Why employee and customer experience go hand in hand for the brand of tomorrow
Adapting your business to ensure employees are engaged is just as important as responding to new consumer behaviours, if brands want to be seen as customer experience leaders after the pandemic.
What does your customer want from you today? That was the question posed by Roy Capon, CEO of Zone and head of digital experience at Cognizant, to two of the UK’s foremost marketers - Katie McAllister, CMO at Tui UK and Ireland, and Ali Jones, customer director at Co-op - at this year’s Festival of Marketing.
Both McAllister and Jones work in sectors that have been dramatically impacted by Covid, but in distinctly different ways. McAllister has been navigating a travel marketplace that was almost customer-free for significant periods of time, while Jones has had to guide Co-op through a time of unprecedented demand pressures.
Freedom to dream
“People are out of practice [when it comes to] travelling,” said McAllister. “We need to help people understand how we’re making travelling as accessible and easy as it has ever been. There’s a piece around building confidence and we really need to inspire people – inspire them to dream.”
It is a delicate balance to strike. McAllister acknowledged that the traffic-light system of travel restrictions and simplified Covid testing regimes will certainly help rebuild confidence in travel, despite the prospect that they will be in place in some form for a while yet. As the economy has opened up, she noted, there has recently been a “massive uptick” in travel sales, which is giving cause for optimism. But there is no doubt that the consumer is in a very delicate place, emotionally.
“People haven’t had the permission to dream about great experiences for a little while, so we’re simply putting that back on the agenda,” she added.
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But while travel may be a space to dream for consumers, it is a dream that is very much led by the people working in the sector; people who have recently faced a great deal of uncertainty in terms of job security and how they can go about their work – if at all.
There is no shortage of research to support the philosophy that employee experience directly impacts on customer experience. In a recent Forrester study sponsored by Cognizant, 64% of businesses that allowed their staff to focus their energies on better serving customers said they had already realised or were expecting higher revenue as a result. Furthermore, 58% of customer experience managers found CX was hindered by a lack of investment in employees.
Capon said: “Businesses and organisations that have heavily invested in - not just prioritised - employee and partner enablement are leading the way in terms of customer experience. It's that notion that, to be customer-centric, you must first be employee-centric.”
“Work is what you do, not where you go,” is Tui’s mantra for employees, established since the company decided to implement full-time flexible working. McAllister noted that the hybrid working model will present challenges, notably “how to make sure everyone can be as productive and feel as fulfilled as possible”, but she added that it is certainly an important part of Tui’s strategy today.
“Our job is to find the stories that connect with audiences and engage customers.”
Emily Latham, Channel 4
A changing landscape
Flexible working has certainly benefited a large swathe of the population and been one of the few positives to emerge from the pandemic. People have finally realised the ability to recalibrate their work-life balance. But the shift in working habits has also changed how people shop in city-centre stores, for example, with workers not buying groceries there as frequently as they would have done in 2019.
“All those stores that we have in central Manchester or Birmingham, the mobilisation of trade there is now very different to what it was pre-pandemic,” revealed the Co-op’s Jones. “A good 40% of customers will still work from home quite a bit of the time, so that changes the dynamics in [city-centre stores].”
Footfall aside, Jones noted that it was a nice touch that convenience store staff were recognised as key workers during the Covid lockdowns, but it also meant employees were truly put on the front line. With many customers nervous, scared and even angry, the store staff occasionally bore the brunt of some strong emotions. “Our colleagues are tired. They kept going through the pandemic and so we’ve got a lot of work to do in getting them feeling re-energised for 2022.”
Jones said that Co-op hopes to “bring the joy back into shopping” for both customers and employees, after a period when buying groceries often became a fraught experience, thanks to Covid. “There’s a shift in mindset from what was once a necessity, a scary purchase, to [being] there to help them with their lives and bring some enjoyment back into the foods [they buy].”
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Co-op's Ali Jones on its focuses on colleagues, community and planet
A pivotal moment
For many, the pandemic has meant a reset – sometimes necessarily, as habits have changed permanently and so brands have had to redefine what they mean to consumers. But for both Tui and Co-op, this has meant reiterating core values and bringing them to customers in today’s new context.
“Being a co-operative has meant we always had incredibly strong values,” Jones insisted. “We redefined what a modern Co-op was last year and the pandemic accelerated that. Purpose-driven brands are even more at the forefront of what consumers are looking for.” She cited some of the work the company is doing around food poverty in conjunction with campaigning Premier League footballer Marcus Rashford, as well as the chain’s mental health work.
With the COP26 UN climate change summit at the forefront of people’s minds, she also noted some of the critical work the business is doing around sustainability. “We have to join hands together – all supermarkets and businesses – to make a step change. Having a vision has been a forceful way of focusing on what is important to us as a business and delivering propositions that support that vision,” she claimed.
At Tui, the importance of vision and core values is equally strong, particularly in the face of a consumer base that is re-evaluating the place travel occupies in their hierarchy of needs. “We refreshed our purpose based on the premise that travel is one of the only things that you can spend money on but that actually makes you richer. We have to translate that into what that means for the customer through the types of experiences that we offer,” McAllister explained
Again, the ‘richness’ of experience has to apply as much to employees as to customers and she added that the company is actively engaged in finding ways to add value to the lives of its staff. “How we make life richer for our employees – there are standard benefit schemes but also [it’s about] looking after their wellbeing and how we’re helping them return to work from furlough and feel engaged with the customer experience.”
This has included delving into employee feedback around wellbeing, the insights from which have been rolled into Tui’s ‘The Power of How Are You?’ strategy, where managers take time to have conversations with employees.
Insight on the ground
Engaged employees are also partly behind the insights that are driving both companies’ new customer experiences into 2022 and beyond. Co-op has 4 million active members who shop with the company across grocery and other services, but Jones said: “You can’t beat the evidence and insight that comes from colleagues on the ground. As soon as the leaders are able, [they will] get back into the stores and spend time talking to colleagues, listening to them and hearing what they’re experiencing in their local communities.”
This has extended to the company’s recruitment processes, where Jones stated that the company has shifted its policy from basing hiring decisions purely on retail experience, towards basing them on individual values and beliefs. It looks for “[people who] want more fulfilment from their role and have a natural disposition to play into what the Co-op stands for”.
Tui’s McAllister agreed that understanding both the employee and customer experience in tandem is the route to future success, noting that conversations with the company’s customers “helped shape our proposition and replan some of our restart activity from a customer point of view. Supporting people checking into flights is a really clear example of putting feedback into action. The pandemic has meant that we’ve got better and faster at acting on data and that’s something we need to take forwards into this new world.”
She concluded: “The sweet spot on this customer and employee data-gathering is to make sure all your colleagues can see your customer data, because that’s when they can start to see the customer’s experience, and they can all get really innovative around how to improve it and the part that they play.” ■