspire them to handle these situations gracefully and create Experience Improvement for themselves.

Understanding and dealing with customer aggression is extremely important, but there’s a lot more to this experience universe for brands to consider. Want to learn more about the trends we’re seeing amid employees and customers in 2022? Click here to read our full-length trends report for this year, where we take a deep dive into everything brands need to know for their experience initiatives!

The Employee Experience Maturity Path: How Does EX Improvement Impact Customer Behavior?

This article was originally posted on CustomerThink.com

Sacagawea, a knowledgeable young Shoshone woman, successfully guided Lewis & Clark through the Louisiana Purchase territory, all the way to the Pacific Ocean. Tenzing Norgay, a Sherpa, whose backyard was the Himalayas, successfully guided Edmund Hillary on the first successful ascent of Mount Everest. Ports around the world have skilled and experienced pilots whose detailed knowledge and map-memory of local shoals, sandbars and currents is essential to guide arriving ships to their berths. 

In the modern era, Tim Berners-Lee was the trailblazer of computer science—the inventor and mapmaker of the World Wide Web and HTML—without whom we simply wouldn’t have the internet of today. And then there’s Steve Wozniak, the technical pathfinder behind the initial system for Apple products and services. Every successful journey greatly benefits from having a reliable, capable, amply proven guide, especially one using a detailed, user-friendly map with signposts to mark steps needed to reach the intended goal. It is as true with employee experience (EX) improvement. There is a clear path to greater employee experience maturity and employee insights success, with a map and signposts to aid the guide.

4 Signposts on the Employee Experience Maturity Path Map 

There are four distinctive signposts which serve as a guide up the employee experience maturity path, each one bringing organizations closer to their goal of optimal employee behavior and value as enterprise assets. These signposts, or markers, represent the points along the path, or the trajectory, employee experience has taken, as companies become more mature in a) how they consider employee contribution, in other words the importance attached to it, and b) what role, or roles, employees have in enterprise culture, strategy, and business outcomes.

#1: Employee Satisfaction

The enterprise EX improvement and insights journey path often begins with very basic employee satisfaction, as companies are principally looking to manage and measure behavior at a macro level. For the employee experience maturity trajectory, it is the point of embarkation. Employee satisfaction will typically include job-related factors like compensation, workload, perceptions of management and leadership, flexibility, teamwork, resource availability, etc. 

#2: Employee Engagement

The next, and first real, EX journey signpost brings many organizations to employee engagement. Engaged employees have a stronger sense of purpose within the organization. Here, the predominant, HR-formed, construct is to consider employees as costs of doing the company’s business, and the overall objective is for their fit, utility, and productivity within the enterprise.

#3: Employee Commitment

This signpost represents and recognizes arrival on the path of a deeper awareness of what creates and shapes the full EX landscape: employee commitment to the organization, to its product and service value proposition ,and customers – and plan to optimize business outcomes and stakeholder value. Part of this more progressive awareness is also understanding, and mitigating, things which can impede EX success. Employee fit, utility, and productivity are certainly important, but they are insufficient where real employee experience and linkage to customer value delivery are concerned. Organizations need to have more contemporary and actionable insight into what motivates employees, connects them to the culture and customers, and drives their behavior as invested, highly contributory enterprise assets. 

#4: Employee Advocacy

This signpost has the EX parallel of the flag planted at the top of a mountain peak. Few organizations are able to reach this terminus point on the path (although it is certainly within reach, with strategic focus and discipline, for virtually any company). Companies with high rates of employee advocacy, and its accompanying strong set of business outcomes, are those which have embedded commitment and customer focus into the enterprise DNA, and where the culture, operations, and processes all flow through stakeholder value creation. 

How Does EX Improvement Impact Customer Behavior?

In looking at the progression from satisfaction to engagement to commitment and advocacy, we have examined research conducted over the past three decades. What we have observed are studies that examined some contributing factors of employee experience and value, such as reward and recognition, job fit, training, career opportunities, work environment, and departmental and management relationships. But the critical component often totally missing, or lightly addressed, from all of this material is the definitive linkage and commitment to customers.

Tony Hsieh, the late founder and CEO of Zappos, said: “The brand is just a lagging indicator of the company’s culture.” He hit the mark with that statement. Brand image needs to be complemented and supported by a culture and set of processes dedicated to both employee and customer experience. That brand promise has to be delivered for customers every time they interact with the company. Contribution to customer experience also needs to be fully, and strategically, baked into the organization and into every employee’s job description.

Consider how frequently your customers come in contact with your employees, either directly or indirectly. Whether it is through a computer screen in a customer service chat, on the telephone, or in person, every employee, whether customer-facing or not, should be an enthusiastic and committed representative for the brand. If, today, employee satisfaction and employee engagement are not designed to meet this critical objective of the customer experience, almost inevitably there will be a sub-optimal downstream result with regard to customer behavior.

The Importance of Creating a Culture of Commitment

In any group of employees, irrespective of whether it’s a service department, technical and operational division, or a branch office, there will be differing levels of commitment to the employer’s brand and the company itself, its value proposition, and its customers. If employees are negative to the point of undermining, and even sabotaging, customer experience value, they will actively work against business goals and outcomes. However, if employees are advocates, and whether they interact with customers directly, indirectly, or even not at all, they will better service and support customers.

For companies to create and sustain higher levels of employee advocacy, it’s also essential that the employee experience be given as much emphasis as the customer experience. If employee commitment and advocacy are to flourish, there must be value, and a sense of shared purpose, for the employee (as well as the company and customer) – in the form of recognition, reward(financial and training), and career opportunities. Combined with advanced analytics and other employee-related data, the advocacy concept can lead and enable any organization to be more stakeholder-centric, flexible, dynamic, and financially successful.

This is a clear path and map to EX maturity. Where is your company on the journey?

