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Enhancing Service Experience through Understanding Employee Experience Management

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Abstract

Employees are the essence of service. They play a significant role in shaping customer experience, delivering brand promises, enhancing core service quality, and driving continuous innovation. In the service industry, frontline employees are the main source of customer insight due to the firsthand interactions with customers and familiarity with their expectation. From customer experience preceptive, employees contribute to understanding customers’ experiential needs, designing, or delivering brand experiences. This paper aims to clarify that employees ––as internal customers–– experience the brand they affiliated with in the same way as customers do. We discuss how firms can motivate employees to deliver the right brand experiences, through enhancing value-added offerings to employees. Additionally, we argue firms are responsible to understand and address employees’ experiential needs, namely cognitive, emotional, social, sensorial, and practical needs. Therefore, we conceptualize employee experience as a set of psycho-cognitive sentiments about the experiential benefits of employment. Then, we propose the concept of Employee Experience Management (EEM) through which firms can invest in their brand by supporting their first group of customers, employees. The propose EEM model includes four main practices (internal branding, emotional engagement, social engagement, and innovation engagement), three antecedent systems (reward, training, and empowerment) and two immediate outcomes (brand experience management and experience innovation management).
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Abhari, K., Saad, N. M., & Haron, M. S. (2008). Enhancing Service Experience through Understanding: Employee
Experience Management. International Seminar on Optimizing Business Research and Information Technology.
Jakarta.
Enhancing Service Experience through Understanding
Employee Experience Management
Abstract
Employees are the essence of service. They play a significant role in shaping customer experience,
delivering brand promises, enhancing core service quality, and driving continuous innovation. In the
service industry, frontline employees are the main source of customer insight due to the firsthand
interactions with customers and familiarity with their expectation. From customer experience preceptive,
employees contribute to understanding customers’ experiential needs, designing, or delivering brand
experiences. This paper aims to clarify that employees ––as internal customers–– experience the brand
they affiliated with in the same way as customers do. We discuss how firms can motivate employees to
deliver the right brand experiences, through enhancing value-added offerings to employees. Additionally,
we argue firms are responsible to understand and address employees’ experiential needs, namely
cognitive, emotional, social, sensorial, and practical needs. Therefore, we conceptualize employee
experience as a set of psycho-cognitive sentiments about the experiential benefits of employment. Then,
we propose the concept of Employee Experience Management (EEM) through which firms can invest in
their brand by supporting their first group of customers, employees. The propose EEM model includes
four main practices (internal branding, emotional engagement, social engagement, and innovation
engagement), three antecedent systems (reward, training, and empowerment) and two immediate
outcomes (brand experience management and experience innovation management).
Keywords: Employee Experience, Employee Experience Management, Customer Experience
Introduction
The concept of customer experience management can be applied to both external and internal customers
(O’loughin & Szmigin, 2005; Schmitt, 2003). Employees like customers, experience brand, firm and
offerings that they are affiliated with and their behaviors reflect that experience (Schembri, 2006).
Therefore, understanding and improving employee experience may play a significant role in improving
customer experience management (CEM) systems and practices.
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The ultimate goal of CEM is to facilitate delivering the right set of experience cues for evoking specific
feelings and shaping customers future decision-making process (Berry & Carbone, 2007). CEM beyond
an information system is a discipline to address customers’ experiential needs through delivering positive,
engaging, and sometimes socially fulfilling interaction with customers across all active major touchpoints
(Mascarenhas, Kesavan & Bernacchi, 2006). Customer experience is shaped after consuming an
experiential offering or a set of provoking interactions with products, services, employees or brand
context (Millard, 2006). Similarly, Meyer and Schwager (2007) characterized customer experience as
an internal and subjective response based on any direct or indirect contact. As a result, customer
interaction is a determinative component for customer experience and a CEM system can be successful
only if it monitors and in necessary, reacts to customer interaction. In service, customer interaction is
mainly associated with employees, who play a significant role in delivering service offerings (Harris,
Harris, & Baron, 2003; Morrison & Crane, 2007; Pullman & Gross, 2003). Hence, employees are
crucial to the success of CEM strategies in the service industry.
