From employee experience to employee service: this is it!

For the past 15 years or so, what I call the consumerization of organizations has been underway. What I mean by this is that the employee, in the company, will find the same types of tools, experiences, and devices that he or she has in his or her personal life and as a customer.

It started at the beginning with tools, when in the mid 2000s and the famous “web 2.0” we gave individuals more efficient, ergonomic and intuitive tools than what they had in the company. And irremediably these tools and (above all) the uses they made possible have entered the company. Today everyone finds it obvious to have tools in Saas mode, corporate social networks, simple and fluid collaborative tools, and APIs that allow tools to be easily connected to each other. In 2005, let me tell you that we were far from it. I think the most significant example is that at the end of the 2000s, companies wanted tools “à la Facebook” but that were not Facebook. Today Workplace by Facebook is a real success.

The organization is consumerizing itself…and so is the HR/People function…

Then, and to shorten the story, we talked about customer experience and soon after came the employee experience. We had been talking about symmetry of attention for a long time, but we had to realize that, beyond the relationship and the brand, it was the experience that counted, so that all of a sudden there was an awareness and an acceleration on the employee side.

So by pushing the logic to the end it seemed obvious to me that two things were going to happen:

1°) An HRIS that will look more and more like a CRM and follow the entire employee career path and its “life cycle”.

2°) The notion of “employee service” that does not need to be explained as long as one is familiar with its equivalent on the client side.

As far as HRIS is concerned, this is understood. We are going slowly but surely.

As far as the service used is concerned, we are far from the target. Globally I see two types of reactions on the subject.

The “employee service”? Enough is enough!

The first is to say “but it exists, that’s the job of HR”. Well, no, it doesn’t exist, it’s not the job of HR (or not the one assigned to them or not what they understand). HR provides a framework, accompanies but is not strictly speaking an “employee service” department, which would imply an obligation of reactivity and, if not of results, then in any case of commitment of means. Others would add that HR is not at the service of the employees but of the company, but that doesn’t seem illogical to me. In fact they should be at the service of both.

The second is to say “but an employee service, you’re not serious !”. When you dig that means two things.

1°) But it’s going to be very expensive!

2°) Employees are at the service of the company and not the other way around.

On reflection, no matter how it is expressed, we find the same logic behind it.

And yet if we look at the evolution of the concept of employee experience since its emergence, the trend is clear.

Engagement and employee experience: from surveys to coaching

1°) Historical heritage. We start from the good old satisfaction barometers and turn them into an engagement survey. The timing is bad (annual), we confuse satisfaction and engagement, we score a satisfaction without knowing what the employee is looking for. In short, we are in the Stone Age.

2°) The era of feedback. We finally realize that a pre-formatted and annual survey does not meet the need. The rhythm is intensified and the employee is also allowed to give feedback whenever he wants. 3 or 4 specific points are probed instead of a 4-page list of questions. And we let the employee go outside the box and give feedback on the subject of his choice, even if it is not initially planned by the company. This is also the moment when these ” pulse-takes ” become ” mobile ” to favor real time and reach the ” frontline workers ” who are in factories, in stores and are generally the “poor cousins” of this type of approach.

3°) The era of design and programs. Receiving feedback to improve is good, but blow by blow has its limits. So we start to “design” the employee experience. Instead of reacting to a negative experience, we design an experience that is supposed to be frictionless and that no longer generates negative feedback. We are therefore witnessing the creation of structured programs aimed at addressing this or that dimension of the employee experience while maintaining, at all times, the logic of feedback.

4°) The managed employee experience. As things become more structured and larger, the need for piloting becomes apparent. And here we see the arrival of all kinds of dashboarding devices and employee experience management tools (EXM for Employee Experience Management). A big step for HR, but just common sense for those who keep an eye on what exists on the customer experience side.

If I look at what Josh Bersin says on the subject, we are relatively aligned.

This table only takes into account the engagement/employee experience relationship so it lacks the design and structure dimension but there is logic there:

1°) Benchmark of the company’s objectives and the perception of the employee

2°) Listening to the employee and understanding his expectations.

3°) Consolidation of data to support the employee in his personal development.

Where I don’t necessarily agree is that the trick between the last two steps suggests that the employee experience is only an evolution of the engagement, that it is limited to the HR dimension, and that it will be improved by coaching the employee to adopt new behaviors.

From my point of view, this is part of it, but it is far from covering the whole subject of “employee experience” because it neglects the operational dimension: not what the employee feels from a personal point of view in general at work, but what he experiences concretely when he works. But I’ll avoid digressing, we’ll have the opportunity to come back to the subject frequently in the near future. Remember that making the employee solely responsible for improving his or her experience does not suit me at all.