2022 EX Trends: The Top 2 Things Employees Must Have in Their Next Job

Even if you don’t work in the HR space, you’ve probably seen the term “The Great Resignation” cross your news feed at least once (or 100 times, more likely). At the very least, no matter what department you operate out of, you’ve seen the unprecedented level of churn the job market is experiencing right now. And that might leave you wondering: what employee must haves are convincing employees to leave their old jobs for new ones?

There’s a lot to unpack with The Great Resignation, but one of the core truths playing out here is that many employees aren’t getting what they’re looking for from their employers in 2022. We dove into that in our recent 2022 Experience Trends Report (you can check out the full findings here), but we’re going to quickly cover two of those things here for you today.

What Do Employees Want from Their Employers?

  1. Supportive Culture
  2. Connection to Customer Experience

Employee Must Have #1: Supportive Culture

It may sound like a no-brainer to have an employee-supporting culture in place at your organization, but if the amount of employee churn going on right now is any indication, far fewer brands have that scheme in place than you might think. A lot of folks believe that the COVID-19 pandemic was the starting line for employee churn, but the truth is that the pandemic only exacerbated a lack of employee support that had already been there for a long time.

This is why it’s so important for organizations to invest heavily in this employee must have if they haven’t already. The best ‘employee support’ is what EX experts call employee commitment, wherein companies roll up their sleeves and dig deep to learn how they can better drive transparency, trust, and communication. Much of the churn we’re seeing with The Great Resignation stems from employees feeling that these elements were absent at their previous workplace.

Whereas the traditional employee response model has been to react to problems only as they arise, it’s become pretty clear that that’s no longer sufficient for retaining talent. Helping employees feel a human connection to their brand has never been easy, and the specs of that mission vary from company to company, but investing the time and effort into identifying what that looks like for your organization will make all the difference when it comes to employee retention. Remember; employees don’t want you to react to problems after they’ve occurred. They want to feel a bold, human connection to your brand.

Employee Must Have #2: Connection to Customer Experience

As important as it is for employees to feel connected to their organizations, workplace connections are only part of the puzzle. There’s another element here that employees are actively seeking as they look for opportunities in 2022, and that’s a connection with the customers and clients that brands like yours partner with.

On the surface, this may seem like yet another no-brainer. Employees become more committed when they see how their work makes a difference in a customer’s life. The thing is, though, is that a lot of companies have committed to illustrating that difference only to frontline employees, when the reality is that every team, frontline or otherwise, works together toward that goal. 

With that idea in mind, it’s vital for brands to find ways to let even those non-customer-facing teams know how their work contributes to Experience Improvement (XI) among customers. This contributes to employees’ sense of value at your organization and reduces the risk that comes with the siloed feeling many non-customer-facing individuals may encounter during their work. Demonstrating that link will look different at each company, but organizations need to find a way to do so now more than ever. 

The 2022 Employee Landscape

All in all, employees are seeking two major factors in 2022:  a culture that commits to them rather than just reacting to issues after they occur, and a chance to see how exactly their work matters to customers no matter how far they are from the front line. 

These tasks are by no means easy to execute on, but if you put the time and effort into figuring out how, you’ll be able to retain your talent and continue building meaningful experiences for both your employees and your customers!

11 Articles You Need to Read About Today’s Employee and EX Landscape

In the midst of the fallout of a global pandemic and the Great Resignation, the employee experience (EX) is an incredibly hot topic. With such a complex EX landscape, what do brands need to do to retain their employees, inspire their commitment and advocacy, and attract new talent?

If you’re looking for the answers to these questions, say no more—InMoment EX expert Michael Lowenstein is here to help with all the thought leadership you need. Check out these must read articles below!

#1: Employee Engagement: Does the Defense’s Case Still Hold Water? 

When it comes to optimizing the employee experience, does an engagement-based approach still work? More and more, we are finding that employee commitment represents a more progressive and actionable EX construct. It better reflects the realities employers face in today’s talent landscape, and how employees are making job-related decisions.  

Read It Here!

#2: What Causes Employee Turnover? How Does Today’s Unprecedented Employee Churn Impact Customers Tomorrow?

Today, there are multiple drivers, or causes, of employee turnover. And, there are definite connections, or links, to how the rate of employee resignations can, and does, impact customer experiences and perceptions of value. So, how will unprecedented employee churn today impact customers tomorrow?   

Check It Out!

#3:  The Key Post-Pandemic EX Holy Grail for All Companies: We’re Now in the Era of Required Employee Commitment and Linkage to CX

The COVID-19 pandemic has actively contributed to a reassessment of priorities by both employees and employers. Employees are reconsidering the personal value represented by their jobs and roles. Employers are reconsidering methods for building connections as well as performance. So, post-pandemic, what are the key enterprise considerations for improving employee experience?    

Discover the EX Holy Grail

#4:  The Impact of YOLO on Employee and Customer Experience

YOLO (You Only Live Once) is a current societal force which has been over 250 years in the making. Today, it is directly fueling the Great Resignation—especially among GenZ and Millennial employees. This has contributed to greater attention to factors of YOLO which influence employee behavior, especially employer disconnection and churn. So, what is the impact of YOLO on employee and customer experience?   

Find the Answers

#5:  In EX, Quo Vadis? Translated from Latin: Where Are We Going with Employee Experience Improvement?

The employee landscape is undergoing dramatic and rapid change, with a heightened emphasis on emotional drivers and connection to the employer’s culture. For instance, organizations are coming to understand that everyone in the organization is responsible for developing and delivering customer value. So, where is employee experience headed? 

 Learn the Direction

#6:  Do Companies Recognize the High CX Value of Employee Advocates? Shouldn’t They Want to Cultivate the Kind of Behavior Advocacy Represents?

Employee commitment and advocacy behavior influences customer experience, on both an indirect and a direct basis. Significantly more than either satisfaction or engagement, where employees are viewed as costs, committed employees are key enterprise assets, delivering superior, differentiated customer value. So, how well do companies recognize the value of employee commitment and advocacy?  

