Develop the right mix internally for an experience-led strategy

digital marketing strategy
  • Prioritise your employee engagement to grow a customer-centric culture

Most businesses attest to the pivotal role of customers in their success stories. Indeed, many invest a significant amount of resources in rewarding customers for their loyalty. This way, they are confident that the customers will stay loyal to the brand for as long as it takes. For four consecutive years up to 2020, Amazon was crowned the brand loyalty leader in the US. This was attributed to the business’ focus on customer engagement and loyalty to several brands.

Putting the customer first can bring great rewards as customers pay you back by patronising your services or products unfailingly. In the words of Jim Goodnight, Founder and CEO of SAS Institute, we must address 3 difficult questions most industry players are grappling with if we want to thrive in the new normal. These are: getting to know your customers, keeping them engaged and loyal to your brand, and balancing your budget to keep both customers and management happy. No clear answers here except to say that it pays to learn a lot more about the customer.

To address your Customers’ needs effectively you need a mix of tools and processes to harness your internal strengths and resources. Your likelihood of success in this endeavour will be enhanced when your employees are aligned with your goals. Several things that will help your cause include (but not limited to) employees connecting with customers, focusing on building a customer intelligent business, well-thought-out journey mapping (Customer and Employee), appointing a lead to drive customer engagement.

Employee emotions connect with your customer experience

Your employees form the fulcrum of this strategy. Some organisations have demonstrated their understanding of the significant role employees play in keeping their customers happy and have rewarded their efforts through the introduction of people’s first policies while sadly a good many others have failed to provide any cushion of support to their employees. For example, Retailer Next in the UK, which had closed its physical stores ahead of the government’s covid-19 guidelines voluntarily closed its online operation due to concerns about the risk posed to employees in its warehouse and distribution centre.

At Airbnb employees who were laid off received support from an Airbnb dedicated team to help find roles for those who lost their jobs. They also offered ex-colleagues up to four months of external career services support and the ability to keep their company laptops. In Ghana, Health workers offered extraordinary support for unfortunate victims of the COVID virus at the risk of their own lives.

For the customer agenda to be at the centre of the business strategy, employees must first be beneficiaries of the positive experience, the employee experience. However, experts have judged that this is an unachievable goal. With competing needs in any business, this unrealistic goal will require a major cultural and strategic shift. To address this in a more realistic way, experts advise being customer intelligent instead.

Be a Customer Intelligent Company

The customer intelligent company leverages all of its knowledge and connects the customer into the very heart of its operation and decision making. Think of your own life experience regarding a product you have tried, following adverts you may have seen which unfortunately did not live up to the hype. The human experience did not reach the standard set by the advert. It means the investment in the advert did not fully crystallise for the customer.

In a family where apple products exist you are likely to find that the apple device is credited with emotions, such that you probably will hear the children say ‘can iPad go to school with us tomorrow?’ It means that iPad is seen as a member of the family, and it means Apple has effectively bridged the gap between technology and emotions. The customer intelligent company understands customer empathy and manages its relationship with the customer by carefully nurturing an internal culture that thrives on great employee experience.

Employees feel a greater sense of value, are happier and more engaged, and are motivated to learn new skills. Google offers a great example of deliberately creating an environment where the concerns of employees are promptly addressed. In 2007 they noticed a lot of women leaving the company, HR analytics revealed the reason why they were leaving in hordes. Their response was to change the paid maternity leave from 12 weeks to 5 months. The attrition rate of women decreased by 50% following that policy change.

The fact is that where business performance takes precedence over customer attention this can be costly in terms of customer promise. So, for example when Apple decided to withdraw the bulk of its frontline staff in stores, their customers reacted strongly and demanded a return to the practice. They listened and the rest is history. Time and budgets spent resolving problems can be high if we miss out on responding to the customers’ needs ‘outside in’.

There are 2 lessons we can learn from this. A good question to reflect on is, whether your staff knows what experience they are required to deliver based on their understanding of your company’s mission and goals. The advantage here is that if they are aligned with the organisation’s mission, it will reflect on their customer relationship in various ways, such as being friendly and focusing on consistent improvements to make your company’s products and services stand out.