Continuous response : The SLA of the employee experience

To be honest I have not been exhaustive in commenting on Bersin’s history because his table contained a 4th column describing the next stage of the employee experience: what he calls Continuous Response.

What are we talking about? Devices that can identify all the signals related to engagement and employee experience, direct them to the right person, and track their follow-up.

In his words:

It’s not enough to survey people or get them on a conference call to ask them opinions. We have to collect all this information, analyze it, and send it to the person who needs to know. If it’s a harassment claim, it should go to legal; if it’s a broken PC, it goes to IT; if it’s a low performance rating, it goes to HR or the supervisor”

To be more precise :

• The objective: “to reduce the distance between signal and action”. In other words, not to wait for a signal to pass from person to person between the one who identifies it and the one who can/should act, to get lost in the processes or in the communication tools and to avoid that its good treatment depends only on people’s good will and availability.

• The “right person”: an employee can have a multitude of problems, not all of which are the responsibility of HR or his manager. But they are usually the ones who collect them and then try to follow them up with the risk that the signal gets lost along the way. I would add that there are subjects that the employee may not be aware of, others that he does not want to talk about but need to be dealt with, and others that he does not dare to talk about but are just as deserving of treatment.

• The signal: it can be sent by a human being (I give feedback) or picked up in any system (evaluations, performance). The person concerned may or may not be aware that something is being triggered about him or her. Needless to say that some precautions have to be taken at the GDPR level. It is conceivable that in the long term, subjects will be identified both reactively (a posteriori identification) and predictively (by anticipating their appearance through the detection of certain “patterns”).

• The treatment: depending on the subject, it will be “assigned” to the most relevant person. We imagine of course that this will be followed and that it will be possible to collaborate on a subject or reassign it to someone.

This is the subject of a short study accompanied by concrete use cases.

HR discovers support and tickets

Many of you will notice that the device described is similar to what has been in place for ages in the support departments of many companies where the fact that the customer reports a problem or question results in the creation of a “ticket”. This ticket is assigned to a person, it follows a workflow, it can be assigned to others over time, different people can comment on it and its “status” is tracked.

It will make some people sad that we treat employee-related topics as vulgar bugs, but is it something else? Others will be shocked by the obligation to act and respond, but these ones have either got the wrong job or the wrong objectives. Others will be outraged to see part of their noble role reduced to the processing of incident tickets, they just need to remember who their real customer is…and that if we create devices that work, we have fewer bugs to deal with. This will sometimes be an opportunity to ask the question of who is the real customer of certain HR and business processes and to know what they have the right to expect from them…

The players in the customer relationship invest the HR sphere

I have no doubt that, as usual, the major HRIS players are rapidly enriching their offer with such products. In the meantime, will they leave a little space for pure players, as they often do? Nothing is less certain.

Because for a pure HRTech player to emerge and acquire a significant footprint on the market it would have to be empty, and this is not the case. In fact, it is a prime opportunity for customer relations players who already have the products and only have to rebrand them to offer them to HR. So we’re talking about consumerization again and, once again, HRIS is just cloning what exists on the customer relationship side, which is an opportunity for the “big boys” like Oracle and SAP who already have everything they need in store and just have to wait until the market is ready to make the few necessary changes.

Josh Bersin, for example, cites Medallia. Who is Medallia? An established player in customer relationship management. Another player that is positioned but in a much less successful way: Zendesk, which takes up the logic of FAQ and ticketing without pushing into a strong integration and signal capture/analysis.

On a personal note, when I wanted to launch a low-cost feedback system with a real monitoring of the workflow (in my opinion, capturing the signal without processing it and monitoring the processing is worse than not capturing it), all I had to do was “plug in” a form on JIRA, a ticket management tool well known to tech companies to have a functional MVP, which gives full satisfaction, by “hijacking” a massively used tool in the company for customer relations as I could do with Zendesk to build a giant FAQ or a marketing automation solution to keep in touch with the recruited candidates.

The employee is the first customer… well soon

The logic that the employee is the company’s first customer and should be treated as such is therefore well and truly in motion. As for seeing the logic of “Continuous Response” put in place, we are far from it.

Of course, companies will have to equip themselves and beyond ticketing, it will be the integration with existing systems that will be vital and will take time. It will also be necessary to learn how to sort and qualify these signals and if the learning machine seems to be the way to go it will take time.

But first and foremost it will require a change of mindset and approach to the subject. And this will go very quickly in some people and will not take in others.

The employee service? We’ve never been so close to it but we’ re still far from it.

Image : employee service by docstockmedia via Shutterstock

Head of People and Business Delivery @Emakina / Former consulting director / Crossroads of people, business and technology / Speaker / Compulsive traveler
Head of People and Business Delivery @Emakina / Former consulting director / Crossroads of people, business and technology / Speaker / Compulsive traveler

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