Read Article

#7:  Diagnosing and Improving Employee Connection to Company Culture

Employees’ connection to, or disconnection from, the employer’s culture—its fairness, transparency, equity, humanity, career opportunities, communication, management trust, etc.—is perhaps the biggest contributor to today’s high resignation rates. Yet, traditional engagement research only minimally addresses, if at all, what cultural factors work, or don’t work, for employees. Through new and focused research approaches, there is a clear, actionable path to enterprise culture improvement. So, will organizations do more to understand the importance of, and level of employee connection to, company culture? 

 Connect Employees to Customer Culture

#8:  Potentially, How Will the Future of Work and ‘The Great Resignation’ Impact Customer Experience?

Today, many organizations are focused on how the future of work will affect both customer experience and employee experience.  A major challenge, however, is the continuing high level of employee turnover. This is largely because employees, who actively desire to work for companies with a more humanistic culture and a purpose which they can support, are too often finding these lacking in their present employer. These perceived shortcomings can be reversed. So, how will key realities in the employee landscape impact CX? 

 Uncover the Impact

#9:  It’s Time to Recognize the Impact and Value of Employee Behavior: Making Employee Experience an Organizational Priority

As organizations become more mature in their approaches to employee behavior and experience, a key question which needs to be addressed is the level of enterprise priority, and investment of resources, employee experience receives. And, directly connected to this question, companies need to understand the degree to which employees are recognized as key assets, not costs, when their research and initiatives still follow an engagement-based model. Moving the strategic focus to employee commitment is the next, more progressive, stage of employee experience maturity. So, are organizations making employee experience and employee behavior a priority?  

Make Employee Experience a Priority

#10:  Employee Advocates: Their Role as Committed Company Assets, Active Communicators, and Key Contributors to Stakeholder Value

Advocacy, where employees are identified as active contributors to business outcomes and are recognized and leveraged as significant enterprise assets, is the ultimate stage of EX maturity. Although developing a corps of such employees is attainable with focused discipline and investment, few organizations reach this level. Not only are employee advocates committed to the organization and its customers, they are emotionally connected to the culture and purpose of their employer. They are active partners in delivering superior customer value. So, do companies see employee advocates as essential enterprise assets?    

Learn More

#11: Elves Rule: Employees ‘Make’ the Experience for Customers, and They Should Be Recognized for It

Just before Christmas, good little children all around the world are preparing their lists of preferred gifts. They are told that the holiday presents they receive will come courtesy of Santa (and Ms.) Claus. But, isn’t it the elves, toiling in anonymity (except for the occasional movie) at their North Pole workshop, who—like employees everywhere—are those most responsible for creating customer joy? So, how well do organizations understand and recognize employees’ essential role in the customer experience and the creation of value?

Check It Out

Understanding “The Great Resignation” and Brands’ Own Role in Creating It

The news media has been rife this last year or so with stories of The Great Resignation—an unprecedented tidal wave of job market churn that has seen millions upon millions of employees quit their jobs. As with most topics related to employment and the economy, the finger-pointing over who and/or what’s behind this phenomenon has been incessant… and loud. No matter which lens the issue is viewed through, though, one fact is apparent to all: the phrase “I quit” has become one of the employee world’s loudest slogans.

Despite what all the debate over The Great Resignation might imply, though, there is in fact a hierarchy of causes and events that we can definitively track to what we’re seeing in the job market right now. What follows is a quick illustration (and examination) of the sequence of events that precipitated The Great Resignation, as well as what brands like yours might be able to do about it if you find that many of your employees are headed for the exit.

The Great Resignation’s Deep Roots

The first misconception about The Great Resignation that I’d like to dispel is the notion that the COVID-19 pandemic is directly responsible for its inception. This assumption is built almost exclusively on the close timing the two phenomena share, which, frankly, is correlative reasoning at best. Additionally, when the pundits pushing this idea actually care to delve deeper, they insist that the challenges and perspectives brought about by the pandemic caused many employees to reconsider their positions, hence the current job market churn.

The truth, however, is much more nuanced than that. As countless employee experience (EX) experts have been documenting for years now, many employees were feeling dissatisfied with their jobs or disconnected from their wider organization long before COVID-19 was even a term. Burnout, disengagement, and a lack of employee support have, unfortunately, been hallmarks at many organizations for many, many years. The pandemic, therefore, did not mark the beginning of the sentiments that culminated in The Great Resignation; it merely catalyzed employee sentiments that had already existed for a long time.

Culture, Infrastructure, and Operational Challenges

There’s more to the story of The Great Resignation than widespread employee dissatisfaction with their daily work or their disconnection from their employers’ brand purpose. In fact, much of the narrative is that many companies have insufficiently invested in employee support resources. Though you might expect that more brands would be proactive about countering declines in employee performance and tenure, the sheer and extraordinary amount of churn now being seen tells quite a different story. That story, unfortunately, is one of countless companies’ inability to provide even the most basic support and experience value for their most critical assets.

It’s pretty clear where this story is headed:  a combination of employee disconnection, perceived cultural toxicity, and burnout due to factors like lack of available support resources has directly impacted the job market. When the COVID-19 element was added to this set of challenges, with all of the disruption, stress and uncertainty it brought, it became a catalyst for The Great Resignation.  Many employees were already worn down from facing these issues, and their conclusion was to seek new roles not just outside of their current employer, but even beyond their own industry.

In other words, high percentages of employees, feeling they have only one life to live, said:  “I quit.”

A More Progressive Employee Experience Concept

Even if your brand isn’t one of the thousands of companies around the world currently scrambling to remedy its employee support investment problem, you’ve probably heard the phrase “employee engagement” get thrown around as a remedy to The Great Resignation. As the story around this approach goes, employee engagement espouses policy creation as the solution to employee disengagement and burnout. It’s built around discovering employee discontentment, reacting to it with new policy created within HR departments, and hopefully lowering costs all the while. 

