by Clint Boulton

Don’t let a lousy worker experience cripple your customer experience

Jul 10, 2017
Digital TransformationEnterprise ApplicationsOffice Suites

Marketing and digital teams have little trouble shaking free the budget to build new apps and software services for external customers. But what happens when a line-of-business manager asks for more money to upgrade workforce technologies to better serve internal customers? Nothing good, according to research.

two young workers riding on office chair through office
Credit: Thinkstock

Companies have come to accept that the cornerstone of a digital transformation is augmenting the customer experience (CX), conceptualizing new mobile apps, website revamps and other services through the lens of their end users. Most companies also believe that a key to ensuring good CX is fostering a good worker experience (WX), or corporate infrastructure that keeps employees engaged and productive.

The hitch: Many companies lack the proper WX, including tools and processes employees require to build and maintain those digital products, according to Forrester Consulting research.

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Roughly 80 percent of 450 business managers surveyed say they struggled to deliver a superior customer experience, with 29 percent citing organizational structures that prohibit them from delivering the intended CX; 28 percent saying workers aren’t equipped to fix CX when they detect problems; and 26 percent say the business lacks the proper technology to support customers. Moreover, 87 percent of respondents say they are struggling to improve employees’ WX because the issue isn’t getting the attention of executive management, IT, HR or other functions empowered to pull levers. Rather, WX suffers from compartmentalized silos, haphazard funding and is often at the mercy of managerial changes and executive whims.

Those statistics need to change because a poor WX can trigger break downs in CX, according to Harry West, senior vice president of human capital management transformation services for consultancy Appirio, which commissioned the research.

Why worker experience is flagging

WX is suffering in mid to large enterprises because it is left in the hands of line-of-business managers with little to no experience governing such capabilities. If it comes down to a LOB manager asking for a better collaboration platform to empower WX versus a marketing manager asking for money to build a new digital platform for customers the CX wins. One reason is that there are very few metrics to prove WX improvements are working, West explains.

“Drawing the direct line between investment in worker experience and business outcome is hard because it’s difficult to prove,” says West, who advises companies on how to improve technology services and business processes for their employees. “So if you say ‘give me $2 million to enable our workers better,’ that’s a tough decision because you’re asking the CFO to trade that off against improvements to the customer experience.”

It’s a pronounced CX bias, buttressed by the CEO’s belief in investing in tools and talent to support a customer-focused business strategy. To wit, a CMO or CDO rarely has trouble getting their supervisors to free up budget to build or buy new digital capabilities that will improve the customer experience, West says. Yet getting buy-in for new collaboration or salesforce technologies that “might” have a positive trickle-down effect on customer experience is a tough sell for LOB managers. Shaking loose cash to improve back-office capabilities that don’t directly touch the customers, such as improvements to HR apps that allow employees to access information faster from a a mobile phone, is an even harder sell.

“While there is agreement that worker experience affects customer experience, improving worker experience is in its infancy for most organizations,” according to the Forrester Consulting report, which was published last month. “They have no real understanding of where to put their efforts for enhancement and how to measure their initiatives.”

Domino effect: Bad WX leads to bad CX

Such situations need to change as companies move forward with their digital transformations.

West says that he has seen from client engagements where CX break down because the worker experience couldn’t keep up. For example, a public sector organization saw its customer service bog down because of a messaging client the agency was using that had rigorous information security controls. The messaging software was locked down so much that conversations couldn’t flow and the tool couldn’t preserve a history of the conversation. “It completely neutered the work experience,” West says. 

He has also noted that client (digital Yellow Pages business) suffered from poor customer service because call center agents lacked good knowledge management and sharing capabilities. Appirio helped institute a “culture of collaboration,” implementing salesforce technologies and other other knowledge management tools. Net Promoter Scores, a popular measure of customer service, ratcheted up.

Even so, West acknowledges that creating digital metrics is much harder for gauging the impact of new technologies for employees working in back-office positions. In such cases, companies must rigorously adopt employee satisfaction metrics and internal service level agreements that everyone can agree on. Jennifer Manry, vice president of enterprise end user computing and access management at Capital One, oversees and closely tracks the adoption of and employee satisfaction with technologies such as Slack and other emerging tools.

Capital One is an outlier, as only 26 percent of managers surveyed by Forrester Consulting have formal WX programs. But you don’t have to have a formal WX program to improve your WX. Forrester Consulting recommends starting with these 4 steps:

Learn what workers need: The cornerstone of a WX program should include metrics, such as employee surveys, interviews and even worker ride-alongs because employees who feel invested are likely to stay with their company.

Align WX with CX: If a software company rolls out a new cloud application, product managers need to ensure they have the right support services for customers. Companies must lay out WX and CX journeys in parallel to ensure both parties are in lockstep.

Provide work tools that match CX needs: Customer success managers require tools to monitor and manage the health of customer accounts as well as the latitude to act when issues arise. IT workers can work with LOB managers to pick vendors and implement devices and applications that will improve WX and CX.

Measuring WX efforts: LOB leaders need to institite metrics to tie WX to business outcomes to preserve investments in new technologies, talent, training and processes. Best bet: Start with quick wins, or low-hanging fruit. For example, knowledge-sharing tools in call centers can help customer service employees share and find information more quickly, reducing the time and cost to serve customers.

There are other reasons to bolster WX besides a crippled CX.

A bad WX can have potentially disastrous effects on companies’ abilities to attract and hire new talent – even if those brands enjoy great market cloud and recognition by customers. Millennials won’t suffer technology luddites lightly and websites such as Glassdoor are a few clicks away, West says.

“If it feels like the Dark Ages people won’t want to work there,” West says. “You can’t coast on your reptuation. People will shop around for better places to work.”