Exceptional Employee Experiences Lead to Customer Success

The pandemic has been extremely challenging for many people and businesses in so many ways. But I’m always on the lookout for silver linings of even the darkest clouds, and one opportunity this situation has given us is the chance for a major rethink. Now that change is being fostered and encouraged, what else can we change for the better? So many parts of our lives have been upended, and so quickly, that it’s brought into stark reality exactly what’s essential, and what’s not.

The common thread through this all—challenge and change alike—is humanity. In our professional and personal lives, we’re all consumers, searching for great experiences that keep us coming back for more. And now more than ever, consumers hold the power, with an ever-expanding menu of options. One bad experience and you’ve lost them.

Clearly, customer success is essential. After all, customer success is business success. But how do we grow and sustain that?

The answer is to work from the inside out.

This is why I’ve always strived to be a people-focused leader. It’s not just semantics. The word “people” encompasses everyone. Importantly, that includes employees. I firmly believe that a great customer experience starts with a great employee experience.

Let’s unpack that concept a bit more and uncover what really drives rewarding customer experiences.

It starts with leaders

First, lead. 

This isn’t just lip-service leadership. For this to truly work, it’s critical that leaders take personal responsibility for building and nurturing a customer-focused culture, and fully supporting their employees in service of that goal. 

It’s not as simple as it sounds. According to a recent Forrester survey of U.S. employees, only 44% believe their leaders hold themselves accountable for exceptional customer experiences.[1] That’s a sad stat, but one that shows ample room for improvement. Even if leaders are setting a customer-focused tone, it’s clearly not translating well to the rest of the organisation—including those most often interacting with customers.

Just telling your employees that you’re going to focus on ensuring fantastic customer experiences isn’t going to work. Repeating the words “customer first” in all your emails and Zoom calls isn’t enough.

Actions create change, not words. When leaders embrace—and model—a customer-first mentality, it cascades through the organisation, positively impacting everything from hiring similarly customer-focused people to dedicating budget to employee training, resources and recognition.

The Forrester research is crystal clear here: 89% of respondents in the most customer-focused organisations felt they had the tools, technologies and information they needed to succeed.

The list of these change-making actions is long, and maybe you can’t do everything right away. But start small and make your intentions clear: You’re listening and responding to your employees’ needs.

Think about things like giving them the space they need to be creative. Fostering a nimble environment that allows for quick adaptation to changing customer needs and circumstances. Measuring their experiences and then acting on the results. Automating manual processes and removing roadblocks. And supporting their health and wellness—both physical and mental.

If you’re customer-focused, you’re probably already doing a lot of these things for your customers. The point here is to replicate that same intent and laser focus—and create great experiences for your employees.

Budgets and behaviors

All the methods mentioned so far around improving employee and customer experience certainly take dedication and leadership. But without budget, they can be hard to achieve.

There’s a plan for that.

At Docusign, I get to be part of a world-class organisation that’s maniacally focused on the customer and their success—which means there’s also willingness and resources put toward creating rewarding experiences for employees as well. But that doesn’t mean I don’t have to work to continue to strengthen that culture every day. And it also doesn’t mean that you’re in a similar situation.

One approach is to position customer experience as part of every employee’s role, not just those who interface with customers, or have customer success in their titles. Every interaction a customer has with your brand should be positive and memorable. That’s why it’s so important for leaders to frame each department’s mission—whether finance, sales, design, digital, or support—as having a direct impact on customer success.

Creating these memorable moments keeps customers happy and helps prove that customer success is a real business driver, justifying further investment internally.

Yet, sometimes the budget just isn’t there, so search for those opportunities where momentum can be made in small, incremental steps, and at a lower cost.

Data is key here. Did those small changes lead to a better employee experience? Did that in turn lead to a better customer experience? Given the myriad ways now available to gather and measure data, it’s easier than ever to show a return on these initiatives, which should lead to further investment. It might even be true that your existing efforts are already having an impact, but the data just hasn’t been analysed in a way that shows it.

No matter how you slice the data to prove the business benefits, one through-line must remain: Every change you make must improve the employee and customer experience in a measurable way.

If anyone in the decision chain is having a hard time grasping that, it’s time to preach the power of empathy. Have leaders spend time learning and experiencing the day-to-day realities of their employees who interact with customers. Have them talk with customers to get an intimate understanding of their challenges and needs. Have you lost customers? Dig in and find out why. And then share all of these insights and take action.

Additionally, you have to help break the cost-centre mentality. Employees and customers aren’t just lines on a spreadsheet or numbers expressed in a bottom line. They’re all people searching for simplicity and success.

Moving forward

Growing and reinforcing a customer-focused culture starts with people-focused leaders. Equipping your employees with the right resources—empowerment, automation, tools and budget—will help them create rewarding customer experiences while thriving in their careers. Done right, it’s a virtuous circle. Altruism pays off in the near term by enriching the lives of everyone associated with your business, and in the long term by improving your bottom line.

I recently had a wonderful conversation with James McQuivey, Vice President and Principal Analyst at Forrester, about how the employee and customer experience are entwined. If you’re interested in diving deeper into this topic, you can watch our discussion, "The People-Focused Leader: Key Strategies for Driving Customer and Employee Success" now.


[1] Forrester, “The Customer-Obsessed Leader, 2021