However, while policy certainly has its place in any organization, employee engagement alone will leave any company falling woefully short of its retention goals. There’s a much higher strata of the employee world known as employee commitment that brands will need to reach not ‘just’ to survive The Great Resignation, but also to build fundamentally human connections with employees and thus achieve Experience Improvement (XI) for them.

Click here to read my full-length point of view document on employee commitment, and how it can help your brand achieve more foundational and transformative goals than what can be achieved with reactive policymaking.

Diagnosing And Improving Employee Connection To Company Culture

This article was originally posted on CustomerThink.com

Why Is There An Urgent Need For Companies To Do This Now?

Covid-influenced working conditions have contributed to employee disconnection from company culture, disaffection, and even emotional burnout, resulting in high prospective churn rates in many business sectors, i.e. “The Great Resignation”. Employee disconnection and discontinuity also have both an indirect and a direct impact on customer behavior. As viewed by many consulting organizations in their evaluations of this unfolding era of chronic talent shortages coupled with low unemployment rates, the conjoined, common themes of enterprise humanity and reframed purpose seem to be among the most attainable stakeholder prescriptives for dealing with the current employee landscape.

So, the state of organizational culture has tremendous and undeniable influence on employee behavior. In the famous words of Peter Drucker, “Culture eats strategy for breakfast.” Unfortunately, and rather irrespective of the beliefs of some corporate leaders and consultants, no amount of strategic corporate sophistication and modeling can work a company out of a toxic, unfocused purpose, and non-humanistic culture. It must come through disciplined leadership, investment, assessment, and change.

The challenges for many organizations, though, is that they have either minimally addressed or completely missed the impact of enterprise culture on the level of employee connectedness, contribution, and commitment.

Why Can’t Traditional Employee Engagement Research Target Company Culture For Improvement?

Classic engagement research, as practiced since the mid-1980’s, is very effective at identifying employee perceptions into the nature of their jobs, the relationship between employee and manager, employee and co-workers, and the line of sight between the employee performance and company performance. It also functions on the frequently disproved tactical assumption that ‘happy employees = happy customers”, and so is designed to only superficially address the relationship between deeper feelings and beliefs about enterprise culture and resultant employee behavior.

For organizations to recognize employee needs and wants within today’s rapidly changing landscape, there must first be a recognition that employees, as stakeholders and assets to the company, have many of the same behavioral and life stage issues as customers. And, just as customer behavior can range from high negativity/sabotage to high positivity/advocacy, so too can employee behavior. The goals for employees, then, are commitment and connected behavior, with advocacy as the highest state. 

The foundation for attaining this goal is an understanding of cultural impact. More specifically, today organizations need to identify, and leverage, employee perceptions of culture relative to:

  1. Cohesion of functions and units/groups within the company
  2. Enterprise/functional/group customer and value focus
  3. Management/leadership effectiveness, integrity, and trust
  4. Influences on morale – diversity, inclusiveness, communication, latitude
  5. Support for personal career, growth, training, and work/life balance

Is There A Clear And Actionable Path To Company Culture Improvement?

The quick, and encouraging, answer is ‘Yes. There is’. This path, however, requires several things. First, senior leadership must have, or develop, an understanding of where the cultural challenges exist for employees. Next, the organization must be both disciplined in discovery and change and willing to make at least some investment. The financial and time investment comes through macro culture maturity assessment, targeted qualitative and quantitative employee research focused only on their connection, and commitment to, company culture, and development of communication, process, and other techniques for building and sustaining greater connection with and by employees. 

This path is not necessarily simple, and sometimes not easy, because cultural DNA is often strongly embedded, and change-resistant, within the enterprise. But, in the wise words of Yoda when confronted by Luke Skywalker’s reluctance to embrace new thinking: “You must unlearn what you have learned.”

Want to learn more about the power of employee experience (EX) and the benefits it brings to your bottomline? Read our eBook on understanding the power of employee engagement.

Do Companies Recognize the High CX Value of Employee Advocates?

This article was originally posted on CustomerThink.com

Do companies recognize the high customer experience (CX) value of employee advocates? Shouldn’t they want to cultivate the kind of behavior advocacy represents?

That’s my belief. And, because of dramatic, behavior-shaping trends in the world of talent and skills availability, significant and lasting disruptions in the way people work, and the greater independence of today’s employees, I’m convinced they should both recognize and cultivate it.

The EX/CX Connection

Employees are the key, critical common denominator in optimizing the customer experience. Very often, either directly or indirectly, they are at the intersection of customer/vendor experience. Making the experience for customers positive and attractive at each point where the company interacts with them requires an in-depth understanding of both customer needs and how what the company currently does achieves that goal, particularly through the employees. That means that companies must seek to understand, and leverage, the impact employees have on customer behavior. Further, and equally important, they must focus on optimizing the employee experience.

Supporters of employee satisfaction and engagement programs, research and training techniques, with their focus on retention, productivity, and fit or alignment with business objectives, have made some broad, bold, and often unchallenged, assertions with respect to how these states impact customer behavior. Chief among these is that, beyond skills, everyday performance, and even commitment to act in the best interest of their employers, employees have natural tendencies and abilities to deliver customer value, fueled by emotion and subconscious intuition.

Though on the surface this sounds plausible, and even rather convincing, a thorough examination of how employee satisfaction and engagement link to customer behavior will yield only a tenuous, assumptive and anecdotal connection. In other words, there is much vocal punditry, and even whole books, on this subject, but little substantive proof of connection or cause.

Powerful and advanced research can generate insights which enable B2B and B2C companies to identify current levels of employee commitment, and it provides actionable direction on how to help them become more contributory and active brand advocates. Employee advocacy, as an advanced EX core concept and research protocol, was designed to build and sustain stronger and more commitment-based and rewarding employee experiences and also improved customer experiences, driving the loyalty and advocacy behavior of both stakeholder groups, and in turn increasing sales and profits.

