Aligning Employee and Customer Experiences

As far back as the late 1990s, the shift to an experience economy has been a focus of consumer marketing. Customer journey maps now chart sticky consumer experiences designed to deepen brand loyalty at every touchpoint with a product or service. But if those touch points are often with employees as the human face of a brand, why haven’t the customer and employee experiences been more closely aligned?

In the experience economy, engaged employees who live the brand make for engaged customers who love the brand. But what does it take to turn employees into brand ambassadors when advocacy can only ever be an outcome of engagement and trust in the workplace? Here are three critical success factors:

  1. Align the internal and external brands. In his wise Harvard Business Review article, “Selling the Brand Inside,” Colin Mitchell details why it’s important to market your company’s brand internally. “It’s the best way to help employees make a powerful emotional connection to the products and services you sell,” he notes. Without that connection, employees “can undermine the expectations set by your advertising if they don’t understand what you have promised the public and they end up working at cross-purposes.” Worse, if “they don’t actually believe in the brand and feel disengaged, they could actually become resentful toward your company. When people care about and believe in the brand, they’re motivated to work harder, and their loyalty to the company increases. Employees are unified and inspired by a common sense of purpose and identification with the brand they represent.”

    By weaving your brand messages into employees’ everyday experiences, managers can ensure that on-brand behavior becomes instinctive. A great example of this is the decision REI* made to reinforce its purpose-led brand to “opt outside” with its own staff by closing their stores on Black Friday, the day after U.S. Thanksgiving, regarded as the first day of the traditional Christmas shopping season. In 2015, Edelman helped REI announce that not only was it closing all its retail stores on the biggest shopping day of the year, giving every employee the day off to enjoy the outdoors, but it was also encouraging everyone else to do the same in its advertising — an exemplary melding of internal and external brands that felt completely authentic to all stakeholders.

    REI also offers employees “Yay Days,” two paid days off each year to “live their passion for the outdoors,” whether that means kayaking with their family or doing volunteer work to build national park trails. As one employee said, “I think Yay Days are great. And this reminds me why I love working at REI. I think that transfers to helping people in the store.”
  2. Purposefully chart intertwined employee and customer (or patient) experiences. In the same way that consumer marketing crafts customer (or patient) experience journeys with specific outcomes in mind, the employee experience can also be mapped to address what an employee is thinking and feeling at each stage of that same journey (or even the entire employee lifecycle). By staying relentlessly focused on the human insights at each stage of such journeys, you can craft unique approaches where the employee experience reinforces the customer one. 

    Northwell Health hospital system created and disseminated a Culture of C.A.R.E. (Connectedness, Awareness, Respect, and Empathy) throughout the organization to drive a common patient and employee experience. By nurturing this culture of C.A.R.E., Northwell Health’s employees live the fundamental core values of the organization through their interactions with one another and with patients. This program motivates employees to live C.A.R.E. from the inside out. Since implementation, Northwell Health’s staff, starting with senior leadership, has become more patient-centered in their service delivery.

    Similarly, Edelman recently crafted a common customer/employee experience journey when PayPal launched its own Cash Back MasterCard. We created an immersive experience for potential card holders to convey the power of the card by standing up “convenience stores” at various locations that showcased the kinds of everyday household items that give customers 2 percent cash back and how fast the rewards stack up. We also took that store experience to PayPal’s San Jose, Calif., campus to educate employees – especially call center team members responsible for signing up new card holders – to give them a deeper understanding of how easy it is to turn purchases into extraordinary rewards. This one-day activation caught the attention of employees all over campus. They snapped photos of themselves in the Instagram-able installations, participated in a travel sweepstakes and advocated for the card on their own social media. Thousands of employees attended the event and supported the card launch, generating social media enthusiasm “from the inside out.”Cash Back MasterCard


  3. Help CHROs and CCOs row in the same direction as one team. In most organizations currently, the employee experience and the customer experience are planned and run separately; CHROs and CMOs never link arms to align their shared talent brand and consumer brand attributes. Unfortunately, rarely do human resources and marketing work collaboratively with communications to sync internal and external brand narratives for both employees and customers. Instead, these three functions often take a competitive “frenemies” stance instead of reaping the benefits of examining voice of the customer and voice of the employee commonalities. If these teams align on the internal and external brand characteristics and experience journeys, they’re likely to find they get more literal bang for their buck — in the marketplace and in terms of human capital engagement and retention.

Cydney Roach is EVP, U.S. Employee Experience Lead.

*Edelman client

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