Over the last 20 years, companies have come to realize that what has historically made them successful as product-centric enterprises will no longer sustain their competitive position today… The rise of digital tools and the connectivity they offer has all but demanded that companies compete on product, price, and experience. Thus the ‘era of experience’ was born and companies started to make the shift to customer-centric enterprises.

According to Forrester’s 2016 U.S. Customer Experience Index, those who have heeded the call to experience have enjoyed faster revenue growth, greater brand preference, and higher margins relative to their peers. Nothing is untouched as the era of experience spreads across all aspects of human connection. And the next big area of focus is employee engagement.

We have long understood that customer experience programs are tied to employee engagement. After all, it is the employee who interacts with the customer at the most critical moments. In fact, as Kevin Kruse wrote in Forbes, “Employee engagement is the wonder drug for customer satisfaction.” Mr. Kruse had tracked over 30 studies exploring the link between employee engagement and company performance. He confirmed what we long suspected, that the merits extend far beyond the customer and dramatically improve metrics across the whole enterprise. Whether it be improvements in retention, safety, productivity, or profit, employee engagement certainly seems to be that magic elixir for business performance.

Whether it be improvements in retention, safety, productivity, or profit, employee engagement certainly seems to be that magic elixir for business performance.

While you may have thought this mounting evidence would usher in a wave of investment in the employee experience, something even more simple is now getting the ball rolling. In the same way that consumers’ digital experiences have raised their expectations for all interactions (call it the ease of doing business with), similar pressure is now applied to our interactions in the workplace (the ease of conducting business). Simply put, digital has given us all the expectation that our lives should be absolutely frictionless. And when they’re not, we get pretty frustrated…

Are companies becoming more aware of the benefits of employee engagement? Or, simply reacting to the challenges of attracting and retaining top talent? Either way the next wave of digital experience spending is being targeted to the benefit of employees. The good news for companies just starting this journey is that there are many lessons to be learned from the customer programs of the last 20 years.

For those looking to accelerate their employee experience efforts, here are five key steps we believe are vital to improve engagement at your company…

#1 Know your employee

We all know that loyal customers result in increased profits. Yet, if you take a step back to view the entire value chain, we can very much draw a link between engaged employees and business performance. Recognizing the importance of the employee experience is instrumental to long-term growth as opposed to the outdated, and quite frankly, limiting efforts to managing labor cost. Just as marketers came to realize that not all customers have the same needs and wants, employers are starting to realize that their employees have different values and goals as well.

In order to create an employee-centric ecosystem, an employer can use similar techniques to a traditional marketer, segmenting their ‘market population’ into meaningful categories which can overlap, overlay or be completely unique. By understanding the motivators of these different groups of employees, an employer can more effectively identify and cultivate what matters to all employees, from career coaching and development, to fulfilling work, to community engagement, to benefits and rewards.

Now more than ever, it is crucial for companies to get to know their employees on a deeper level to unlock their potential and maximize their impact on the organization. In the war for talent, the employers who are well reputed for providing a differentiated work experience will have an advantage. Free yourself of the delusion that all employees value the same things as the management team and you are well are your way.

#2 Simplify their journey

Consider for a moment that your employees are also consumers. They (like you) have benefited from the array of integrated applications and devices that allow us to connect every facet of our lives. We can now talk face-to-face with anyone, anywhere, at any time. We can pay with a click or a tap, keep track of our schedules, operate home appliances, manage our health – and the list goes on and on! Just as technology is impacting our personal lives, it is now unlocking frictionless experiences in the workplace. Digital technologies and IT services are now a part of every business unit’s budget, and almost every job has seen the use of digital tools skyrocket.

Automation technology has combined with the first true digitally native generation (quickly growing to represent the majority of the workforce) and has opened new possibilities for productivity and growth. No longer do employees have to be distracted from more critical business improvement and innovation efforts by being bogged down in laborious and inefficient administrative or managerial tasks. Our work lives can and should be just as easily managed as our personal lives.

Our work lives can and should be just as easily managed as our personal lives.

For instance, Venmo, a mobile only platform for banking and payments owned by PayPal, has made significant efforts in growing their B2B market to make it easier for purchasing departments to eliminate all the hassle associated with procurement. Or take x.ai, a tech company based out of New York that has created Amy and Andrew, two autonomous personal scheduling assistants that automatically schedule your meetings and manage your calendar just by cc’ing them. By re-defining employee journeys an organization can better understand the gaps and opportunities to digitally streamline.