It is often stated (especially by corporate CEOs) that the greatest asset of a company is its employees. Emotionally-based research has uncovered specifically how an organization can link, drive and leverage employee attitudes and behavior to expand customer-brand bonding and bottom-line performance. This is advanced EX, some might even say it is revolutionary! Employee advocacy research can be combined with existing customer and employee loyalty solutions to provide companies with comprehensive and actionable insights on the state of their employees’ attitudes and action propensities, and how those may be affecting customer behavior.

Employee advocacy identifies new categories and key drivers of employee subconscious emotional and rational commitment, while it also links with the emotional and rational aspects of customer commitment. At the positive and negative poles, these employee-focused commitment categories include:

Defining Employee Advocates (And Employee Saboteurs)

– Advocates, the employees who are most committed to their employer. Advocates represent employees who are strongly committed to the company’s brand promise, the organization itself, and its customers. They also behave and communicate in a consistently positive manner toward the company, both inside and outside.

– Saboteurs, the employees who are the least committed to their employer. Saboteurs are active and frequently vocal detractors about the organization itself, its culture and policies, and its products and services. These individuals are negative advocates, communicating their low opinions and unfavorable perspectives both to peers inside the company and to customers, and others, outside the company.

In any group of employees, irrespective of whether they are in a service department, technical specialty, or a branch office, there will be differing levels of commitment to the company, its value proposition and brands, and its customers. If employees are negative to the point of undermining, and even sabotaging customer experience value and company or brand reputation, they will actively work against business goals. However, if employees are advocates, and whether they interact with customers directly, indirectly, or even not at all, they will better serve and support the organization’s customers.

Employee Advocates are Essential to Customer Experience—and Overall—Success

Where customer experience is concerned, it is essential to remember that organizations and brands looking to succeed in today’s competitive climate have successfully embedded CX into their cultures, from the C-level executive to the frontline employee. They prosper by using insights generated from a variety of channels and touchpoints, including employees, integrated with customer data from multiple sources, mined by sophisticated text analytics technologies, and then channeled to steer and guide every corner of their businesses.

The more successful the brand and organization, the more evident that the approaches taken are both bottom-up and top-down. This helps ensure a more strategic and real-world view of stakeholder behavior. Truly effective organizations have wisely invested key resources in the stakeholder experience. and at every level of the enterprise. Their leaders, likewise, focus on both individual and collective accomplishment.

This kind of achievement and fulfillment requires that experiences be optimized for all stakeholders. It’s a simple, basic premise, but it works – now and for the future. Ideally, there should be a direct linkage back and forth between the leader, the employee, and the customer. This is where employee advocacy, like the edelweiss flower, can bloom and grow.

Using Holistic Listening to Retain Employees—and Customers

It’s popular to believe that COVID-19 created the unprecedented employee exodus we’ve all come to know as The Great Resignation. For months now, we’ve seen brands struggle to retain employees as millions of workers across virtually every sector of the economy and society leave their jobs, citing a similarly diverse range of reasons for leaving. These include, but are by no means limited to, insufficient pay, hazardous work environments, and having to put up with belligerent customers.

What’s at the Root of the Struggle with Employee Retention?

Though it’s natural to assume that the timing of this event means it’s strictly a product of COVID, the truth about the Great Resignation and employee disengagement in general is that the pandemic didn’t create either phenomenon; it simply exacerbated existing employee issues. Factors like low pay or dangerous work existed long before COVID, which means that the disease isn’t the root cause of The Great Resignation so much as it’s the straw that broke the camel’s back.

The other hard truth that feeds into The Great Resignation is that, frankly, a lot of companies are having trouble retaining their workers because they never understood or invested in improving the employee experience (EX). These brands thus lack the resources, infrastructure, and capabilities necessary to rescue at-risk employee relationships, acquire new talent, and deliver on customer expectations in a time of great turmoil. 

No matter where your organization falls on the EX maturity spectrum, one thing has become clear: improving employee engagement, retention, and acquisition requires a new, more holistic means of addressing employee behavior and commitment.

A Quick Note on Employee Burnout, Disengagement, and the Like

Before we get to those holistic means, though, I think it would be helpful to briefly touch on the difference between disengagement, disconnection, and another term I’m sure you’ve heard a lot recently: burnout. 

The terms are not interchangeable; disengagement and disconnection refer to an employee’s lack of interest and/or investment in their work and organization’s mission. Meanwhile, burnout denotes feeling overwhelmed and mentally unwell as a result of said work or mission. 

My goal with this piece is to help you anticipate and solve for disengagement before it leads to that burnout.

3 Elements of Holistic Employee Engagement

Element #1: Anticipate Changing Needs

The first element of thinking about employee engagement and commitment more holistically is being cognizant of how employee needs and systems will change tomorrow, not ‘just’ what they’re like today. This is particularly important to consider as Millennials’ and Gen Z-ers’ slice of the workforce continues to grow. One of the most important things these digital natives want is a chance for meaningful growth, and if they feel that your brand isn’t considering that or how their needs will change, they will quickly turn elsewhere to find it. With the rise of remote and hybrid work environments, respectively, employees have more options here than ever before.

Element #2: Readily Recognize Value

A second element that can affect employee engagement and commitment is whether or not they feel valued. It’s easy for employees who contribute to organization success to disengage if their contributions aren’t being recognized. In other words, if they feel underappreciated despite their commitment and day-to-day effort, they’ll become discontent and, ultimately, churn. 

There are a number of ways to solve for this problem, such as creating a closed-loop process by which employees can contribute their insights and ideas. These processes are well-honed at best-in-class organizations—some brands not only incentivize idea submissions, but also give employees a cut of the savings their ideas generate.

