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I originally wrote today’s post for TandemSeven. It appeared on their blog on January 7, 2016.

Fact: Without your employees, you have no customer experience.

The linkage between employee experience and customer experience has been proven. It’s real, and your employees matter.

What is the employee experience? It’s the sum of all interactions that an employee has with his employer during the duration of his employment relationship.

If your employee experience is bad, it will be very difficult for employees to delight your customers. In very simple terms, this describes the spillover effect, defined as “the tendency of one person’s emotions to affect how other people around him feel.”

So how do we ensure that our employees are happy, engaged, and having a great experience? We ask them. We listen to them. We find out what’s going well and what’s not.

When you implement a formal program to listen to employees, the initiative is referred to as Voice of the Employee (VoE). In this blog, I’ll describe the context that a Voice of Employee program needs to thrive, effective employee listening methods, and how you can actually use those insights.

Components of a Voice of Employee Program
Companies listen to customers to understand them and their experience, but at the root of the customer experience is the employee experience. If employees aren’t happy, engaged, and equipped with the right tools and resources to do their jobs, then the customer suffers. Think about your interactions with companies like Southwest Airlines, Zappos, or Ritz-Carlton; these companies have created intentional cultures of employee experience, happiness, and engagement first because they know that if their employees are miserable, their customers will be, too.

So it’s important that we listen to employees and find out what’s keeping them from being able to delight customers.

Voice of the Employee programs consist of many different types of listening posts, including: employee engagement surveys, employee satisfaction surveys, culture assessments, transactional/event-based surveys (e.g., onboarding), exit surveys, stay interviews, 360 feedback loops, social media (e.g., Chatter, Yammer, or other internal social tools), suggestion boxes, and more.

Through listening and then through proper analysis, you can identify those factors that inhibit employees from doing the job they were hired to do and from delivering a great customer experience. Those inhibitors could include lack of coaching or training, inadequate or inappropriate tools and resources, and other barriers or frustrations that cause the employee to work inefficiently and ineffectively. When the effort employees put forth to do some task outweighs the benefit of completing said task, that’s problematic. For you and for the customer.

But I’ve gotten ahead of myself. Let’s go back to listening to employees and improving the employee experience. How do we do that? There are five very clear steps:

1. Map the employee journey for a variety of tasks that employees do every day

Journey mapping creates awareness for the steps that an employee takes to do whatever it is that he’s trying to do within the organization. Take a look at major tasks that you want to map, conduct mapping workshops, talk to employees about the steps they go through to do each task, and identify key moments of truth. Maps also identify areas where things are going well (or not) and where you’ll need to get more feedback from employees.

Maps really bring the employee experience to life, allowing company leadership to understand what employees are going through as they complete some task. I conducted an employee journey mapping workshop for a small retailer. The CEO and a few other executives sat in and listened for about an hour; they were curious what it was all about. I’m glad they stayed as long as they did. They were shocked to learn at how difficult they’d made it for their employees to do even some of the simplest tasks; they realized that even those simple tasks inhibited employees from being able to deliver a great customer experience, never mind the fact that they frustrated employees to the point of wanting to leave.

Maps also create the empathy that is equally important to creating a great employee experience as it is to creating a great customer experience. Maps will facilitate a culture transformation – to one that’s more employee-centric and customer-centric.

2. Listen to employees
There are a lot of ways to listen to employees, as I noted above. Each one has its purpose, but, ultimately, all of them are designed to ensure that the employee experience is optimal. Use what you learned during the journey mapping exercise to ensure you’re asking about the experience during the most important interactions, specifically the interactions that matter most to your employees. Make sure you’re asking the right questions so that you have the level of detail and actionability that you’ll need to improve the experience.

3. Pull it all together

You’ll be listening to employees at various touchpoints and across the employee relationship overall. You’ll need to put all of the feedback together and understand the experience along the employee experience journey and across the entire relationship. It’s important to understand not only how well the experience is at certain points in time, in the relationship, but also the big picture and how it all fits together.

4. Leverage feedback to drive experience and process improvements
The most important thing when you capture their feedback is that you must act on it – you must do something with it. Nothing frustrates employees more than when they tell their managers that something is wrong or when they spend time to complete surveys – and then management doesn’t listen and doesn’t act on what they’ve been told.

5. Line up tools and resources to get started

There’s a lot to do, and you’ll likely need some tools to help you get it all done and to help you build in a continuous improvement loop. Having one platform where you can bring all of your data and artifacts into one place so that they can be tracked, shared, and measured is ideal. If you’re not sure how to get started or what to do, you may need to enlist the help of a consultant, who can guide you through defining your strategy, mapping the journeys, listening to employees, ana
lyzing the findings, and putting it all to work. The consultant can also assist you in identifying and implementing the appropriate tools to facilitate improving the employee experience.

Why is this all important?
Besides the obvious reasons, engaged employees are more productive, stay longer, and want to see the business succeed – and they provide feedback and put forth the effort to make sure that happens. They drive customer happiness and loyalty, and ultimately, they drive the customer experience. Kevin Kruse has dubbed the following the Engagement-Profit Chain:

Engaged employees lead to…

•    Higher levels of service, quality, and productivity, which lead to…
•    Higher customer satisfaction, which leads to…
•    Increased sales (repeat business and referrals), which lead to…
•    Higher profits, which leads to…
•    Higher shareholder returns (i.e., stock price)

No one can argue with those outcomes!

Never forget that people buy from people. That’s a great reminder of why listening to employees and improving the employee experience are a priority in your organization.

The way your employees feel is the way your customers will feel. –Sybil F. Stershic