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  • Writer's pictureNiall Ryan

Employee Experience & Customer Experience - Two Sides of the Same Coin

Updated: Mar 3, 2020

Customer and Employee Experience –Two Sides of The Same Coin

I attended a customer experience (CX) conference recently, where I was asked by another delegate what employee experience (EX) actually is, as she believed it to be benefits platforms – this is not the first time I have come across confusion about what EX is. It is like how employee engagement was defined as everything but the kitchen sink, 10-15 years ago.

Hence, the conversation prompted me to write this article to share my viewpoint as a practitioner and advocate of employee experience and share what I believe EX to be, based on my career working with and consulting for world renowned brands, such as Harrods, Liberty, AXA and a variety of start-ups, all of whom are focused on delivering exceptional customer/brand experiences. In future articles I will share my thoughts on how communications, technology, design thinking, UX etc. play a pivotal role in enhancing the employee experience.

The Experience Economy

What I have experienced in my time working for consumer brands, is the seismic shift in customer expectations; sometimes referred to as the rise of the experience economy, where customers look for more emotionally driven connections with the brands, products and services they love. For those of you familiar with retail, it has become one of the most highly disrupted and competitive sectors, not just because of technology, but changing consumer attitudes. Brand loyalty is eroding and a heightened awareness among consumers, that brands are willing to incentivise them for their loyalty, only compounds the problem. Retail brands who have failed to adjust, now cease to exist, or are going the wall. Nothing sharpens your focus than an existential crisis!

Employee and Customer Relationship Management

It was approx. 10 years ago, before the term employee experience was coined, that I had an enlightened conversation between myself and the customer relationship management director at Harrods. We were discussing the challenges of the consumer landscape, what the brand was doing to retain valuable customers, her strategy in particular etc. However, this progressively minded leader acknowledged that all her efforts were being potentially impeded and undermined by wider organisational factors outside of her control.

Our conversations focused on how we could align techniques for employee relationship and customer relationship management. She shared with me the following simple model (customer lifecycle) that would demonstrate the interdependency of the customer and employee relationship and create a narrative for us to discuss and influence others, in how to think about and develop strategies to improve the EX and CX.

Customer Lifecycle Model

The parallels I drew from the above model were as follows (I’ve numbered them for ease)

1. You would expect an employer and managers to be interested in their employees and treat them as individuals

2. We want our employees to work somewhere where it is straightforward for them to do their work with little bureaucracy and plenty of autonomy

3. Employers are expected to fulfil many needs for their employees; support ongoing development, be supportive in times of need etc.

4. The job advertised should represent what people will be doing. Employers are expected to give fair compensation and reward as well as provide opportunities to learn, develop, be considered for promotion etc.

5. Employees are listened to , paid fairly, recognised, empowered, encouraged to exceed

6. Employees want to feel they are the right cultural fit and feel happy with their job decision

7. We want employees engaged and loyal – to feel connect to the organisations purpose, be inspired by leadership, believe they are adding value, have great relationships with their managers and love their job

8. We would want our employees to willingly advocate and speak positively about their employer to friends and family

EX/CX Misalignment

The viewpoint this model uncovered became a focus and a catalyst for me to play my part in influencing change in the many areas that were impeding the customer experience for the brands I worked for. The goal was to find where misalignment between EX and CX were barriers to creating the magic moments, and a brands ability to exceed their customers’ expectations. This being important, as it will aid the maintenance and development of deeper relationships - trusting, loyal, more profitable etc.

But the brand experience/magic moments are reliant upon employees who are empowered, willing and able to go above and beyond what is expected of them and what their customer expects. Only yesterday, I received my favourite, strong white cappuccino from an assistant called Laura at Pret a Manger.

I would say EX is not about luxury brands like Harrods, LVMH tec. Primark largest stores include Disney cafés, hair salons, nail bars, bespoken t-shirt printing, and much more. It is not just retail brand brands either, Adobe – a leading technology brand, has done lots of amazing work in the EX space, ensuring their employees can deliver for their product and service users.

EX is not an HR problem!

The first and crucial acknowledgment for any business focusing on developing their employee experience is that this is not a HR problem, laundry list, policy issue etc. On a day to day basis the more prevalent barriers to employees being able to do their job and go above and beyond for whoever their customer is, is dictated by many factors such as purpose, values, leadership, decision making processes, poorly designed systems, procedures and so on.

In my experience as a change agent I have spent time designing and facilitating changes to the employee experience that spanned HR, communications, IT, strategy, leadership impact, diversity and inclusion, user experience and so on.


Thinking back to the model and the parallels to the employee relationship, I would encourage you to think about the impact on your customers if some or all the above statements were not as you would desire. How would this affect the delivery of your customer proposition as well as impact your customers and business.

I am will share articles in the future talking about how employee experience, engagement, the employee lifecycle, employer value propositions and the employer brand all fit together and how communications is a pivotal toll to bring the employee experience to life.

I am sitting in Starbucks writing this article with a sense of disloyalty to Pret, which I mentioned earlier. I am being disloyal to Pret, not just the brand, but the employee - Laura, who was empowered to exceed my expectations.

Niall Ryan is an independent consultant who support organisations define and develop people strategies that enhance the employee experience and business performance.

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