In practice, frontend employees are considered as an important part of service strategies. For instance,
82% of high-preference service brands in the US considered employees’ behavior as the first and their
main success factors (Berry & Lampo, 2004). Likewise, IBM research revealed that 70% of brand
perception is settled by employees and 41% of customer loyalty comes from positive employee attitude
(IBM Business Consulting Services, 2005). Nevertheless, research falls short in understanding the
relationship between customer experience and employee experience. While previous studies revealed the
importance of employee empowerment, engagement and motivation, there is limited evidence on their
influence with customer experience. This limitation also challenges service providers to formulate and
deploy practical CEM strategies. According to the joined research by SRi and Jack Morton in 2006, only
33% of employees are enough engaged to inspire customers. A Gallup survey also showed that only 25%
of employee actively engaged in satisfying customer needs (Schmitt, 2003). IBM study revealed that one
of the most important barriers preventing CEM from successful implementation is insufficient employee
engagement (IBM Business Consulting Services, 2005). In response to this gap, this study proposes a
model to understand the possible relationship between employee experience and customer experience and
offers practical strategies on how to implement EEM in support of CEM. In particular, we discuss how
employees shape service experience, how firms contribute to employee experience, and how firms can
manage the relationship between these two experiences to differentiate their offerings.
Background
It is necessary to understand service experience before conceptualizing employee experience in the service
industry. Odgers (2004) discussed that service experience is what customer feel or receive in interaction
with the brand, employee, environment, and service context. Customer experience is triggered, altered,
affected, or became memorable by some service cues. CEM pioneers define these cues as experience
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clues. Experience clues can work as stimuli and shape customer internal and external experience. Among
these, humanic clues associated with employee behavior play a critical role in shaping customer
experience (Berry & Carbone, 2007; Berry, Carbone, & Haeckel, 2002; Berry, Wall, & Carbone, 2006).
Dawes and Rowley (1996) argued that service providers should focus on the quality of service delivery
through human touchpoints. In service, humanic clues are mainly related to the interactions between
employees and customers and they are the main part of service experience (Berry & Lampo, 2004; Wall
& Berry, 2007). Humanic clues cultivate positive emotion and reflect service performance (Berry &
Carbone, 2007). While humanic clues can recover service failures ––for example, through offering
sympathy––, failure to provide positive humanic clues cannot be recovered by other service features
(Berry et al, 2006; Wall, 2003). Thus, firms should invest in humanic clues to be able to deliver excellent
service experience (O’loughin & Szmigin, 2005).
Employees have more meaningful interaction with customers than other touchpoints and therefore, they
have more reliable insight into customers’ needs and expectation. This high level of involvement and
familiarity contribute to a better understanding of customers' experiential needs, designing and delivering
service experiences. As a result, service providers depend on employees to improve customer experience
and thereby establishing emotional bond, recovering service failure, and fostering trust and loyalty (Berry
et al, 2006).
Employee Experience Management (EEM)
Prior studies emphasized on starting the marketing from employees and argued it is the fundamental task
to enhance the quality of service (Poon & Low, 2005). Additionally, providing positive experiences for
employees through training programs, internal branding, and communication has a close relationship with
external marketing activities (O’loughin & Szmigin, 2005). Nevertheless, this has been widely ignored by
service due to the lack of a systematic approach (Ballantyne, 2000; Gilmore & Carson, 1996).
Firms have to engage not only the body of employee but also their soul and mind” (Schmitt, 2003, p.226).
As long as marketing initiatives such as CEM are responsible for enriching customers’ life across all
touchpoints, firms are also responsible to improve employees’ lifeat least in the workplace. Offering
employees positive work experiences can be a proper step toward effectively engaging employees. It is
possible to employ the CEM concept to achieve this goal as long as firms are willing to treat their
employees as internal customers.
Before defining employee experience, it is necessary to review the notion of employee experience.
