Personalization for Your Most Important Customers: Your People

February 10, 2019      By Julie Dodd

Ultimate Takeaway
  • In a quest to deliver unparalleled customer experiences, I learned an irrevocable truth: My people are my most valuable customers.
  • Providing a consistently positive customer experience relies on first prioritizing and investing in the employee experience.
  • Focusing on just one level of the emplyee experience is unlikely to suffice; your employees have different wants, needs, and experiences. Viewing each team member's experience in a uniquely personalized way can help you hone in on—and deliver—what they need most.

My CEO, Scott Scherr, built Ultimate Software with the steadfast belief that taking care of your people is the most important aspect of business success. In developing his business model, Scott understood that, when you take care of your people, your people take care of your customers, and your customers take care of the business.

This motto has been foundational to our success. We have grown from four people in two offices to a billion-dollar company with more than 5,000 employees across seven countries. We take care of our team members, and they take care of the rest.

As Chief Services Offer, I am dedicated to delivering exceptional service to thousands of customers around the world. I continuously strategize opportunities to improve our customer journey, alleviate inefficiencies, and deliver the right services or information to our customers at exactly the right time. But in this quest to deliver unparalleled customer experiences, I have learned an irrevocable truth: My people are my most valuable customers.

Why EX = CX

Several years ago, Gartner reported that 89% of businesses expected to compete primarily on the basis of customer experience (CX). Kelton Research certainly confirmed this in the HCM space last year, when it reported that poor service was the #1 cause of vendor regret among HR decision-makers.

It can seem a bit counter-intuitive, but providing a consistently positive CX relies on first prioritizing and investing in the employee experience (EX). Your employees’ experiences will directly impact innovation levels, quality of work, and customers’ experiences, and this feedback loop is further heightened in service-related roles. As service leaders, it’s crucial to remember that a single negative experience with your team can send your customer straight to a competitor. Investing in your people is an investment in your CX and, ultimately, your bottom line.

Countless case studies confirm this. One example that impacted me early in my career was when Gordon Bethune took over as president of Continental Airlines in 1994. Bethune completely transformed Continental’s EX, rolling out new and improved benefits; fun, motivational gatherings; and even regular giveaways, delivering brand-new cars to employees with perfect attendance. The airline, which was perennially at the bottom of nearly every customer service ranking for years, went on to win more J.D. Power Awards for customer service than any other airline in the world. Stock prices rose from $2 a share to over $50 a share, and the company became one of Fortune’s 100 Best Companies to Work For.

“It’s not an accident that the best places to work are also the places that make the most money,” was Bethune’s iconic response to the New York Times.

Bethune’s insight was sage, and still rings true today: from 1998 through the end of 2016, companies who ranked on Fortune’s 100 Best Companies to Work For list outperformed the market by nearly 5% each year.

The Case for Personalization

There is an undeniable business case for investing in EX, but this understanding does not always lead to effective application. Deloitte’s 2017 Global Human Capital Trends showed that, while nearly 80% of executives rated the employee experience as very important or important, 59% reported they weren’t fully ready to address the EX challenge. Why the disconnect?

In truth, there are many aspects involved in developing and maintaining a positive EX. Today’s leaders enjoy tremendous opportunities to take care of their people, fueled by innovative new solutions like AI-based surveys, HR service delivery platforms, and technology that is (ideally) automated, intuitive, and efficient. But in order for these employee-engagement strategies to be truly effective, organizations must start with the fundamentals.

This year, thanks to industry insider Tim Sackett and my colleague Jarik Conrad, I have been thinking a lot about “Maslow’s Hierarchy of Employee Needs.” Most of us likely remember the basis of Maslow’s theory, suggesting that human beings are unable to focus on self-fulfillment or psychological needs until they’ve satisfied basic physiological needs like food and rest. By translating Maslow’s hierarchy into an employment setting, Sackett makes a compelling case for recognizing and meeting employees where they are.

According to the model, employees first require a financial foundation—such as fair, livable wages and benefits—before they can move on to the next level of fulfillment. Once their most basic needs are met, employees can focus on job flexibility, the overall work environment, the job itself, and, finally, their relationships with their managers.

This hierarchy could explain why some EX initiatives provide lackluster results. Every aspect of this model—from financial needs to executive relationships—is part of EX, but focusing on just one level will fail to reach each team member where they are. A certain team member could have an incredible relationship with their manager and colleagues and love their job, but if they’re struggling to pay their bills each month, their EX will suffer. Alternatively, a fantastic salary and wonderful benefits may not be enough to support a positive EX when the same employee dreads their day-to-day responsibilities.

Viewing each team member’s EX in this way truly emphasizes the need (and opportunity) for personalization in the workplace. Fortunately, there are a plethora of tools available to help you better communicate with your team members, alleviate their pain points, and simplify their lives regardless of their needs and desires.

I am proud of the culture we’ve crafted at Ultimate, and I am proud of our “People First” products and services. Ultimately, I am grateful for the ability to provide our customers with industry-leading solutions to help them care of their most important customers:

Their people.

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