“Clients do not come first. Employees come first. If you take care of your employees, they will take care of the clients.”
-Richard Branson

Today’s business landscape is increasingly competitive, and with customers’ expectations continuously increasing, companies are facing immense pressure to perform. Yet, companies struggle with where they should invest their resources to gain the best advantage. While companies continue to invest in marketing, technology, and R&D, the real investment should be in something that truly impacts how the customer feels about your brand, which is the employees they deal with. The experience your employees have with your company will determine how much they want to take care of your customers, how much effort they give to the interaction, and whether or not they will be friendly and engaging to work with. Hence, your employee experience (EX) is the leading indicator of your customer experience (CX). Let’s take a closer look at what this means and how you can leverage your most important asset, your employees, to create an optimal customer experience.

Customer Experience versus Employee Experience
Customer experience refers to the perception that customers have of your brand at each step of their journey with you. This is typically comprised of many different touch points that a customer experiences with your brand, from visiting your website to engaging with employees. The quality of your customer service and products are important components of the customer experience. Perception is reality in the eye of the customer, so even if you think you are doing a great job delivering an experience to your customers, your customers may not agree. Consider that 89% of companies compete based on customer experience, with 80% of companies believing they are delivering great experiences, yet only 8% of customers agree. This gap is cause for concern.

Employee experience refers to the perception that your employees have of your brand as a place to work. It is defined by various processes, activities, and people, specifically managers, that employees interact with every day. How employees feel about what they do and who they do it for is often referred to collectively as the company culture.

As both CX and EX involve a person’s perception, there is a quote I often think about in every interaction and that is, “Perception is two parts heart and one part brain.” This captures what is most important to people as they experience something or interact with your brand and people. Their perception is formulated more from what they feel than what they think. In other words, the customer will judge their experience with you based twice as much on how you made them feel as what you delivered to them. For companies, they must understand that the majority of that feeling within an interaction, experience, or brand comes from those people representing that brand or delivering the experience, and those involved in the interaction.

Why the Employee Experience Matters
For customers, the most important part of the experience is how they feel after interacting with your employees. An old hospitality axiom, or truth, we talk about a lot is, “An employee with a positive attitude will deliver great service. An employee with a negative attitude will deliver poor service.” We all know that how an employee feels when they interact with a customer will leave a lasting impression on that customer. So with this in mind, companies and managers need to pay more attention to how their employees feel.

Now, I know that some things are completely out of a manager or company’s control when it comes to their employees’ attitudes, but there are a number of things that can make a difference. This is why the employee experience is so important. Companies need to ensure they are not creating additional reasons for an employee to feel bad, yet this is exactly what we find in many companies we assess and review.

At a high level, we see companies not being driven by purpose and values thereby unable to guide how people should act and interact with each other. This leads to poor teamwork and elevating tensions between individuals and teams. We see people being hired based on experience only, with little concern for whether their personality and values system will work with their new team. We see companies not welcoming and onboarding new hires properly causing unnecessary angst and turnover in the first 90 days of employment. We see a lack of coaching, recognition, accountability, and effective communication hurting individual performance and morale. We see employees trying to work without the necessary information tools, training, and support to do a good job. And yet, employees of these organizations are still expected to deliver service with a smile. This is why we have so much poor service and it is why customers rate the experience they receive much lower than what the company believes it is providing.

Enhancing the Employee Experience
In all of this, the biggest impact on how an employee feels is via their manager. Leadership is key in delivering a great employee experience as research indicates that 70% of the variance in employee experience is defined by the manager. We have identified some key areas that hurt how an employee feels about what they do and who they do it for. Managers who are unavailable, unapproachable, disrespectful, non-caring, and not trustworthy significantly erode the employee experience and how those employees feel. We’ve all heard the saying, “employees don’t leave jobs, they leave managers.” This saying is still as relevant today as it ever was.

So where do you begin? Every company will be different, but it always begins at the top. Managers define the employee experience. So, if you are wondering what can you do to positively improve the employee experience, start by holding those managers that don’t care about their employees accountable for their poor leadership. This usually does not require some survey or long process because, most likely, you already know who those managers are. These managers, while probably good at running an operation, fail when it comes to making their employees feel good or in some cases even okay. When this happens, realize that your employees are just going through the motions and your customers are getting transactions rather than an experience.

Today’s companies have to shift the mindset to recognizing that the best investment they can make in their CX is an investment in their EX. Focus on your employees and a great customer experience will follow.