It used to be all about the customer. Enhancing the customer experience (CX) has long been touted as the key to organizational success. But recent changes in work patterns have caused some to believe that it is now all about the employee: The employee experience (EX) is becoming the new CX.
How did this come about, and what technology tools can be used to enable a better EX?
What Is Driving EX?
A number of factors are coming together to make EX the new CX. First, there is immense pressure on staffing. According to the Skillsoft Global Knowledge IT Skills and Salary Report 2021, 76 percent of IT decision-makers experience critical skills gaps on their teams, a 145 percent increase since 2016. Further, 54 percent have been unable to fill at least one position, and 38 percent have three or more positions unfilled. International Data Corporation (IDC) predicts that by 2022, the monetary losses resulting from IT skills gaps will be $775 billion worldwide.
In parallel, business initiatives such as digital transformation, work-from-home and the continuation of the move to the cloud are disrupting the way people work. Not only do they not come into the office every day, but when they do come in, they might have to sit at different places each time, deal with a rash of new cloud-based applications and be subjected to regular changes in the way business is done—all in an effort to evolve to some undetermined "new normal." Hence the Skillsoft survey notes that 55 percent of decision-makers say the skills gap's greatest impact is increased stress on employees. That, in turn, leads to difficulties in meeting quality objectives, decreased ability to meet business objectives and longer project durations.
"In the 2010s, leading firms focused on becoming customer-obsessed; en route, they discovered that employees were a crucial, often underutilized asset for meeting customer needs," said James McQuivey, an analyst at Forrester Research in Cambridge, Mass. "Employees have better information, more options and many avenues for communication—leading them to have higher expectations of their employer than before."
The Value of EX
One study by Deloitte University Press found that almost 80 percent of executives rated EX as important or very important. Another study by the Academy of Management found that companies listed as the top places to work in the U.S. gained up to 4 percent higher stock returns annually.
EX has value. But what is it? Programs such as casual Fridays, bean bag chairs and office parties might contribute to it, but that would be a narrow view.
Think of it like CX: The customer experience encompasses the website, e-mails, all interactions with sales and service, upselling, marketing programs and more. Similarly, EX takes in all employee work experiences including with colleagues, HR, the immediate boss and top management. It also takes in the software applications chosen, project management and customer interaction.
"Your employees are the most important asset you have to help you serve today's customers while adapting to tomorrow's customer-satisfying processes and technologies," McQuivey said. "Only 24 percent of information workers strongly agree that their manager is concerned about the welfare of the people who work for him or her."
McQuivey noted that the turbulence of the last two years has placed employees in a different state of mind with higher expectations about their place of work and careers. According to Forrester, 48 percent of large organizations in the U.S. have a dedicated program for EX. That number will rise to 65 percent as more executives watching their monthly quit rates continue to climb will suddenly become EX advocates of the highest order, he added.
"Prepare for an onslaught of emerging employee experience challenges," McQuivey said.
Technology Aids in EX Preparation
But how to prepare exactly for this new wave of EX challenges?
"Providing staff with the right technology and equipment will go a long way toward attracting and keeping strong talent," said Laurie McCabe, co-founder and partner at SMB Group in Boston.
She suggested areas such as software as a service, unified communications as a service and desktop as a service. They provide a way for companies to gain the latest technology and tools without the upfront investment or the need for in-house talent to manage these applications.
But the choice of technology must be done wisely. According to Gartner, 60 percent of workers are occasionally or frequently frustrated by new software. Fifty-six percent said they wished management would bring back the old systems.
But new technology is coming whether workers want it or not. Gartner's annual top trends review heavily stressed the deployment of AI and business intelligence (BI) to aid management and employees in decision-making. AI and BI tools should be deployed in conjunction with an enhanced EX. If they are done only to provide management with better metrics, EX will suffer. A recent visit to Walgreens, for example, found disgruntled employees slowed down by a new point-of-sale system. Such errors in software deployment cannot be tolerated if a good EX is to manifest.
HR systems and human capital management solutions are other opportunities to improve EX. Some of these systems are being moved to the cloud. Add AI and analytics capabilities that can help to manage EX. Oracle and SAP, for example, both offer such features.
Communications platforms such as Microsoft Teams, Zoom and GoToMeeting can help, too. In many cases, they were rolled out without employee feedback. If the company currently has more than one video meeting platform in use, a user survey would be a smart action. Find out which platform is preferred and why. Centralize on it and gather other advice from staff on how these platforms can better aid workflows.
Drew Robb is a freelance writer in Clearwater, Fla., specializing in IT and business.