Experience is a consequence of active involvement in an activity or exposure to events or people over a
period of time that influences both individual’s thoughts and feelings and leads to knowledge or skill
acquisition. Positive experience triggers senses, emotions, thoughts, acts, values, and relations in various
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forms or alternatively, anything else that provide value during interaction (Gentile, Spiller & Noci, 2007;
Schmitt, 2003). Along with this definition, employee experience can be defined as what employee
received during their interaction with careers’ elements (e.g. firms, supervisors, coworkers, customer,
environment, etc.) that affect their cognition (rational acquisition) and affection (internal and personal
acquisition) and leads to their particular behaviors. Thus, we conceptualize employee experience as a set
of psycho-cognitive sentiments about the experiential benefits of employment and EEM is an approach to
satisfy these experiential needs in the workplace. EEM is an internal approach that focuses on employees
prior to customers but it leads to offering positive customer experience. EEM is a possible solution for
supporting employees to offer desirable customer experience, whenever they interact with customers or
provide information and services. EEM is an indirect but effective way to deliver brand values and
promises.
EEM Operationalization
Superior customer experiences are enabled and delivered through empathetic employees who are happy
and fulfilled (Shaw & Ivens, 2002). To achieve this, firms need to not only hire right people but also
design work experiences that lead to a sense of fulfillment. Hence, EEM is associated with job design.
Barlow and Maul (2000) suggested firm can turn employee routine into positive experiences by rewards
and recognition, respect for employees, fair compensation, job rotation, and growth opportunities.
However, implementing all these practices at the same time are infeasible and costly. Therefore, firms
need to be selective and focus on experience design instead of job design and concentrate on the overlaps
between customer and employee experiences (e.g. internal branding).
Meeting emotional desires is the key to both employee and customer experience management. The saying
customer service is eighty percent will and twenty percent skill
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suggests that providing satisfactory
experiences for employee is more likely to be productive than training programs (Barlow & Maul, 2000,
p. 227). Engaging employees emotionally during their works is a vital element in shaping positive
experience (Freedman & Edwards, 1988). Clearly, highly motivated and engaged employees can create
memorable customer experiences (Millard, 2006). In the service context, employees regularly answer
customers’ problems, share emotions, and improve the customer’s experience (Caru & Cova, 2003). If
they are emotionally attached to the firm and brand, they convey their personal positive feelings to their
customers.
Employees with emotional bond better convey the brand promises to customers. This bond between brand
and employee not only leads to employee loyalty but also encourage them to promote the brand image
and enhance brand loyalty. Venkat (2005) highlighted the necessity of internally communing the brand
identity, brand promise and brand position to the employees. For instance, senior managers can motivate
and engage employees by crystallizing the employees’ role in delivering brand promise in a tangible way.
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Firms have to ensure brand values are consistent with organizational values and respectively employees
are trained, motivated, and empowered to live the brand (Venkat, 2005).
Engaging customer emotionally has a direct relationship with motivation as well. An experience-oriented
rewarding system is essential since motivated employees are more likely to create memorable customer
experiences (Millard, 2006), which hardly ever is created by passive employees. In general, employees
are motivated when they are enthusiastic about their tasks. Right reward mechanisms can create positively
challenging work environments and constructive competitions among employees (Shaw & Ivens, 2002).
This reveals the employees’ capabilities and uncovers their competencies.
The literature also suggests that positive employee experience is related to engaging them in innovation
with proper support (Baer & Oldham, 2006; Madjar, Oldham, & Pratt, 2002; Tierney & Farmer, 2004;
Zhou & Shalley, 2003). In fact, employee creativity makes an important contribution to innovation and
competitiveness (Nonaka, 1991); hence the circumstance that leads to such behavior is important (Baer &
Oldham, 2006). Amabile (1996) defined creativity as the production of ideas about products, service, or
processes, which not only must be novel, but potentially useful to the organization (Baer & Oldham,
2006). Given this definition, a work environment with a great chance of exploration and experimentation
of a novel idea can boost creativity among employees and lead to higher engagement (Zhou & Shalley,
2003). Firms can enhance employee experience through encouraging, assisting, supporting, and valuing
creativity (Baer & Oldham, 2006; Tierney & Farmer, 2004). Employee participation to improve service
experience can also improve both internal and external experiences (Tseng et al., 1999). This idea agrees
with earlier researches that illustrated engaged employees are more likely to commit in creativity program,
which leads to sustain the firms performance outcomes and customer equity (Freedman & Edwards,
1988).