Element #3: Foster Meaningful Connections

Finally, with the significant workplace changes we’re seeing, creating meaningful connections amongst coworkers and teams has become a critical challenge for leaders. Building sustainable workplace camaraderie in an often-remote work environment, the kind that truly leads to high-performing teams, is easier said than done. 

But the same principles leading to healthy workplace relationships (communication, trust, vulnerability, empathy, kindness) must still exist and be built anew as team composition evolves. Brand leaders who can pull this off will have not only driven improved business outcomes like operational efficiency, but also have built a culture of high employee engagement, commitment, and retention.

Ensuring employees feel heard, understood, and connected are essential to your organization’s success, so the ability to ingest solicited, unsolicited, structured, and unstructured employee feedback is invaluable to finding actionable intelligence. This is especially important when you consider that employee perception of work is the next great diversity frontier. Sex, race, and gender identity are all highly important for organizations to consider, but I firmly believe that diversity in how we as employees  perceive an efficient, effective workplace should be considered in a similar context.

A Better Tomorrow

Considering employee needs, making employees feel valued, creating sustainable camaraderie, and appreciating workplace diversity are all vital to engaging employees holistically, not just to preventing disengagement. Creating and sustaining a workplace environment built on these four pillars is no small task, but it’s what brands will need to achieve if they want to create meaningful experiences for their employees. 

Do that, and your employees will return the favor in the form of greater passion and, ultimately, a greater investment in your customers’ experiences, creating greater success for your organization.

Employee Advocates: Their Role as Committed Company Assets, Active Communicators, and Key Contributors to Stakeholder Value

This article was originally published on CustomerThink.

Whenever the subject of employee satisfaction and engagement arises, it is often difficult to differentiate between them. Just as customer satisfaction doesn’t equate to loyalty behavior, if you believe that “a satisfied employee IS an engaged employee”, it’s likely that you can’t articulate a distinction.

A satisfied employee can pretty much be described as one who is relatively happy or more than complacent about their day-to-day job experience: the work, pay, benefits, possibilities for growth, promotions and possibly more – – like training, work environment, and reward and recognition. These employees start their work day, they perform their job at acceptable levels, and they go home (or, are already at home due to traditional workplace restrictions resulting from the pandemic). Although satisfied employees are generally supportive of the business and what it represents, they likely won’t go beyond doing the basics of their job descriptions.

Rules of Engagement

An engaged employee, to follow the accepted range of definitions by HR professionals and consultants, is a fit for his/her role, is aligned with the goals of the organization, and is a productive individual. These employees have some potential to impact the customer experience; and there is documented, often incidental, evidence of correlation between the two. However, today more is needed of employees: Namely, proven direct causation, the specific defined linkage, and intersection, of employee thinking and behavior to customer brand/company loyalty and advocacy in the marketplace.

In part because of today’s greater emphasis on the emotionally-based components of customer experience and customer value delivery, and how this must be an enterprise cultural priority, employees have become center stage in optimizing customer behavior. Company goals now include building a corps of employees who perform at proactive, customer-centric levels beyond engagement and satisfaction. These “employee advocates” have three key and core behavioral traits:

  • Commitment to the company: Commitment to, and being positive about, the company (through personal satisfaction, fulfillment, and an expression of pride), and to being a contributing, loyal, and fully aligned, member of the culture
  • Commitment to the product/service value proposition: Commitment to, and alignment with, the mission and goals of the company, as expressed through perceived excellence (benefits and solutions) provided by the employer’s products and/or services
  • Commitment to the customers: Commitment to understanding customer needs, and to performing in a manner which provides customers with optimal experiences and relationships, as well as delivering the highest level of product and/or service value

Additionally, and not unimportantly, these employees are often vocal, social supporters of their employer and the value its products and services, and fellow employees, represent to stakeholders. In other words, similar to the behavior of vocally loyal customers, they are advocates.

The Missing Link

In looking at the progression from satisfaction to engagement to advocacy, we have examined research conducted over the past three decades. What we have observed are studies that examined some contributing factors of employee experience and value, such as reward and recognition, job fit, career opportunities, work environment, and departmental and management relationships. But the critical component often totally missing, or lightly addressed, from all of this material is the definitive linkage and commitment to customers.

Employee advocacy identifies new categories and key drivers of employee subconscious emotional and rational commitment, while it is also linked with the emotional and rational aspects of customer commitment.

When offering results of research on employee satisfaction and engagement, companies will often emphasize things like brand image and social media activity as part of employee training and responsibility. These are certainly important; but, just because employees have a solid understanding of the brand does not mean they will deliver on the product or service promise the enterprise has made to customers.

Tony Hsieh, the late founder and CEO of Zappos, said: “The brand is just a lagging indicator of the company’s culture.” He hit the mark with that statement. Brand image needs to be complemented and supported by a culture and set of processes dedicated to both employee and customer experience. That brand promise has to be delivered for customers every time they interact with the company. Contribution to customer experience also needs to be fully, and strategically, baked into the organizational DNA and into every employee’s job description.

The Path to EX Maturity

Consider how frequently your customers interact with your employees, either directly or indirectly. Whether it is through a computer screen in a customer service chat, on the telephone, or in person, every employee, whether customer-facing or not, should be an enthusiastic and committed representative for the brand. If employee satisfaction and employee engagement are not designed to meet this critical objective of the customer experience, almost inevitably there will be a sub-optimal downstream result with regard to customer behavior.

In any group of employees, irrespective of whether it’s a service department, technical and operational division, or a branch office, there will be differing levels of commitment to the employer’s brand and the company itself, its value proposition, and its customers. If employees are negative to the point of undermining, and even sabotaging, customer experience value, they will actively work against business goals and outcomes. However, if employees are advocates, and whether they interact with customers directly, indirectly, or even not at all, they will better service and support customers.

