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Don't overlook the important role of employee emotion in the customer experience


What employees feel can have a profound effect on how well they work and how they make your customers feel. Yet employee emotions are often poorly understood. 

28th Jun 2021
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When we talk about business, we too often tend to forget that ‘doing business’ usually means an interaction between people. We talk about business-to-business and business-to-consumer, using sterile terms that do not mention actual human beings.

Even in a digital world, we need to ensure that we treat the person associated with a transaction as a human being and not just a customer number, an employee ID, or as a ‘case’. Digital Empathy™ can help and in this article we explain how.

Your employees as well as your customers are people. They have a name, a life, different needs, and emotions. Recognising this is an important first step towards making business more human and displaying compassion towards employees and customers alike.

Different needs, different wants – different emotions

Like many other disciplines customer experience management has been successful in digitising, anonymising and streamlining customer journeys, but may also be de-humanising and de-localising businesses as a consequence; in our drive to reduce friction, we have also lost traction.

For many of us, interacting with bots or with call centres feels like communicating with faraway galaxies. They are great ways to increase your reach, reduce service costs and manage interactions for the routine things in your customer’s life; all of which contribute to the customer experience. Also, since all your competitors are doing the same thing, it must be a good thing, right?

The customer experience starts long before your customer experience management or customer service teams are in direct contact with customers. Before becoming a customer, people rely on a range of information to help them decide to buy a product or a service. As customers, they are hopeful and create expectations that your specific product or service satisfies the needs and wants that they have. However, everyone has different needs, because all people feel things differently: they experience different emotions in response to the same stimuli.

What happens to emotions – why do they count?

Very often so-called ‘emotional’ people are being considered not ‘logical’ and that is partly true. As human beings we are ‘bio-logical’; both logical and emotional at the same time. Emotions are an important part of how we interpret the world, and they make us ‘human’.

Research shows that emotions are an important factor in making decisions. They are not the only factor, but they can be the decisive factor. Neuroscience professor Antonio Damasio did the groundbreaking work to show how emotions and their biological underpinnings are involved in decision-making, both positively and negatively, and often subconsciously. So, that means that however analytical humans think they are, it is an emotional reaction that lets us decide what to choose.

“I hear you”, “I am with you”, “I understand you” are especially important phrases that may be indicators of empathy. Being empathetic starts with understanding emotions; both the other person’s and your own. You must go further; empathy also needs context; where people are and what they are trying to achieve.

However, more important still, is what you do with that knowledge. What actions do you take? Doing this in a one-to-one situation is not always easy. Doing this at scale with all your customers and employees is even more difficult. But it is important, and it makes a difference. This is where Digital Empathy and Predictive Behavioural Analytics come into play.

Employees create the customer experience

Humans work with humans – inside and outside of organisations. Customers expect you to know how they feel: as do employees. It is employees who create the customer experience. What employees experience will drive how they feel and that can have a profound effect on how well they work and how they make your customers feel. A customer’s experience is a direct consequence of the emotional state of employees.

There is one important difference between customer experience management and employee experience management: employees are much more in touch with your company than customers are. They experience your company much closer and much more intensely since they are dedicating a significant amount of time to work. An employee's level of engagement can vary; but always driven by both emotional and rational factors.

Most employers and employees think a lot about the rational criteria - pay and benefits or working hours and shift patterns, etc. and human capital analysis can tell you a lot about how these impact performance, retention, and so on. The rational criteria relate to 'needs'; "I need to be paid", "I need to work regular hours", etc. Less well understood are the emotional criteria - the 'wants'; "I want to be happy at work", "I want to feel secure".

It's not that employers don't know the importance of these feelings, more that the tools they have available to understand and act on these feelings are limited, or they try to address them en masse. It is not just down to the rational and emotional criteria either, like other aspects of our lives, we have internal drivers; values, attitudes, personality preferences, etc. and the influence of other people; an employer's reputation, business performance, reviews by ex-employees, etc.

All of these come together when you make decisions, in ways you may be largely unaware of. You are also constantly updating and reworking your model of the world as circumstances and knowledge changes.

If you want to get serious about employee experience, you are going to have to get serious about really understanding what your employees are feeling. Employee experience is not only a function of what employers do or provide, it's also how it is perceived; both consciously and unconsciously.

Understanding and acknowledging emotions is an important first step

I am sure we have all had a shopping experience with a bored, disengaged store assistant who clearly did not want to be there and soon neither did we. If it happens too often, customers start to go where we do feel appreciated; after all, everyone has a choice.

There are many great examples of what great leadership can do. It is important not only to know this, but also to act accordingly. As Herb Kelleher, co-founder and ex-CEO of Southwest Airlines, said: "Your employees come first. And if you treat your employees right, guess what? Your customers come back, and that makes your shareholders happy. Start with employees and the rest follows from that."

Digital Empathy is an important ingredient to manage both the customer experience and the employee experience constantly and consistently. Acknowledging, understanding and managing emotions at scale and for each and every individual builds the foundation for successful strategies that can be managed holistically, continuously improving the employee experience, improving customer lifetime value and achieving sustainable success.


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