Support is another remarkable driver of employee engagement. As Freemantle (2003, p.138) stated, "It is
unreasonable to expect an employee to care for a customer if the boss is not perceived as caring for the
employee”. Support whether from direct supervisors or coworkers may facilitate employee
engagement in their works. Managing organizational change requires both employees’ support and
supporting employee to do so. This support may encourage employees to be more creative in problem-
solving benefiting customers (Baer & Oldham, 2006; Madjar, Oldham, & Pratt, 2002). One effective form
of support is employee empowerment. Empowering employee for instance in handling customer
complaints can enhance customer experience while creating positive feelings for employees ––a sense
of autonomy (Barlow & Maul, 2000). Therefore, this kind of support offers employee authority that
creates four types of control namely behavioral, cognitive, decisional, and emotional (Barlow & Maul,
2000). The sense of control answers employees’ internal needs and intensifies emotional bond. As a result,
it is reasonable to consider support and empowerment as antecedents of EEM.
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Customer experience improved and sustained by well-trained employees (Thompson, 2006). Training
helps employees to understand how customer experiences the service and consequently improve that
experience (e.g. Berry et al., 2006; Tseng et al., 1999). Beyond classic training, employees should
understand the brand promises and their organization’s core values. They also need to understand their
role in convening these promises and values. However, training without motivation and empowerment is
impractical in improving customer experience (Shaw & Ivens, 2002). If training improves employees’
competencies in service offering, it can enhance service experience as well (Berry et al., 2006). Moreover,
training can be used as a driver of innovation.
We should also recognize the importance of employees’ experiential needs. Firms need to understand
employees’ needs beyond salary and benefits (Schmitt, 2003). Firms can differentiate themselves by
considering their employees’ experiential needs. Experiential marketing recommends engaging customers
in sense, feel, think, act, and relate, to deliver excellent brand experience. We can adopt the idea of
experiential marketing for EEM. Feel experience refers to a sense of affection and attachment. Think
experience refers to creative and cognitive experience. Sense experience refers to the sensory perception
of the workspace. Act experience refers to actions and workstyle. Relate experience refers to social
interactions, sense of belongingness, and connection to collogues. In line with internal branding, these
experiences can positively create a positive brand experience for employees. For instance, delighting
employees with a pleasant workplace, adding reasonable fun, add challenges to the routines, and granting
memorable events are some simple examples to answer employees’ experiential needs. These experiential
offerings for employees shape their positive perception of the brand, which would be reflected by them in
interaction with customers. As long as the brand has meaning for employees, they live the brandin their
day-to-day personal as well as professional life and publicly advocate that (Schmitt, 2003). Hence, firms
can accomplish brand promises through experiential value proposition to their employees (Venkat, 2005).
For example, if a brand offers an alternative lifestyle to its customers, it should provide innovative work-
style to employees first.
Finally, to enrich employee experience, firms should consider providing effective internal interfaces and
interaction opportunities for their employees (Schmitt, 2003). Proper interfaces facilitate employee
relationship and internal communication, which are critical in shaping employee overall experience.
Hence, EEM should manage to maintain interactive touchpoints for employees to empower internal
relationship, collaboration, and communication. Interdepartmental relationships ––if well-designed and
well-coordinated–– can also generate positive experience for employees and positively affect service
offering quality and timeliness (Banducci & Keneally, 2001). Furthermore, recruiting employees with
high social and emotional intelligence can enhance and improve internal interaction (Shaw & Ivens, 2002).
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EEM Conceptual Model
Employee experience can be characterized based on employees' direct or indirect contacts with the brand,
work environment, and career features. Employees’ behaviors reflect their overall experience during these
contacts. Therefore, the role of EEM is twofold: managing brand-related contacts and managing job-
related contacts. Internal branding offer employees the opportunity to experience brand promises in the
same way as customers do. Likewise, experiential job design can engage and inspire employees and
untimely offer fulfilling experience. We identified three main avenues to management job-related
experiences: emotional engagement (e.g. pleasant work environment), social engagement (e.g.
interdepartmental relationship) and innovation engagement (e.g. new service ideation). We also identified
three antecedents for EEM, namely Reward system, Training system, and Empowerment system. These
systems are required to ensure the experiential job design would benefit both employees and customers.
