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April 09, 2014

Building A Powerful Employee Experience

April 09, 2014

Your employees are your last, best chance to have any control over your brand. With user-generated content driving the web, and the web becoming the primary marketing habitat, we are reaching a turning point. Companies are feeling a loss of control over their brand – they say one thing and their customers say another. Increasingly, the customer/user voice is becoming the loudest. The social web empowers all of us with powerful broadcast platforms (Twitter, Facebook, Yelp, etc) that simply didn’t exist before. No amount of advertising and messaging can shout down these voices. Companies may have lost control over their brand, but they also have the tools to regain some control – the experience they create for their employees.

Ending the Customer & Employee Experience Disconnect 

The disconnect between the customer and employee experience must come to an end. Businesses can no longer ignore the direct impact their employees have on their marketing and brand. In the past, a company could tell the world one thing – while delivering a very different customer experience – without that dissonance echoing very far. Those days are coming to an end, and it’s forcing companies to change the way they do business. Some have accepted defeat that their brand is controlled by the customer, but I think they need to dig deeper. Your brand originates with your people and the experiences they create. So take a step back and consider the employee experience you are creating. That is the foundation of your customer experience, like it or not. Even a product (software or hardware) reflects the culture that creates it. 

What Makes A Great Employee Experience?

Great experiences start with shared belief. All involved enter the experience believing something greater can be accomplished together. If you don’t have employees that believe in what you are doing, then you are at a distinct disadvantage. It's exceptionally hard to build a great experience with disengaged workers. This is especially true if you are creating a premium service or product. People that pay a premium for a product or service expect an exceptional experience.

But even lower cost providers like Costco are finding that the key to their success is the employee experience. Costco treats their employees well in many ways including pay. They pay their employees much better than Sam’s Club ($20.89 vs $12.67 – via Motley Fool) but out-perform their competitor regularly. Costco has about the same number of stores as Sam’s Club but does twice the revenue. Their secret? The way they treat their employees – pay and experience. Costco employees are very loyal. Take a look at GlassDoor.com (a website that gathers feedback on employers) and compare the two stores. Costco gets 4 stars, Sam’s Club 3 stars. Costco’s CEO gets a 93% approval ranking, Sam’s Club 59%. When a star prospect is considering both companies the choice is clear. Costco gets the better talent which means much lower turn over and overall efficiency. But the value goes well beyond the immediate financials. Who do you think has the the stronger brand? Costco by a mile. 

The Shift Towards Employee Experience Marketing

What is driving this change? Although great companies that treat their employees well have found success throughout the history of business, there's a shift taking place. The web has changed the game. Employees and customers now have a broadcast platform which simply didn’t exist before. I think too many brands focus on customer content – what the customer is saying on review sites, Facebook, etc. – and neglect employee content. Who speaks with more authority? A customer or employee? I believe that employees (especially former) often wield the most influence, even more than customers. Employees see the truth of a business. They know what's really going on. 

All of this leads me to think that the next wave in marketing will bring focus to the employee experience, both during and after employment. Businesses must begin to think of their former employees as “alumni” and build experiences around that post-employment relationship. Look at the mega-consulting company McKinsey to see how powerful this can be in action. A large chunk of their business comes from “alumni” that bring them opportunities as they rise through the corporate ranks. 

Building out a powerful employee experience isn’t easy – it takes time and the ROI can be years off. But as we see with Costco and similar companies, great employee experiences can be the difference-maker.

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