The Employee Experience: the secret sauce to change, evolution & success in CX

Companies are ignoring a challenge that is much earlier in the value chain than identifying their customer experience.  The desire of senior leaders to mandate a cultural shift from product or service to experience has left a void which is the foundation of its success: Employee Experience.

Brands are relentlessly interested in experience.  Digital, customer, virtual, physical to name a few.  Technology is now the blood line whether the appropriate training or configuration is happening or not.  Naturally then, digital tools and applications become the interface for employee and customer alike.  Marketing technology is promising a future that is just shy of visions Hollywood tells in movies like The Minority Report, and even then, some technologies are promising just that. However, technology sells an attractive & superficial vision which appears simple, but is in fact loaded with complexity.

A business absolutely devoted to service will have only one worry about profits.  They will be embarrassingly large. – Henry Ford

Consider that companies who work with customer service and marketing models established before 2007 are at a disadvantage.  In 2007 the concept of UI & UX became main stream with the iPhone.  Others have copied it, some would argue surpassed it – but whether you are a believer in Jobs or not – Apple’s release of a touch UI (and the platform under it), brought on-demand information and transactions to the masses. This progression remains influential to the evolution within, and creation of, business models. Technology significantly enabled the desires of marketers everywhere – reach your base, expand your reach and offer on-demand value.

Beyond the consumer shift, the underlying reason that 2007 marks a line in time is this: businesses before this date were operating under a traditional marketing and customer service model and underneath it, legacy technology.  Companies who began after moment, had new choices with technology and in turn, its influence on customer engagement, well beyond their predecessors.

Though modern marketing and business technology licenses remain expensive the real cost of executing this part of business remains most significant with the infrastructure to support the operations of these technology and the people who manage and work with them.

And if the technology you employ is as successful as the demos espouse they can be, the costs sore even higher.  Though this is a champagne problem in most cases.

The point of this article isn’t to share something new and different, it is to call attention to the most overlooked piece of CX and digital marketing activation: the employees.

Clients do not come first.  Employees come first. If you take care of your employees they will take care of your clients. – Richard Branson

Humans (and more specifically, employees) are complicated beings with fairly consistent themes:

  • Change in any form, is hard
  • The older we are the harder learning becomes
  • We like identifying the goal, and like less, the process of achieving it
  • If it’s simple to understand, we assume it’s simple to execute
  • Results that take time, are difficult to have patience for


Combining these natural human feelings with everyone also being a consumer, trained by market forces to get what we want & get it now, results in a powerful recipe. A recipe for false starts, frustration, resistance, anxiety and confusion.  Do those characteristics sound familiar?  They should – I took them from Knoster’s chart on organizational change.


I suggest that change, in the scope that digital & customer experience imply, have significantly less to do with the technology you employ than with making sure your employees are informed, invested and planned for.

It is time that we start with the piece of the business that actually makes business run: the people.

Most businesses are coming around to the idea that if your brand isn’t managing the experience of its customers, someone else is. The idea that customer experience exists, regardless of your ability to pay attention to it.

The same truth exists with the employee experience. Here is why I believe it is pivotally more important to focus on EX, immediately and impressively, versus CX: EX enables CX.

In 2009 Seth Godin gave a TED talk where he talked about the ideas of ‘tribes’ and the need for people to be led.  The context of this was about movements, momentum and change.  The immediate application came in the form of brands and companies who have the ability to organize and mobilize their customers.  A year later Mr. Godin shared the Japanese concept of ‘otaku’ – people with an obsession.  To me there is a clear connection – the idea of creating a tribe of people who have an obsession.

The idea of otaku is where the Employee Experience needs to begin.  If you expect, or more often, need your employees to be passionate with the satisfaction of customers and the application of their craft, the first step is common-sensical: get them onboard. Apply practices and communications that make them believers in the otaku of your brand. The result is natural: personal investment in making change possible, regardless of how challenging that change is. Employees will have varying degrees of otaku, those with little otaku will self select out over time leaving you with brand obsessed team members.

Kathy Bloomgarden wrote a piece on “companies that value their employees” recently and her callouts are indicative of how to create a roadmap towards Employee Experience.  She notes the following:

  •  Shared values
  • Inspiration
  • Make learning part of the job


Applying these ideas to our concept of Employee Experience might look like this:

 Shared Value

The simple interpretation is culture, but it is so much more than that.  Perhaps values don’t need to be pasted on a wall, but to be honest, many companies would benefit from just that.  If you want your employees experience to be positive, they need to be able to agree to and be empowered with a foundation for decision making.  It will drive decisions ranging from customer engagement to spending, from time management to critical thinking – but only if they are thoroughly understood.


Responsibility to shareholders or turning a profit is a given.  What are the tenets that get your teams out of bed in the morning?  Keeping them late in the evenings and contributing in an ongoing manner? Employees expect their companies to remain solvent, it is assumed in their acceptance of a position.  There must be something more which guides them in their use of technology, tools, decisions and communication beyond the tables stakes of keeping their job.

Make learning part of the job

This is the silver bullet.  A concept that is both so clear and so challenging that most fail to fully activate it. Daily learning should be deeply intertwined within shared values & inspiration.  Consider the reduced friction onboarding a new technology or changing an operational process would have if learning everyday, was a shared value.  Consider further how impactful it would be if you hired people who expected that (tip: you probably already have them.)

I’ve learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel. – Maya Angelou

If you haven’t noticed, let me call attention to the lack of mention of flex hours, daily catering, unlimited vacation, open board meetings and remote work involved in this discussion of Employee Experience.

Perhaps these tactics are appropriate or even desired within your Employee Experience, but they are not the tenets.  Companies who are concerned with implementing non-traditional or cultural benefits like these are rightfully apprehensive, but not for the reasons they think.   If your Employee Experience isn’t indicative in how your teams will take advantage of the benefits, you have skipped a step.

I believe highly successful companies have bought into this hook line and sinker.  Virgin, Apple, Google, REI, Campbell’s & Patagonia to name a few.  And though no one is talking about the  term “Employee Experience”, it is clearly at their center. These companies have been practicing for some time – and it enables them to pivot and change with greater ease than most.

I believe in our age of digital transformation and Customer Experience, the first consideration is foundational: it is hard and it feels vulnerable – how do you define your Employee Experience?

Leadership is solving problems. The day soldiers stop bringing you their problems is the day you have stopped leading them. They have either lost confidence that you can help or concluded you do not care. Either case is a failure of leadership. – Colin Powell