In addition to what EEM offers to employees, it supports CEM programs to achieve better results. EEM
helps CEM to enhance brand experience due to the internal branding mechanism. It can also motivate
employees to participate in continuous innovation which is crucial to CEM success. EEM can support
continuous innovation by encouraging creativity among employees with sufficient training and support.
Involvement in innovation programs directly benefits experience design for customers. Therefore, we
expect EEM results in more successful brand experience management as well as experience innovation
management ––as illustrated in figure 1.
Figure 1: The Employee Experience Management
Implications
EEM is an initial step to plan, design and implement CEM programs and systems. To successfully
implement CEM, firms should start by recruiting the right employees, offering essential training programs,
CEM
Brand Experience
Management
Experience Innovation
Management
EEM
Internal Branding
Social Engagement
Innovation Engagement
Emotional Engagement
Reward System
Training System
Empowerment System
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providing meaningful incentives, and engaging employees in CEM-related innovation initiatives. EEM
programs also need robust analytical tools to monitor employees' needs and collect their feedback.
Likewise, excellent leadership, effective communication, internal branding, productive interdepartmental
relationship, flexible incentive systems, and senior management support are indispensable parts of
planning and implementing EEM programs. EEM can enrich employees’ work-life by empowering them
with autonomy, positively challenging responsibilities, dynamic teamwork, experiential communication
as well as fun and pleasant workplace. When employees work more experiential, they are more satisfied
and fulfilled with their role, that results in delivering superior customer experience. To conclude, we need
to draw a distinction between HR management and EEM. HR policies are typically aligned with the firm's
mission, vision, and values. Therefore, HR practices are stereotypical with limited experiential values and
they merely account for the impact of their policies on customer experience. In contrast, EEM is a
customer-centric approach to edify and encourage employees to actively contribute to improving customer
experience. However, future research should empirically test our proposed model to compare and contrast
it with common HR practices. For example, the development of EEM measurements especially its
experiential component–– can differentiate EEM from internal marketing strategies. Further investigation
is also necessary to explain the opportunities and challenges associated with EEM in practice.
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Note:
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Charles Denton, CEO, Molton Brown Ltd, UK (cited in Freemantle, 2003)
... Internal marketing literature implied that engaging employees (internal customers) is an essential step toward CEM because employees are the key constituent of service experience co-design and co-creation (e.g. Abhari, Saad, and Haron 2008;Bharwani and Jauhari 2013;Wu and Liang 2009). Employees can contribute to customer experience co-creation more effectively if they find their role meaningful by realizing the immediate impact of their work, and if they are included in decision-making, service innovation, and acknowledged for their contribution (Saks 2014). ...
... Information systems can help service firms manage their employees' experiences including engagement through job-crafting, participatory innovation and customer experience design (Pascual-Fernández et al. 2021;Tims et al. 2012;Yohn 2016). Employee experience can be defined as what an employee acquired during interactions with their careers' elements (e.g., supervisors, colleagues, customers, environment) that affect their perception of the brand and the subsequently their behaviors (Abhari et al. 2008). For example, the level of employees' emotional engagement determines the level of their commitment and productivity (Jurburg et al. 2019). ...
... Previous research revealed that customer equity depends on how customers are effectively engaged and served during the end-to-end service process (Fatma 2014;Homburg et al. 2017;Jain et al. 2017;Manhas and Tukamushaba 2015;Mathis et al. 2016;Xu and Chan 2010). When employees are responsible for service delivery, their behavior directly affect customer purchase and repurchase decision (Abhari et al. 2008;Brito 2018). Hence, highly motivated and engaged employees can further contribute to the business bottom-line by responding to customers' needs and nurturing bond between customers and brand (Pascual-Fernández et al. 2021). ...
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