The COVID-19 crisis only accentuated what most organisations already knew: happy employees are the key to happy customers and enhanced profitability. Now, as brands start to look toward the new reality that will emerge from the crisis, many are starting to think much more strategically about the alignment between the Employee Experience (EX) and the Customer Experience (CX).

The value of a great experience is not a new concept to most consumer brands. Indeed, more and more brands in The Netherlands and around the world are creating leadership positions such as Chief Experience Officers and building new customer-centric teams designed around customer experiences.

Now, however, the focus has started to shift to the employee experience (EX). Organisations understand that employees are the linchpin between the brand and the customer. And there is a growing body of evidence that suggests a clear economic link between employee satisfaction, customer satisfaction and profit. In fact, brands ranked in the top quartile for employee engagement enjoyed (on average) 12 percent higher customer advocacy and 12 percent higher profitability than those in the bottom quartile.[1]

Aligning EX with CX

How are the leading brands creating value-adding employee experiences? They are starting by ensuring the employee experience is deeply rooted in the customer experience, aligned around the same core principles and common language.

At KPMG, we look at these principles through The Six Pillars of Experience Excellence. Simply put, The Six Pillars represent the unique building blocks that define experience excellence. When both the employee and customer experience are viewed through the lens of The Six Pillars, companies can start to build a strong foundation for an aligned EX and CX.

The ‘Human Value Chain’ (HVC) (see image below) helps illustrate the strong connection between culture, employee experience, customer experience and – ultimately – key business outcomes such as improved customer retention and enhanced customer lifetime value.

Human value chain

The leaders are thinking about their Human Value Chain and viewing the employee experience through the lens of The Six Pillars. And, in doing so, they are ensuring their EX is not only optimised, but also designed and aligned with the CX at heart.

COVID-19 disrupts the employee experience

It perhaps goes without saying that the COVID-19 pandemic dramatically changed the traditional employee experience. With most non-vital employees working remotely, physical operations placed into hibernation and new health considerations to manage and mitigate, most organisations had to quickly rethink their current employee experience.

Almost everything about the employee experience has changed. The way employees interact with each other, the brand and their customers has become much more digital and virtual. Communication and culture-building activities have, similarly, been forced onto digital platforms. Employee training and development processes have been forced to change. So, too, has the tone and focus of employee communications and updates.

In response, the leading organisations are now redoubling their focus on aligning their employee experience with the customer experience. They are using The Six Pillars framework to improve the first three parts of the HVC – culture, employee experience and employee behaviours – in order to drive a more aligned EX and CX. Most importantly, perhaps, they are finding ways to accelerate their activity in the face of the current pandemic.

Company culture

Culture is the starting point of change; it enables the employee behaviours and experience that drives the customer experience. For aligned organisations, brand values and internal values are the same – the culture is the brand and the brand is the culture. Company culture is highly influenced by the Integrity Pillar. Integrity drives trust which is the foundation of all positive human interactions and, as such, it is critical that organisations build integrity with employees.

The COVID-19 pandemic has brought the need for Integrity in the employee relationship into sharp focus. On the one hand, physical distancing and remote working has changed the way employees operate. But, at the same time, it has also created opportunities for organisations and executives to build stronger relationships with employees based on clear communications, trust and integrity.

For ASN Bank, a recognised leader in CX in the financial services sector, sustainability and integrity are two cornerstones of the company culture. A focus on integrity influences the products and services they offer, their communication with employees and customers, and their recruiting and development practices. The organisation puts significant effort into ensuring their employees are intrinsically motivated by the same ideals, values and purpose, thereby creating a consistent connection between culture, customer and employee.

Employee experience

As the health and economic impacts of the pandemic spread, many organisations quickly demonstrated their Empathy. In the immediate aftermath of the lockdowns, most organisations took the time to check in on their employees. Some even provided 'COVID-19 leave' to allow employees to deal with their changing circumstances. Others went even further. Executives at the Maastricht University Medical Center+, for example, took the time to send their employees personal Thank You cards to acknowledge their efforts during the pandemic.

The crisis has also accentuated the importance of Personalisation in the employee experience. But beyond personalised communication and interaction from executives and management, many organisations have been thinking about how the virtual workplace supports employee training and development. Some organisations are working with employees to identify roles that fit their unique talents while providing opportunities to grow and develop. This, in turn, allows employees to become the best they can be, while empowering them to serve customers in the best possible way.

With many employees working from home or in re-designed workplaces, Time and Effort has become increasingly relevant to the employee experience. Where employees were dislocated from their offices, many organisations worked quickly to ensure their staff had the laptops, screens and chairs they needed to effectively work from home. RVO (Rijksdienst voor Ondernemend Nederland) went even further; they focused on rapidly creating a fast and frictionless process for managing customer requests related to new support measures offered by the government. By putting the employee experience at the centre, they were not only helping their employees deliver more effective services, they were also helping their customers at a time of urgent need.

Employee behaviour

Not surprisingly, Expectations have also changed – both on the employer and on the employee side. Employees have been asked to radically change their ways of working. Employers are expected to keep their employees safe, productive and effective. Expectations related to health and safety are of particular importance in today's environment. Leadership must articulate that health and safety are key priorities and provide clear guidance on how employees should be behaving. McDonald's, for example, has released an online video aimed at employees (but available to the general public) that features a hip-hop rap on how to create and maintain a safe working environment.

The COVID-19 crisis has also changed organisations' focus on the Resolution Pillar. In many cases, organisations empowered their employees to work within their guidelines to ensure customer issues are resolved quickly and effectively. Over the past few months, that has caused leaders to change their resolution standards and loosen some of their stricter guidelines. During the crisis, we saw many retailers extend their return policies in order to give customers more flexibility. KLM, the Dutch flag-carrier airline, extended the status of their frequent flyers in order to help customers preserve their value.

Looking ahead

As organisations begin to re-organise their business models, operating models and ways of working to suit the new reality of the post-COVID-19 world, we expect significant emphasis to be placed on the alignment between EX and CX. And our expectation is that next year's list will be dominated even more, by those brands that move quickly to enhance the employee experience as market dynamics, employee expectations and customer preferences change.

Six Pillars


[1] CEE UK 2019