According to Roy Morgan Research, this year Australians are spending more on movies, dining out and other experiences than on groceries, continuing an upward trend for ‘want’ versus ‘need’ spending. Welcome to the experience economy, where the quality of the customer experience plays a pivotal role in whether a business succeeds or fails.

 

Every touchpoint in this customer experience shapes customer sentiment. With employees as a crucial touchpoint, having a workforce of brand ambassadors that delivers a consistently differentiated customer experience has never been more vital. To build that workforce, marketing and HR need to work together in equal partnership.

In the experience economy, happy staff make for happy customers, and happy customers lead to higher brand loyalty, more sales and bigger profits. Share earnings for companies with highly-engaged employees are nearly 150% higher than for other companies.

Clearly, the employee and customer experiences are inextricably entwined, yet the related programs are usually planned and run separately. However, I’m starting to notice a willingness for closer strategic alignment.

This is a good start, but strategies alone don’t change behaviours. Whether it’s designed to improve the customer experience, the employee experience or both, a strategy stands or falls on its execution. And execution needs the relentless clarity, drive and focus that only leaders can provide.

 

Doing things differently

Most leaders don’t understand how putting as much effort into the employee as the customer experience can drive growth, despite some high-profile examples. Richard Branson built the Virgin brand around providing a superior experience for customers and staff. Tony Hsieh, who founded billion-dollar online shoe retailer Zappos, made employee happiness the cornerstone of his brand promise to deliver a ‘WOW’ customer experience.

More recently, the founders of successful UK start-ups O2 and Innocent designed the employee experience and customer experience together, and in Australia, Transurban, HCF and NRMA are seeing great results with similar leader-led approaches. I’d like more organisations to do the same, especially those in service-based industries such as telecommunications, banking and retail sales.

 

The importance of getting the employee experience right

To achieve true synergy between the two experiences, you might have to break some traditional rules. Volkswagen’s new director of customer experience, who works closely with the people function, has introduced an enterprise-wide insights platform that brings together the employee and customer experience.

He reports that combining departments and systems which historically operate separately was challenging but necessary, because Volkswagen’s people are central to its customer experience goals. Volkswagen is a great example of how the experience economy is forcing marketing and HR to redefine how they work together. I expect we’ll be seeing more of it.

 

Ramping up the employee and customer experience

1. Be curious and immersed in both areas

Connect directly, deeply and regularly with customers and employees so you understand their wants and needs. Keep abreast of new data and insights and be ready to realign processes, technology and people in response to change.

2. Drive strategic alignment

Ensure your heads of marketing and HR collaborate and align their strategies so they are in harmony and apply the same brand values. If the brand represents authenticity and honesty to customers, the employee experience should reflect that.

3. Cultivate a differentiated culture

A unique culture that’s in line with your brand personality inspires loyalty and pride in customers and employees and attracts the right people.

4. Communicate what good looks like

Make your leaders responsible for embedding, modelling and incentivising correct behaviours. They should know what comprises an outstanding customer and employee experience and how to lead their teams in delivering both.

5. Give customers and employees a voice

Consult and collaborate with both groups so strategies are co-created. Let them know you empathise with and respect them and that you value their input, and personalise their experience so they remain loyal and passionate.