Julie Dodd, Chief Services Officer, Ultimate Software
“It’s not an accident that the best places to work are also the places that make the most money.”
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 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 over $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, 89% of businesses expect to compete primarily on the basis of CX in 2019, and business leaders across industries cite it 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 who 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 lists 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 someone is struggling to pay their bills, it doesn’t matter how incredible their relationship with their manager is, 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 is probably not enough to support a positive EX if an employee dreads their day-to-day responsibilities.
Empathy is also the 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, treated with human consideration and care, are much more likely to treat their customers with the same generosity and support than those who feel like their own needs are not being met.
The Customer Standard
It is time for business leaders to recognize that our people are our most valuable customers. When strategizing methods to improve workforce engagement, for example, ask yourself: What would I do for my customer? How hard would I work to keep them? Or, said another way, am I holding our EX to the same standards as our CX?
Most organizations have a highly 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 who make the effort to gather crucial employee data may struggle to properly utilize its 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.
At Ultimate Software, we have even taken a simple step to more directly link EX and CX by bringing developers into the customer feedback process. Our developers and customer service teams work hand in hand to incorporate customer feedback. Developers, who often stay behind the scenes, are given the chance to participate on the “front lines” of the business — to learn who they are working for and why, giving their role a clearer purpose and meaning. Understanding the mission and where one fits within it is crucial for the employee experience.
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 feels good, is the right thing to do, and pays dividends at an unprecedented scale.