Is employee experience as important as customer experience?

Superheroes Friends Fist Bump Happiness Concept

When we think about an organisation becoming customer-centric, we typically think about how to satisfy our customers through a better understanding of their needs and pain points. However, I believe that most organisations critically “undercook” the design of the employee experience that supports the customer.

Sure, we design systems and processes that simplify things for our customers and often that consequently also improves things for our employees, but how far did we really go to actually ‘design’ the employee experience? Is it luck when the employee experience improves or is it a by-product of satisfying our customer’s needs? If an organisation is to be truly customer-centric, I believe it needs to place as much importance on the design of the employee experience as on that of the customer experience; and not just for those employees at the front line.

What is the employee experience?

So, what do I mean when I talk about employee experience? It’s part of an organisational progression beginning with employee productivity and efficiency, then moving to employee engagement, and most recently to employee experience.

The difference between employee engagement and experience is one of longevity. Employee engagement is a transitory experience that comes and goes, whereas the employee experience is the way that employees view their work environment on a longer-term basis. “Engagement” implies projects that provide a “shot in the arm” to improve a specific area or for a specific purpose. But, designing an “experience” for employees implies a lasting change in the work environment that the employee is immersed in every day.

Many studies (such as the Temkin Group Employee Engagement Benchmark Study, 2017) have demonstrated the importance of the relationship between customer experience and employee engagement, but I believe that there is an even greater correlation between the quality of the customer experience and that of the employee experience, driven or underpinned by all the different employee experiences that exist within the organisation.

Intuitively, we all suspect this is true and have probably had an experience that resonates. Think about the last conversation you had with a call centre representative — how did you perceive the person on the other end of the call? Were they happy to be there, did you imagine they were smiling on the other end of the call or just putting on an act for you as the customer? My point here is that most customers can tell the difference between a scripted “Have a nice day” and a real wish for their well-being.

Whilst the above example is easily relatable, as the front-line staff interacts with the customer directly, I believe that the experiences of other employees in the organisation also play a significant part in influencing the resulting customer experience; and require attention if the organisation truly aspires to be customer-centric.

Employee Experience Influencers over Customer ExperienceDiagram

Designing the employee experience

In designing the employee experience to underpin a transformation to a customer-centric organisation, we should understand the typical motivations of each layer.

  • Shareholders/Business owners are motivated largely by outcomes such as growth, profitability, share price or even just survival in a static or shrinking market.
  • Executive Management is often focused on attaining the overall goals of the organisation’s owners or shareholders. This higher-level view requires that they understand the value of the customer experience in attaining those overall objectives.
  • Senior Management is mostly removed from the customer experience but can share some of the characteristics of the executives above them. However, they are generally more focused on their specific business area, and the operational measures by which they are rewarded. Senior management performance is typically composed of a mix of operational measures. Customer experience is just one them, as there are many organisational hygiene factors in which they are more directly involved.
  • Middle Management is usually indirectly engaged in the customer experience, often monitoring and measuring the performance of their staff. If these staff are customer-facing, this can involve things such as NPS scores or the effectiveness of customer process execution. However, not all managers are involved in these functions and so some may not see the relevance of the customer experience to their performance.
  • Back-office employees are typically not involved or only indirectly engaged in the customer experience processes. As a result they are rarely motivated by it.
  • Junior Management are often directly involved in the customer experience and are typically charged with maintaining and measuring it on a day-to-day basis. Employees in this layer are usually measured and rewarded similarly to the front-line staff they manage.  However, again, not all managers are involved in these functions and so they may not see the relevance of the customer experience to their performance.
  • Front-line staff are measured and rewarded, and hence motivated, by customer experience measures.

The Impermeable layer

The impermeable layer can be defined as a rigid, impervious layer that does a poor job of communicating staff ideas upward and vision and strategy from the top down, it is not a hierarchical layer but a perceived blockage in the organisation that frustrates progress in an organisation.

This layer usually occurs in the “middle management” layer but can sometimes extend up into senior management or occasionally down into the junior management layers. This layer has been described as “where implementation halts and where strategy goes to die.” In my experience, this layer is often forgotten in terms of specific “selling” of the desired customer experience and why it is important to them and their role to maintain and promote. Those in this layer are habitually beset by fear, uncertainty, and doubt; manifesting a need to maintain the status quo for reasons of job defence, maintaining relevance, preventing erosion of power or an existing empire, or status.

Without addressing employee experiences across an organisation, we risk undermining the customer experience and hampering the ability to keep up with the changing needs of customers.

As Sir Richard Branson is quoted as saying: “Clients do not come first. Employees come first. If you take care of your employees, they will take care of the clients.”

Three things to remember when commencing customer-centric transformations:

  1. Embrace design thinking, not only for designing your customer experience but also for all the employee experiences that support it.
  2. Consider the employee experience for the entire workforce not just those interacting with the customer.
  3. Specifically address the potential impermeable layer by helping them understand their role in the transformation and why it is important to everyone.

No organisation undertakes a customer (or digital) transformation just for the sake of being seen as more customer-centric. There is always an objective behind such an important and often costly transition. Even non-commercial organisations (such as governments or charities), in striving to better serve their customers, are also seeking to become more efficient or to reduce their costs.

I believe that making the benefits of such a transformation both achievable and sustainable involves the entire organisation understanding and focusing on the desired outcome. In order to achieve this you must design both the customer and employee experience to work together.

julian-donohue-headshotJulian Donohue is the Lead for Customer and Employee Experience disciplines within the Digital Transformation Practice in DXC Consulting Australia. Julian is currently leading various Customer Experience engagements for DXC. Julian’s interest is any area that impacts and improves customer experience. He is driven by integrity, accountability and a passion for process improvement through innovation. Taking his clients on a journey from envisioning to tangible results for their customers.


  1. Hopefully the relationship between a positive employee experience and customer experience is clear to everyone today. It’s a fact that both aspects know an increasing interest. What I’m interested in today are the similarities between both aspects and moreover the tools developped to optimize both. When I’m ready with my personal study, I’ll let you know through my next article on LinkedIn.

    • Eric, I share your hope but still come across organisations that pay lip service to this or are simply unaware. I would be interested in your personal study and blog. At DXC we have applied the traditional techniques used for customer experience to workforce experience (WX) and come up with a few new ways of mapping this practically into workplace initiatives.

  2. Customer Experience (CX) and employee (EX) or workforce experience (WX) are clearly linked, in fact they form a virtuous circle so the real answer is you cannot change one without affecting the other. The best answer therefore is that they are equally important !


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