#3 Leverage digital collaboration platforms

Along the same lines as enabling digital dexterity, collaboration is critical to how effective an organization can be. Companies strive to create impactful digital interactions to engage customers, yet are they actively pursuing those same meaningful interactions with employees? How do you make it easy for employees to collaborate internally and with customers in an engaging, impactful way?

Having teams engage with each other across the globe, or even country, can be a daunting task. Especially when you consider how integrated the value chain is today. Customer service must be tied into the logistics and operations to provide accurate and real-time assistance, marketing teams must be seamlessly integrated with various IT platforms in an omnichannel world, and management must have clear visibility into enterprise-wide synergies and cross-department performance dashboards. Lest we forget that we increasingly expect this to all happen in real time.

Many tools exist that help enterprise-wide collaboration, such as Slack, Asana, and Wrike. However, you can go a step further by combining them with GetGuru a background software that creates a highly informed workforce by displaying real-time and relevant index cards created and updated by experts across departments. For example, a sales associate can view Guru cards on both the marketing program and the prospective client, allowing key cross-functional insights to become a useful tool. The result of seamless employee engagement and collaboration is an enterprise that can think and act as one.

#4 Use cultural content to drive engagement

As we learned long ago in mass email marketing, when you lack an emotional connection with the customer your message will at best be lost, and at worst be annoying. Just as companies devote numerous resources towards building a brand with customers, they will benefit from making investments in developing the content that reinforces culture within their organization. Most people think that employee engagement is the same thing as job satisfaction. While the two terms are certainly related, an engaged employee takes job satisfaction to a whole new level. An engaged employee is connected to the company’s purpose to the point that they are emotionally invested to make the organization successful.

An engaged employee is connected to the company’s purpose to the point that they are emotionally invested to make the organization successful.

Often companies make the mistake of inundating employees with too many un-interesting emails without regard to how these communications support the vision and culture of the organization. Most mass corporate emails are written by administrative support staff who have little writing or organizational culture experience. These are huge missed opportunities to increase talent brand strength. Instead, internal marketing teams could be creating readily available and easily digestible content to drive organizational alignment and cultural adoption. There are so many ways in which more compelling and impactful branding can inspire the employee journey from the initial interview process through professional growth and advancement.

As Peter Drucker famously stated, “Culture eats strategy for breakfast.” How fortunate are we then to live in a time where new digital platforms can be applied to bolster corporate culture and employee engagement? With slight adjustments to process and content enterprises can dramatically increase the passion index of their workforce.

#5 Engage the gig economy

Just as digital has shifted the power to consumers, companies today must acknowledge the role digital channels are having in impacting the workforce. As if collaboration inside an organization isn’t complicated enough, the employee experience waters are muddied further with the gig economy’s disruption of the employment process. The gig economy is essentially a human form of outsourced micro-services: independently deployable and modular, and designed to deliver a unique service or product. Fortune 500 companies like Samsung have made significant shifts to using freelance providers Upwork and PeoplePerHour to fulfill roles in marketing, graphic design, and special project teams.

Fractional workers bring a host of unique benefits, such as filling niche capability gaps, providing agility, and facilitating knowledge sharing with the outside world. It is no surprise that by 2020, gig workers are expected to make up more than 40% of the workforce. Furthermore, more than half of businesses expect to be including freelancers in the short term. The growth in popularity of online freelance services is apparent with Upwork having done business with over 100 of the Fortune 500 companies. Another innovative solution, Time Doctor, which supports the time & productivity tracking of remote teams, has performed a comprehensive review of Upwork providing insight into how this new model can work.

As alluded to in our recent blog Sourcing for startups, “The first hurdle which many corporates fail at is how to effectively engage and do business with the startup community”. To effectively participate in the gig economy, a large company must allow more permeable borders and create a well-defined, but lightweight mechanism to manage the integration of gig workers into their organization.

So, as you can see we have become quite effective at leveraging digital tools to drive differentiated experiences. As the pace of change accelerates, the era of experience is squarely focused to the benefit of employees. Ask yourself, as an employee are you engaged? As an employer, is this on your radar? There are many ways to have in impact. Now is the time to take action.