For companies to create and sustain higher levels of employee advocacy, it’s also essential that the employee experience be given as much emphasis as the customer experience. If employee commitment and advocacy are to flourish, there must be value, and a sense of shared purpose, for the employee as well as the company and customer – in the form of recognition, reward (financial and training), and career opportunities. Combined with advanced analytics and other employee-related data, the advocacy concept can lead and enable any organization to be more stakeholder-centric and dynamic.

This is a clear path to EX maturity. Where is your company on the maturity spectrum?

Five Steps to a Successful, Anonymous Employee Experience Program

People are power when it comes to business. And taking the time to understand employee thoughts, feelings, and feedback can be a game changer. After all, your employees are the ones keeping the wheel running. And if they don’t feel supported in their goals, employees are three times more likely to be job hunting. A successful employee experience (EX) program, then, must be at the top of your priority chain—and a successful EX program is one that allows employees to remain anonymous.

Anonymity in your EX program primarily means ensuring that when employees are asked for feedback in any given manner, their identities are completely secure. Hence the phrase: anonymous employee experience/feedback. It’s extremely pivotal then that EX programs ensure employees feel safe and confident giving feedback so that the business can take action on that feedback and produce substantial outcomes as a result. However, reaching this gold standard status is no easy feat. So here’s a five step framework to lead you towards success:

  1. Design for Success
  2. Listen to Employees
  3. Understand the Data
  4. Transform the Company
  5. Realize Better Employee Experiences

Step #1: Design for Success

What does designing for success mean, exactly? Well, consider the work of a clothing designer. When they begin a new design, it’s often unique to a specific collection with a specific purpose. The same should go for your EX program. Every company is different, so designing for success actually means designing with your organization’s specific culture, feedback history, and technical capabilities in mind. And all of these aspects play into the level of employee anonymity needed to accrue genuine responses. Just remember that what will work for one business won’t necessarily work in the same way for another.

Step #2: Listen to Employees

Employee anonymity is non-negotiable. How can you get actionable, accurate feedback from employees if they’re afraid that if they use their voice, it will end in backlash? If you make it clear to the employees you’re surveying that their identities will be protected, you’re more likely to receive high quality feedback. And when employees feel comfortable giving feedback, you can focus more on deciding which listening channels are best to access critical intelligence.

Step #3: Understand the Data

Every six to twelve months, we recommend looking at the drivers of engagement, retention, and churn to see the change within your company. For example, noticing recurring themes for why employees are leaving can tell you about systemic organizational issues you may be having. Analyzing this data consistently helps you understand and eventually address what’s obviously not working in your program. And the crucial key to accessing data like that lies in assuring that employee respondents are unidentifiable. Which could mean hiding personal background information or using text analytics to avoid identifying someone through the way they write (in the case of a language barrier).

Step #4: Transform the Company

Before you take action, make sure that you’re transparent with your employees about your intentions. To address employee feedback effectively, you need to set clear expectations for how that feedback will contribute to transforming the company. Explaining that the information will be reported anonymously, what the information will be used for, and how exactly you plan on addressing their concerns allows for an honest conversation. If you speak and act truthfully first, employees are more likely to reciprocate.

Step #5: Realize Better Anonymous Employee Experiences

At last, it’s time to reflect on the benchmarks you set and act on the areas of opportunity for your program. Here are a few questions to lead you in the right direction toward EX program ROI:

  • How many employees are churning now compared to when the program launched? 
  • Are employees happier at work compared to program launch? 
  • And would more employees recommend working for your company (eNPS)? 

Based on how you answer, it’s time to move forward on realizing greater experiences for employees by prioritizing the security and benefits that come with employee anonymity.

The journey to an EX utopia is neverending, but returning again to this five step guide can help you reinvent your program closer and closer to that ideal. And if you’re interested in a more in depth guide to crafting the ultimate anonymous EX program, take a look at our white paper Just How Anonymous Is Your Employee Experience Program?

5 Ways to Get CX Buy-In from Frontline Employees

Frontline employees are constantly tasked with metrics—handle time, occupancy, attendance, and, of course, customer experience (CX). However, all of this focus on metrics can prevent our frontline teams from realizing the wealth of value they can bring to a CX program. 

So How Can You Engage Your Frontline Employees in CX Programs?

There are a myriad of ways that I have operationalized during my time as a practitioner. And, additionally, I have also been able to see how many of our InMoment clients engage their employees in their CX programs. 

For my post today, I’ve compiled a list of my top five methods for gaining CX buy-in from frontline employees. So without further ado, let’s get going!

Top Five Methods for Frontline Employee CX Buy-In

  1. Broadcast the Value of Customer Experience
  2. Create Recognition Opportunities
  3. Show Employees How They Make a Difference
  4. Include Customer Experience in Frontline Training
  5. Use Customer Experience to Solve Specific Issues

Method #1: Broadcast the Value of Customer Experience

It is vitally important that the frontline teams (really the entire company) understand the importance of customer experience and, if practical, the primary CX metric that everyone is measuring. Having a theme or tagline that is shared everywhere is recommended. One of the health care companies I work with has a “Members First ” tagline that is used all around the company but especially in the contact center. All the representatives have been trained as to what their target metric, Net Promoter Score (NPS), is and why it is important.

Method #2: Create Recognition Opportunities

Create frequent opportunities to appreciate the frontline effort. “WOW” alerts, reader board messages (if we are ever in offices again), notes from site leaders when a positive comment is received from a customer …. It all goes a long way to instill a culture where excellent customer experience is celebrated.

Method #3: Show Employees How They Make a Difference

Leverage the frontline employees for continuous improvement initiatives. When I was a practitioner, I did employee roundtables and I Y-Jacked with frontline employees. I used those opportunities to validate what I was seeing in survey data. I actively solicited feedback and ideas on how to reduce customer friction directly from the source—the agents. I found that even if I could show just a small change as a result of my own or my team’s face-to-face interactions, the frontline teams became more bought into our CX program.