Next, your team must understand the precise points in the journey where value is created or destroyed. Findings show that there is a range of emotional clusters which may enhance or destroy the customers’ experience. These are the advocacy clusters where a happy customer is likely to be an advocate, as was the case with Michael Gerber who shared his personalised hotel experience as a positive one, or the Amazon experience of handing you a good buy based on their observation of your browsing history.

Managing the Customer Journey

The Customer Experience Workshop is one of the opportunities for you to enhance the capacity of your team members and ultimately support a customer-focused culture. The challenge with customer experience is that as consumers, we can promptly point out several companies with great customer experiences. However, we struggle to define what tangible components make each experience unique. This notwithstanding top tier businesses know they are in the business of enhancing their customer experience and spare no effort in ensuring that they optimise every interaction and impression their customers have with their products and services.

Alan Pennington (2018) refers to the customer journey as “a structured way to understand and capture your customer’s wants, needs, and expectations at each stage of their experience with your company”. By capturing individual interactions from the customer’s viewpoint from initial awareness to leave and perhaps return, a business can potentially enhance the experience of the customer to gain market leverage and business growth. The customer journey map (CJM) gives an ‘outside-in’ perspective of the customer journey for your company.

The CJM is of great value if used appropriately. As a business there are key things we must learn about the CJM which can potentially change our story. A few things to learn about the CJM include the following: the difference between a CJM and a process map, who is responsible for creating the CJM, the design process of a CJM, and the employee journey map (EJM).

The Employee Journey Map

This highlights the role of individuals in creating a culture that allows employees to engage proactively with the customer. A lucid employee journey map (EJM) will ensure that the customer agenda is ingrained in the day-to-day activities of the company. Key questions to ask here include: how well you connect all your employees to the end customer, whether you have an employee proposition and whether your culture encourages customer focus.

By creating an EJM, you give your teams the leverage to drive improvements in a great way to support the cultural shift required to allow the company to engage more effectively with the customer, and the customer experience. Creating an EJM presents you with the context to establish those sweet spots where you inject a strong customer component into the employee interactions. A company that takes EJM seriously will take steps to ensure that its induction process focuses on the importance of the customer to everyone in the company. There are many opportunities during a working day to reinforce the importance of the customer to the business and they are neither expensive nor difficult to implement.

Who is responsible for creating the CJM?

Once your employee orientation is complete it paves the way for you to address the customer’s concern leveraging on your internal strengths. Your ‘inside-out’ perspective (mindsets) is now poised to address the needs of the customer intuitively. The customer journey map is pivotal to addressing the ‘outside-in’ customer perspective. Therefore, in setting up your customer experience team, it is imperative that you carefully identify the right mix of internal stakeholders who will fully commit to your avowed quest of engaging the customer and leave a mark that would make them come back for more, stay and eventually become advocates.

To begin with, you may draw some 12 to 15 people from across the business, both vertically and horizontally, as well as including a variety of levels and functions. This helps to bring together different perspectives to showcase how both front and back-office can contribute to the process. Have a mix of cross-functional actors e.g. legal, HR, Sales, service operations, and marketing. Also included in your team are influencers who will go back into the office and talk positively about their experience and create engagement within their peer group.

Another group to include in the team are motivated, engaged and vocal colleagues, these have the energy and capability to mobilise peers and create engagement to champion the customer’s interest.  Furthermore, have a blend of youth and experience to represent a variety of customer viewpoints and voices in the room. To create a positive feel around attendance, you may also include a senior executive to be part of the team to help gain recognition for the team and add weight to their efforts. In large organisations, this is crucial where the need to navigate political minefields could potentially make or unmake your attempt at creating interesting experiences.

Rethinking your experience strategy to step-up growth: Keep doing what works best and aim to improve   The Writer is a Management Consultant (Change and Customer Experience). He can be reached on 059 175 7205, [email protected], Manuel



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