Obsessed With Your Customers? Don't Forget Your Employees

Customers today are more empowered than ever. In response, companies are becoming more and more customer-focused. With so much attention going to the customer, we worry companies are missing the bigger picture. Unless you set your employees up for success, it doesn’t matter what you want to build for the customer; your employees won’t get you where you want to go.

We sat down recently with a Vice President of Marketing at a client of ours to discuss this very scenario. A specific customer segment was projected to have nearly double the growth rate of other segments on which the business had traditionally focused. This growing customer segment was identified by leadership as a key, strategic focus for the business. The goal was to become obsessed with the needs of this growing segment so as to ensure success for the company in the future. From leadership’s seat atop the organization, the new direction became quite clear. They had data, analytics and a handful of pie charts showing them where to shift the organization’s thinking. 

The problem was employees weren’t wired that way. The pie charts didn’t resonate and leadership’s approach to challenging the broader organization to step up wasn’t helping. “It’s a little bit like the elephant and the rider,” recalls the VP. “The rider is very receptive to the pie charts, but the elephant needs more than just the rider kicking its butt.” 

Yes, the elephant needs more, and with so much focus going into obsessing over customers, how much focus is left to ensure the broader organization is being set up for a successful pivot? There are two challenges we see companies face when seeking to pivot their approach to customers in this new era:

First, there is an emotional challenge. Employees need emotional pull to start heading in the new direction. Leaders need to find that emotional connection to get the broader organization thinking about the customer in a new way. That emotional connection isn’t going to come from the analytics, says the VP. “It’s not enough to ask a third party to survey 10,000 customers… you’ll get a nice pie chart.” For insight into establishing emotional engagement, check out this approach.

Second, there is an operational challenge. There will be obstacles in the way of the broader organization as it attempts to make the shift to this new way of thinking and new ways of working. Leaders need to identify those obstacles (macro and micro) and empower employees in new ways so they can be successful in overcoming them. 

Companies can overcome these challenges, but leadership needs to realize the bigger picture and make a pivot of their own. The age of the customer, as firms like Forrester Research have called it, isn’t just about designing for the customer; it’s about designing for the employee as well. Tactically, it isn’t that big a leap for leadership in terms of the initial approach. The same methods to generating deeper insight into customer needs and desires can yield an equally rich understanding of what employees are up against, what is keeping them up at night and what they desire most from their experience. But it does require leaders to think differently, which may be the biggest challenge.

For more insight into design for employee experience, check out a case study.