Employee Experience Equals Customer Experience

“It’s not an accident that the best places to work are also the places that make the most money.”

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Gordon Bethune, former CEO of Continental Airlines, gave this iconic quote to The New York Times in 2001 after spearheading a company renaissance. Continental had just emerged from bankruptcy when he took the helm in 1994, and profit forecast was bleak, with another bankruptcy on the horizon. But rather than slashing costs or downsizing, Bethune doubled down on his people—investing in benefits, giveaways, celebrations, and profit-sharing.

In just a few years, Continental transformed from one of the worst-rated airlines ever to a national powerhouse boasting more customer service J.D. Power awards than any other airline in the world. Stock prices rose from $2 to more than $50 a share, and Continental was firmly established as one of America’s best places to work.

Countless studies have demonstrated that a strong customer experience (CX) leads to stronger businesses, improving everything from retention and loyalty to revenue growth. According to Gartner, Inc., 89% of businesses expect to compete primarily based on CX in 2019, and business leaders across industries cite CX as one of their top priorities for the coming years.

But, in order to be truly effective, CX must be a core tenet of your company’s philosophy. And, as Bethune discovered more than 20 years ago, the first step is prioritizing your employee experience (EX).

Consider this: From 1998 to 2016, companies that ranked on Fortune’s 100 Best Companies to Work For list outperformed the market by nearly 5% each year. Leading industry earners, such as Salesforce and Boston Consulting Group, consistently rank at the top of these ratings, along with leading market shares. Employee experiences directly impact innovation levels, quality of work, and customer experiences, so investing in your people is an investment in your CX and, ultimately, your bottom line.

The ‘X’ Factor: Empathy

There are many aspects involved in developing and maintaining a positive EX, but most fall under the umbrellas of empathy, common sense, and putting your people first. Are you providing a safe and comfortable work environment? Are your team members fairly compensated? Do they have fulfilling, purposeful jobs? Do they feel connected to the bigger picture and understand how their efforts are positively impacting their team, department, and organization?

If employees are struggling to pay their bills, it doesn’t matter how incredible their relationship is with their manager or how much they love their job. Their experience is undermined by stress and uncertainty about how they will support themselves. Conversely, a strong salary and wonderful benefits are probably not enough to support a positive EX if employees dread their day-to-day responsibilities.

Empathy is a cornerstone of effective, high-quality CX. Customer service should be caring, helpful, and personalized—quite literally serving the customer’s needs. Employees working in an empathetic environment, those treated with human consideration and care, are much more likely to treat their customers with the same generosity and support than those who feel their own needs are not being met.

The Customer Standard

It is crucial for business leaders to recognize that your people are your most valuable customers. When strategizing methods to improve workforce engagement, for example, ask yourself: What would I do for my customers? How hard would I work to keep them? Or, said another way, am I holding our EX to the same standard as our CX?

Most organizations take a personalized approach when it comes to their customers. They meet them where they are and strategically test the best ways to approach and serve them. They apply data and analytics to understand and predict their needs and behaviors. The same should be true for their people.

In my experience, even businesses that make the effort to gather crucial employee data may struggle to properly utilize their insights. Fortunately, a number of enterprise-grade tools are now widely available that can help business leaders leverage their people data and build a comprehensive EX strategy.

An Optimistic Future of Work

We are in the midst of a CX revolution, necessitating an equally impressive EX revolution. Great EX leads to great CX, and CX has become the most important differentiator across industries.

CEOs and entrepreneurs, take note: If you want to be a best-in-class business, focus on becoming a best place to work by prioritizing EX. Investing in and caring for your people feel good, they are the right things to do, and they pay dividends at an unprecedented scale.

Julie Dodd is Chief Services Officer at Ultimate Software.