I’ve written about inside out thinking and behavior a few times, but today’s focus on inside out is a little different.

I often receive requests to train employees on how to deliver a great customer experience. Awesome. I love where they’re headed with that request, but there’s so much more to delivering a great experience than simply training employees to do so. (Yes, that’s a part of it, but not the first part.) As I like to say, you have to fix what’s happening on the inside (leadership, culture, employees) before you can fix what’s happening or do better on the outside (for customers, vendors, partners, and others in your ecosystem).

In my post about the Building Blocks of a Customer Experience Strategy, I talk about the foundational or fundamental elements that must be in place to deliver a great customer experience. There’s a reason for that. If you don’t have these elements in place, you can do all the training you want, but it likely won’t make sense for employees, and the experience will be inconsistent for customers. Plus any changes you make will likely be tactical or lipstick on a pig; you’ve got to start at the root to truly improve the experience overall.

And it’s no surprise that these foundational elements are all things that must be in place internally.

  • Leadership commitment and alignment, which means the leadership/executive team has chosen to commit to the work that lies ahead and support each other in achieving the goal.
  • Culture must be defined and deliberately designed to be customer-centric, putting the customers’ best interests at the center of all that you do.
  • Core values are defined, associated and acceptable behaviors that are in line with your customer-centric goals are outlined, and the values are socialized and operationalized.
  • Mission, vision, purpose, and brand promise that are clearly communicated and lived.
  • Employees and their experience are put more first, with the acknowledgement that they are the driving force behind a great customer experience.
  • Customer understanding through listening, developing personas, and mapping customer journeys and corresponding service blueprints, with decisions made and actions taken based on what is learned. Don’t forget about linking your operational data to each of these learnings.
  • A governance structure that outlines not only the people involved in the transformation but also their roles and responsibilities as well as rules and guidelines on how they’ll execute the various components of the strategy (think change agents and change management).
  • Organizational adoption and alignment, which means employees must understand the what, the so what, and the now what – and be involved in both the decisions to be made and the work to be done; attempting to execute a strategy when employees are not engaged or aligned with it will prove to be futile.

Here’s the thing: if you start training employees about the customer experience without all of these elements having been established first, the training will feel out of left field for employees. “Why are we doing this?” will be a common question, and they’ll roll their eyes and think of it as another flavor-of-the-month thing. And it’ll be disjointed from “how we do things around here.”

Let’s talk about employee experience for a minute. In What Exactly is Employee Experience, I defined it as:

Employee experience is the sum of all interactions that an employee has with her employer during the duration of her employment relationship. It includes any way the employee “touches” or interacts with the company and vice versa in the course of doing her job. And it includes the actions and capabilities that enable her to do her job. And, importantly, it includes her feelings, emotions, and perceptions of those interactions and capabilities.

Their experience is rooted in the “soft stuff,” as well as the “hard stuff,” both of which I explain in that post. The hard stuff is all about the tools, the resources (yes, including training), policies that aren’t outdated, processes that aren’t broken, the workplace, the workspace. But here’s the rub. When I interview employees as I begin new client engagements, they often complain that they don’t have these things (the hard stuff) “to serve their customers the way they deserve to be served.” Take note. The employee experience is mission critical to delivering a great customer experience – and your employees get it. They know what they need to deliver a great experience for customers – and it’s not always training. You need to take a look at what you’re doing to ensure they have what they need before customers can have a great experience.

But let’s go back to the comment I made above about “how we do things around here.” By definition, that’s culture. And I believe that culture is a precursor to the employee experience. They are definitely not one and the same, but when the culture is clearly defined, socialized, and operationalized, it just makes everything else easier. There’s no question about how you do things, what’s right or wrong, or how what you do aligns with the purpose of the organization. And when you have a customer-centric culture (better yet, let’s call it people-centric, although to have a customer-centric culture, you must put employees more first), training on how to deliver a great customer experience is a natural fit.

Make sure you’ve got these foundational elements in place if you want to deliver a great customer experience. Top of that list must be, in this order: leadership commitment and alignment, a customer-centric culture, and a focus on employees more first. That’s what I mean by transforming the customer experience from the inside out. Get your house in order. Start with the culture and your people. Fix those first. Customers will (and do) see it and feel it.

Culture is the optimal performance driver. It is an unsigned contract between an organization and its employees that gives individuals license to accomplish goals and get things done without the burden of worry or uncertainty about negative repercussions. And every employee in an organization has the power to amplify or detract from its culture. -Gallup

Annette Franz, CCXP is an internationally recognized customer experience thought leader, coach, speaker, and author. She recently published her first book, Customer Understanding: Three Ways to Put the “Customer” in Customer Experience (and at the Heart of Your Business); it’s available on Amazon in both paperback and Kindle formats. Sign up for our newsletter for updates, insights, and other great content that you can use to up your CX game.

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