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Why linking customer and employee experience data is so important - and how to do it


Companies should be linking employee experience to customer experience because it will enable them to quantitatively answer three pressing business questions.

27th Oct 2020
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Pundits and CEOs have long debated the relative merits of whether to focus primarily on the customer experience (CX) or the employee experience (EX).

Should the emphasis be on the direct experience of customers, who are the source of the revenues that fuel the firm, or should the company concentrate on employees, who essentially are the ‘delivery system’ for the customer experience? On one point they all agree: there is an inherent connection between the two.

WHY make the link?

Forget the generalisations about how important employees are to the customer experience or abstract platitudes about how the employee and customer experiences are symbiotic and mutually reinforcing.

Let’s be clear. Companies should be linking EX to CX because it will enable them to quantitatively answer three pressing business questions:

1. How does the employee experience (EX) affect specific customer experiences?

What you need to know is which specific aspects of the employee experience drive how much of the customer perceptions of their experiences and what is the relative impact of each. Just as a traditional key driver analysis of CX instructs a firm about the relative importance of the various criteria that affect the customer experience, in this instance companies can identify, quantify and prioritise the aspects of the employee experience that define the customer experience.

2. How does EX influence or shape the overall customer relationship?

We need to understand how do EX and transactional CX combined affect the customer relationship. Which specific aspects of EX and CX drive the relationship and what is the relative impact of each? Metrics aside, the analysis here combines EX and CX data to uncover the relative importance of the components of each in forging loyal customer relationships.

3. How do EX and CX combined drive business outcomes and customer behaviours?

The focus here is on issues such as unit or overall sales or profitability or customer retention, spend or frequency of shop. Which specific aspects of EX and CX explain what share of the business results and what is the relative impact of each? The aim here is to reach beyond detailing how EX and CX drive a KPI towards how the components of EX and CX determine business results and customer behaviours that create (or destroy) value for a firm.

HOW do you make the link?

Or more accurately, what ‘level’ should the employee and customer data be ‘connected’ for the analysis? The answer is that it will vary depending on the nature of the business issue, the type of business, the business question and, of course, what data are available.

Macro-level connections (where overall EX and CX results cannot be directly linked to an individual employee or groups of employees) might seem appealing but they often prove least useful.

Therefore we describe the most typical linkage as either a micro connection or a unit-level connection.

  • Micro connections are totally granular and are all about the direct linkage between how individual employee experiences translate into a specific transactional customer experience. Micro connections are for measuring how differences in the experiences of individual employees shape the experiences of the individual customers with whom they interact on a specific transaction.
  • Unit-level connections, by contrast, apply when there is a direct link between a customer and an employee team or group (AKA ‘unit’) where the individual employees involved can’t be readily identified as dealing with a particular customer or are anonymous. Unit-level connections are to determine how differences in the experiences of employees in various groups or units influence the experiences, relationships and behaviours of customers of those units and the business performance of those units.

Focusing on the individual

The most obvious example of a micro connection would be a call centre, where the caller and the rep both can be readily identified and connected: the EX results from the rep can be linked to the customer’s ratings of the experience with the rep one-on-one. But there also are numerous other scenarios where a micro connection exists and can be measured: online chat; tech support; onsite service; store check-out; any situation involving an agent (say insurance or real estate); B2B account management and sales (when customers have designated individuals or teams); and others.

In most of these scenarios the direct micro connection involves the employee handling a specific interaction, not the overall customer relationship. In other words, the analysis is all about understanding how individual employee experiences shape individual customer experiences. This is not about rating employee skills and shouldn’t be something punitive.

Rather, it’s about identifying how differences in the individual employee experience manifest themselves in differences in individual customer experiences and identifying, quantifying and prioritising the dimensions of EX that drive CX. This provides clients with a blueprint for where to invest in EX to best improve transactional CX.

Understanding the value of teamwork

A good example of a unit-level connection would be a customer shopping at a particular store, where the customer and the specific store and its various employees can be identified and connected, but micro connections with a specific employee are impractical or unnecessary. Other examples would be a specific hotel, restaurant or any identifiable ‘site’ or virtual site where a transaction occurs (which could be a train, airplane, work team, etc.).

Unit-level connections also can be at different ‘sub-units’. For example, while sample size may be an issue, a guest’s experiences at a hotel property can be disaggregated into experiences at check-in, with housekeeping, valet, concierge, etc., each of which are mostly with an anonymous group of employees.

Unit-level connections can help companies to answer any of the three business questions raised earlier.

  1. Perhaps the goal is to understand how some known group of employees affect the individual customer experience. For example, how was a specific shopping experience at a given store location? This also certainly would make sense for a “sub-unit”, such as the bakery or meat department in a supermarket.
  2. The underlying issue might be the customer relationship or loyalty to the brand. Using the store example again, this would be the case if the firm wanted to capture how EX among store employees played into overall NPS, CSat or some other measure of loyalty or attachment to the store brand overall (as opposed to a specific experience).
  3. Finally, the company might want to measure business or behavioural outcomes at the unit level, such as year-over-year sales or frequency of shop or average spend by customers by location.

Unit-level analysis is therefore about identifying how differences in the employee experiences in each unit manifest themselves in differences in customer experiences, customer relationships or business performance at those units and identifying, quantifying and prioritising the dimensions of EX and CX that drive the specified outcomes. This becomes a strategic tool for managing the overall network of units, as well as a tactical tool for setting priorities and goals for individual units.

The challenge

There are of course a number of obstacles to linkage, all of which are internal. However all are surmountable and none justify ignoring the value of linking EX and CX.

Data may reside on different systems. There are legitimate concerns about assuring confidentiality. The politics can be daunting. HR may own the employee experience data and be an unwilling partner. I’m sure there are other challenges as well.

Many, if not most, companies already are collecting both EX and CX data. Each are valuable in their own right; combined their value increase exponentially. Failing to link EX and CX is like buying all of the ingredients for a superb meal and then leaving them to sit on the shelves.

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