Customer experience

branding, HR, and the customer experience

Want to build your company’s brand? Give a close look at your HR department.

That’s not how we typically approach it, is it? There are a ton of articles on branding, but far too many that discuss it as though it’s a separate activity, as though it’s a shiny bit of chrome that gets bolted on to make the company look nice. Company leaders just decide how they want the company to be known by customers, then they create marketing to support that and it’s done, right? Um, no.

In reality, branding is deeply woven throughout the entire organization, despite our attempts to reduce branding to some eye catching advertisements. It’s a circular “chicken and egg” problem that has to be addressed as a whole and looks something like this:

Brand –> Values/Culture –> Hiring/Retention/Development –> Employee Experience –> Customer Experience –> Brand


Brand. The company decides what it wants to be known for and how it wants to be viewed by its customers. Highest quality, best value, best service, the choice of people in the know, whatever.

Values/Culture. Not the stupid mission statement nailed to the wall that no one can remember and everyone ignores. Not the list of safe values that shows up in the “About Us” section of the webpage but how things actually get down and the (unwritten) values the company uses to make decisions and set priorities. (Lest we forget: Enron’s posted values included “Integrity” and “Excellence” but those clearly weren’t the values underscoring their day-to-day operations.)

Hiring/Retention/Development. I cannot emphasize this enough: business gets done for, through, and by people. What the company stands for and how it operates is determined, supported, and reinforced by its people and the behaviors that are encouraged (and tolerated). The ideals written on the wall are irrelevant if they are not fully supported by who gets hired, who is allowed and encouraged to stay, and what they are taught through formal training AND daily interactions with managers and peers.

Employee Experience (EX). I’m not convinced we can create employee engagement or motivation – that’s one reason why who we hire is so important – but I’m very confident that we can utterly destroy it through the daily employee experience. Is the EX one of support, growth, and pride or terrible manager, toxic peers, inane policies, and a dehumanizing culture? Or, is it trapped in between and a daily dose of apathetic meh?

Customer Experience (CX). The customer experience determines how they think of your company. Your definition of the brand is meaningless next to the customer’s. Who determines the customer experience? It’s a combination of your culture (i.e., how things get done around your company) and your employees. It’s been said the customer experience will never exceed employee experienced (I like to think of it as: CX<EX). That makes sense. It’s ridiculous to think we can make our employees’ lives miserable and have them turn around and create a wonderfully fantastic experience for the customer.

Brand. Yep, all of this leads right back to brand. Not the one you want, but the one you actually have.

None of these operate in isolation; they all feed into each other. You can’t build the brand without linking it to your people and how you expect them to operate day in and day out. So how is you HR department supporting the brand?

Might be time to give it some thought.

HR math: CX<EX

For all the talk of customer experience, very little is given to the employee experience. Don’t get me wrong, I’m a huge believer in creating a great customer experience. It’s crucial for any kind of repeat business and long-term success, it’s critical for word-of-mouth endorsements and buzz, it’s a necessity to differentiate from competing businesses. And so what?

It’s been said that the customer experience never exceeds the employee experience. I shorthand that into a simple math formula: CX<EX. If the employee experience is unpleasant, micromanaged, and rigid I can hardly expect the customers to receive a warm, open, uniquely customized experience. On a scale of 1-10, if the employees have a “1” experience, the customers will NOT receive a “10” experience.

It’s funny how we talk so much about creating the customer experience, but the employee experience seems to be an afterthought or we take a shotgun approach.  We forget that, no matter what our intentions, strategy, or CX metrics, it’s the employees who deliver the customer experience. Yes, work has to be done, high standards need to be met (exceeded), profits must be made. But somewhere along the way we get confused and think that work, standards, and profits are at the expense of the employee instead of because of the employee.

The great thing about employee experience is that it doesn’t have to be based on hope, chance, or luck. We can actually design it. We can give focused intentional thought to the experience we want them to have and how to create it.

We don’t often think about creating an intentional employee experience, so if you want an easy place to start ask yourself this: What is our ideal customer experience? How do we want customers to describe their experience with us to their friends?

Now build that experience for your employees.