Method #4: Include Customer Experience in Frontline Training

Make customer experience a module in frontline training. Even if it is only a few minutes, show the trainees the survey text, share the “beacon” metric, and tell them why we emphasize customer experience. Explain how we learn from our customers what works well and what we can improve and truly stress how important they are to the process. Doing this in training introduces customer experience before they ever take a call or interact with customers.

Method #5: Use Customer Experience to Solve Specific Issues

Leverage very specific interactions for employee feedback with regard to customer experience. Many of our clients use our Resolve tool for case management. Part of our Resolve process is to capture employee feedback about the escalation interaction as part of the case closure process. We specifically ask them to help identify the root cause of the case and their suggestions to eliminate similar cases in the future. This creates a defined opportunity for the frontline reps to have a voice in how customers are served.

At the End of the Day…

Our frontline employees are the face of the company. If we get them bought into the program, they are the best advocates and ambassadors for customer experience. Celebrating them and asking for their opinions and insights are the best ways to get them—and keep them—engaged.

Want to learn more about how to engage your employees in the customer experience? Check out this eBook, “Better CX Begins with Employees”

From Boardroom to Breakroom: How to Make Your Organization an Experience Improvement Machine

You’ve heard us talk about how your employees are the best resource you have when it comes to experience improvement, but how do you truly harness their power? What decisions and changes can you make in the boardroom that empower employees in the breakroom to deliver on customer experience?

The truth is that training for a customer-centric culture on a location-by-location basis is simply not enough. Because when it comes down to it, turning your employees into your best customer experience advocates is an initiative that needs to be led, enforced, and encouraged on an organizational scale.  

If you’re looking to get started and lead the way for your organization, we’ve broken down your mission into four key parts. And we’re including specific actions you can take to transform your employee culture into something that puts the customer at the heart of everything. Let’s dive in!

Mission #1: Dial in on Core Competencies 

To get anywhere, you first need to understand where you’re headed, right? This is especially true for your Experience Improvement (XI) strategy. 

At the beginning of your journey to a customer-centric culture, you must first craft detailed definitions of the competencies required for employees to deliver on your organization’s ideal customer experience. Additionally, it wouldn’t hurt to audit the level of the required competencies in staff who are currently carrying out customer experience management roles and compare them to your required standards.

Once you understand where you are and where you want to be, you can implement a competency development plan that includes a mix of formal training, on-the-job coaching, mentoring, self-learning, etc. 

Examining legacy and new training initiatives that impact customer-facing staff allows you to ensure that the messages and techniques employees promote are consistent with your organization’s customer experience strategy.

Mission #2: Publicly Encourage a Customer-Centric Culture

Now that you know what your end goal is, don’t let your mission of creating a customer-centric culture be an afterthought in your organization. Be loud about it! 

You should have plenty of examples of best-case scenario customer/employee interactions from your feedback data, so take advantage of them. Regularly share examples of behaviors that illustrate your organization’s desired customer culture. You should include perspectives about what individuals did and indicate why those specific actions had such a positive impact on customers. You can do this in an internal newsletter or use our Moments app to share with company leaders.

Additionally, make sure you’re in constant communication with human resources. You need to ensure that recruitment processes have explicit steps in place in order to check that potential candidates possess the attitudes and beliefs that are consistent with your organization’s customer culture. That way, any person you bring in is already on the same customer-centric path as your company.

Mission #3: Engage and Motivate Employees

You’ve started openly and actively discussing your customer-first perspective; now it’s time to get employees motivated to join in.

Within key teams, identify social leaders or customer experience all-stars and harness their influence by asking them to lead training exercises. Be sure to arm them with coaching materials and other collateral that break down your organization’s approach to customer experience. You can even supply them with feedback data so they can relay to the team exactly what behaviors or processes need to be replicated or improved.

At the same time as you want to be a cheerleader for your initiatives, it’s also important to understand the questions and potential resistance some line managers and supervisors may face when implementing any changes. That’s why it’s vital to hear them out and  support them via training, supplemental materials, and processes to implement desired actions and maintain continuous improvement.

Additionally, you need to be mindful when it comes to employee incentives. You want to be sure that reward structures reflect your customer strategy. For example, many CX programs have shifted their focus from metrics to big-picture business improvements via customer acquisition, retention, cross-sell and upsell efforts, or by reducing costs. When they make this shift, they often change their rewards programs from incentivizing customer surveys to rewarding employees who have been shouted out by customers for providing an exceptional experience.

Mission #4: Organize with Customers in Mind

Just as your training initiatives and rewards programs need to be aligned with your Experience Improvement strategy, so too must your org chart and processes be equally aligned. 

Review existing barriers to delivering your desired customer experience, paying particular attention to handoffs between functions/departments and to potential conflicts in functional objectives and targets. 

For instance, let’s say that customers are complaining that it takes too long to have an issue resolved in your online portal. You investigate and find that, in order for any online portal issues to be fixed, a customer must call up your contact center, which in turn must hand that customer off to the IT team in order to actually fix the issue. An organizational solution to such a problem would be to have a team in your contact center dedicated specifically to online portal issues so there is no lengthy handoff.

Additionally, your customer team should have a window into any proposed organizational change to assess—and, if necessary, mitigate—any potential negative impact that changes might have on the customer experience. Remember, your goal is to have everything in your organization—including the way your org chart is structured—work toward the good of your customers. 

Strategizing for Experience Improvement

In the end, Experience Improvement isn’t something that can merely happen overnight. It takes hard work and dedication to create a customer experience that keeps customers choosing you over the competition. And, in a world where customers have more options than ever before, being able to differentiate on the experience means everything, making your experience improvement strategy something everyone—board members and frontline employees alike—can get behind.


If you’d like to learn more about how your employees can help to foster your ideal customer experience and fuel your financial success, check out our new infographic, “How Employees Can Help You Grow Customer Loyalty & Value”

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