4 Ways to Elevate Employee (& Customer) Experience During Turbulent Times

A warehouse manager speaking to a couple of his employees

The heart of customer experience is a strong employee experience. Here’s how to keep your workforce motivated during times of uncertainty.

As concerns over global economic health persist, many business leaders are tightening the reins on expenses, axing non-critical projects, and in more extreme cost-cutting measures, reducing the workforce. 

While leaders often put greater focus on maximizing revenue-generating activities by deepening customer feedback and action initiatives, they often cut back key employee experience (EX) programs to manage short-term spending — a critical mistake that can exacerbate employee attrition, negatively impact employee commitment and performance, and quickly erode the customer experience (CX).

Although experts disagree on whether we’re actually heading into a global recession, the fear many people have about it is real. This fear often leads to employees feeling anxious and being hyper-vigilant about changes that leaders make.

What should leaders do and not do to instill a sense of confidence and inspire their employees across their organizations in times of turbulence and uncertainty? Let’s dive into the four ways to elevate the employee experience.

1. Democratize feedback and action across teams.

First and foremost, listen to and communicate with your people. Based on recent Medallia research, only one out of four employees said they feel heard at their jobs, and even fewer felt that their employer takes meaningful action based on employee feedback. 

Those numbers speak to the critical need for leaders to put more focus on listening to and understanding what their employees care about most. They also need to empower action on those key issues and over-communicate what is going to change. 

Employees need to be able to provide their thoughts and experiences about whatever is on their minds through channels that are easily accessible or directly in the flow of work, 24/7. 

Once key insights have been surfaced, the capacity for action and change needs to be enabled at the individual and manager level. Frequent, small changes at the local level can have a greater, more lasting impact on employee experience than many of the bigger, global changes leaders often try to enact when issues are identified. Yet, whether it be across the organization or just locally, visible change inspires employees, helps them see that their experiences and feedback matters, and builds a stronger culture of trust and growth. 

2. Want greater innovation? Look within your organization.

It’s often said that those who are closest to the problem are closest to the solution. While you’re on the quest to address internal challenges and improve customer experience, your best source of information and solutions is… your employees. 

The majority of your employees want to make things better for your customers, their colleagues, and themselves, and they offer an almost endless supply of innovative, and often inexpensive, ideas for addressing customer and workforce problems. Additionally, employees are more likely to get inspired by solutions and changes that their colleagues propose than ideas that come from higher up in the organization. 

This is known as the IKEA effect: When people have a direct role in building solutions and improving the business, they feel more motivated and inspired to help make those initiatives and programs successful. This is why crowdsourcing ideas from your people is so valuable, yet many organizations don’t fully tap into these opportunities. Crowdsourcing solutions is one of your most accessible paths to doing more with less. People feel empowered and valued when they see their own ideas put into action, and this helps produce real, sustainable change for employees and customers alike.

3. Focus on clarity and growth with “re-boarding”

If your organization has gone through a significant amount of change over the past several months, now is the perfect time to consider re-onboarding (or “re-boarding”) your people to ensure they have the clarity, confidence, and connections to thrive. Clarity reduces uncertainty and burnout, proper enablement boosts confidence and success, and fostering connections with peers and leaders enhances resilience, commitment, and sense of belonging.

Despite the stress that can come with economic uncertainty, most people still want the opportunity to take on new challenges and continue to develop their skills. Across industries and organizations, employee feedback data consistently shows how important ongoing development is in strengthening commitment, reducing burnout, enhancing productivity, and inspiring innovation. 

Professional growth opportunities abound in organizations that are trying to do more with less. Trust your people, train and empower your managers to have deep developmental conversations with their teams, and encourage people to stretch into new projects and roles to keep them engaged and motivated. 

4. Be flexible and responsive.

As recession fears continue to loom, some leaders are taking advantage of workers’ fears of layoffs rather than building confidence and trust. Many organizations continue to talk about reducing schedule and location flexibility and moving back to a more traditional onsite model, creating resentment and disengagement within the workforce. Without a doubt, this will backfire over the long term.

Research shows that in most roles, schedule autonomy and work location flexibility drive meaningful improvements in productivity, wellbeing, and organizational commitment. Therefore, the focus should be on how to better enable leaders to manage their teams more effectively with these newer hybrid and remote models, rather than to force great employees to conform to the more traditional, yet often less-effective, “always on site” arrangement.

Effective change comes through action, and the most effective way to take action is by listening frequently, and understanding quickly, so change initiatives are based on relevant feedback and experience signals that reflect how employees are feeling and what they need today and this week, not last week or last month or several months ago. This rapid response model helps establish trust and creates the foundation for a healthy feedback culture. 

During Economic Uncertainty, Invest in Employee Experience

Now is certainly not the time to take your foot off the gas of your employee experience programs. Employee experience drives customer experience, so if you’re committed to optimizing CX, you have to understand — and elevate — EX.

Ask your people what they want, make it really easy for them to share their thoughts and expectations, and use that feedback to guide your decision-making on driving change at the local and organizational level. Trust, listen to, and recognize your people. Empower and upskill your managers and future leaders. Use feedback data to not only guide identifying and prioritizing organizational initiatives, but also to capture cost-effective ideas for real-world solutions that enhance both employee and customer experience.