Point of View

New digital reality dictates reimagining customer and employee experience expectations

November 19, 2020

The opportunity to develop deep collaborative capabilities between customers and employees has never been greater than it is in this emerging business environment. In October 2020, HFS, with the support of HGS, brought together 20 thought leaders from major global enterprises (Exhibit 1) for a digital roundtable (DRT) to brainstorm new strategies for transforming both customer experiences (CX) and employee experiences (EX) and optimizing them for our virtual world. Some actions are tried and true, such as frequently communicating and reinforcing consistent messaging to both employees and customers. But other insights were new, especially those supporting the new work/life balance.

Exhibit 1:  Enterprises represented in October’s CX Digital Roundtable

Source: HFS 2020

We learned there are many points of departure from how we worked in 2019, all in the light of COVID-19. Let’s explore some of the insights shared during the roundtable.

There is no going back—physically or culturally—to old ways of working

The consensus is that physical interactions at work won’t return until at least 2022, and even then, remote working will still be the norm for many people. Many companies in our discussion have 90% or more of their office workforce in remote environments. Most customer and client interactions are virtual or at arm’s length (literally), though many companies hope to return to some form of normality in 2021.

The implications of remote clients and employees are numerous:

  • Interacting and getting things done takes more time. People spend more time communicating on both routine and non-routine items—in some cases, one to two hours more per day. Virtual communication is slower than in-person communication with colleagues sitting next to you, and it’s harder to convey and act on difficult concepts in a virtual setting.
  • Automation is becoming a native competency. It streamlines processes, and, importantly, it can make people’s lives easier. However, companies may be facing a looming downside for some workforce categories, and they need to address it. According to a World Economic Forum (WEF) report, a shift in the division of labor between human and machine could displace an estimated 85 million jobs by 2025 and give rise to 97 million new roles. As such, companies must carefully consider which processes and interactions to automate and which to optimize or augmented with human involvement. Our delegates unanimously agreed that automation would be one of the most impactful changes for customer engagement moving forward (see Exhibit 2).

Exhibit 2: Greater automation for customer engagement is a sure thing

Source: HFS Research 2020, 18 Enterprise CX Leaders and DRT Delegates

  • Work expectations are changing. Companies are taking a more holistic view of what it means to be a productive employee. People are working harder and longer. Companies relied on goodwill at the beginning of the pandemic to get the work done, but this expectation may be unsustainable. We now must consider families and overall employee well-being in the work/life balance.
  • Change is accelerating. Changes that would have taken five years to materialize pre-pandemic could now take six months. The majority of our delegates (69% in our pre- DRT survey) believe that it is not necessarily harder to make customer experience changes in a virtual environment. As one delegate put it, “Working virtually has given awareness to the business about the need to change and how quickly change can happen.” For these changes to have a lasting impact, however, people need to feel empowered to drive change as individuals and not have everything morph into a huge change project. Technology and process transformation changes that had been slowly progressing for years have begun to rapidly accelerate. One participant provided an example for virtualized health care, which had been less than 5% of the market for years but is now over 50% and approaching 70% for many procedures.

“Working virtually has given awareness to the business about the need to change and how quickly change can happen.”

HFS DRT Delegate

  • Increased productivity may be a long-term benefit. Finally, working virtually brings dramatic financial benefits. Healthcare provides another example: In virtual mode, doctors can treat twice as many patients as in physical settings. There may be more overhead that mitigates some of that 100% productivity improvement, but the emerging potential benefits are clear—greater productivity for highly paid staff and convenience for some segments of patients.

Building blocks to a new CX/EX engagement model

Panel members discussed several building blocks that apply to both customer and employee experience transformation:

  • Investing in smart analytics is key to business success. Smart analytics helps businesses understand customer (and employee) sentiment at a granular level and then direct a laser focus on identifying which performance factors move the needle on providing customer experience.
  • Accelerate digital experiences to meet customer expectations. Many industries have over-emphasized digital delivery to maintain a semblance of normality for business operations. However, customers expect businesses to have adapted to the new operating environment, and “COVID-19 patience” is lessening. Customers and employees will continue to expect more digital capability and service delivery to connect and thrive in a virtual world.
  • Treat employee and customer engagement symbiotically. Empathy is a key ingredient for transforming CX/EX, even if it means a small symbolic gesture. Empathy thus becomes a key differentiator for customer satisfaction (CSAT) and enhanced employee experience. Some of our delegates noted that employee experience and customer satisfaction metrics move in tandem; they have been on the rise since the pandemic hit due to increased empathy and a greater focus on people.
  • Change priorities to do fewer things better. Focus on speed and simplicity. Quicker decisions may be better than complete ones for the next year. Moreover, don’t get stuck on tactical decision points that diverge from the holistic objective.
  • Automate extensively, but be selective on processes that touch customers. There is a risk of over-automating the customer experience. Focus on automating back-end support, basic transactions, and data access. Automating client interactions requires careful design and an understanding of which interactions make sense to automate. A concomitant to this is empowering employees with better data and information, specifically those who interact with clients.
  • Overemphasize focus on Net Promoter Score (NPS) and exclude more operational and financial focused metrics. We are rewriting the CX playbook; we need to throw away obsession with legacy metrics that mean nothing to our customers and focus on what matters. Measuring the impact of automation on CX is also an emerging area.

The Bottom Line: Employee experience and customer experience are not mutually exclusive.

Our roundtable agreed that companies must improve both customer experience and employee experience in tandem to stay competitive. Indeed, our changes to processes, technologies, and the customer experience will increasingly align with enhancing the employee experience, too. The days of separate customer and employee experience officers and COEs are over. The new concept is a 360-degree experience using as many common components as possible to satisfy all stakeholders.

One of our delegate cameo speakers highlighted his three imperatives that underpin the new perspectives on experience:

  • Create value for customers and employees by saving them money and time 
  • Maintain safety in both virtual and physical interactions. 
  • Project consideration and empathy for employees by providing job security to the greatest extent possible. Do the same for customers by going the extra mile.

These tenets, along with others in the CX realm, are the foundations for establishing excellence in customer and employee experience. They will establish the core building blocks of a successful company on par with outstanding financial performance and exemplary executive leadership.

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