Why CIOs should prioritise the customer experience

There’s a demonstrable link between employee engagement and customer satisfaction. CIOs can harness technology to make profitable connections between EX and CX for their companies


You’d be hard-pressed to find a CIO who wouldn’t agree that improving the customer experience (CX) is integral to their role. From creating AI-driven virtual assistants that augment customer-care teams to replacing legacy tech when it’s no longer serving the needs of users, CIOs work hard to ensure that omnichannel platforms work smoothly for consumers. But what about the employee experience (EX)?

According to pre-pandemic research by Salesforce, a significant proportion of CIOs didn’t have EX on their to-do lists. Only 52% of IT leaders said that they prioritised it, while only 22% had a defined EX strategy. Those percentages are likely to have risen during the Covid crisis, but it is clear that, while virtually all CIOs recognise the significant impact that technology has on customer engagement, far fewer have joined the dots when it comes to its effects on employees. 

That’s an oversight, according to Colleen Berube, CIO at Zendesk. “There is a direct line between happy, engaged employees and satisfied customers,” she says. 

For instance, a study by Forrester and SAP Concur (also before the pandemic) revealed that companies with the most engaged employees enjoyed 81% higher customer satisfaction than average and experienced half the employee turnover, which adds up to a significant competitive edge. 

“In the Covid era, there’s another important reason to focus on EX,” Berube says. “Businesses are operating in an incredibly high-demand labour market, so they need every advantage to attract and retain employees in a sustainable way.”

In both respects, CIOs can make a key contribution, she adds. “They can have a meaningful impact, as technology factors are strong predictors of employee engagement. The role of the IT professional is no longer simply about running the company’s technology. Now it’s about guiding and governing choices; defining architecture and solutions; and developing the right services to connect employees, so that they can better serve their customers. This is the true end goal.”

There are many ways in which CIOs can make a positive difference to EX. The wholesale migration to hybrid working, for instance, has seen firms adopting an abundance of technologies to support remote workers. There has also been a wave of digital wellbeing platforms that claim to support EX online while providing feedback on people’s mental health to management teams. And then there is the changing role of HR, in which AI-powered chatbots help HR managers to handle basic requests from employees. All of these technologies fall under the CIO’s remit. 

Perhaps the most overlooked way in which CIOs can bolster EX is to focus on the impressions created each time an employee engages with an internal system – a digital trail sometimes referred to as the DEX (digital employee experience). 

CIOs can discern much about the mood of the workforce by analysing the DEX. They can learn of employees’ frustrations with clunky tech and gauge their productivity by analysing people’s digital output and the time they spend on digital distractions such as social media. 

“An employee’s digital footprint can give IT teams great insights into how to improve their EX strategy,” says Helena Nimmo, CIO at Endava. “Mapping employee technology touchpoints and journeys throughout the system, measuring time spent on certain tasks and localising journey interruptions can help to improve employees’ experiences and alleviate their frustrations.” 

She continues: “The key is to ensure that such data collection doesn’t cross into surveillance territory and that it actually benefits employees. For this, the wider leadership team needs to be involved to understand what the company wants to achieve and how an improved EX strategy can help. Being transparent about data collection, running smaller tests and anonymising data will be more beneficial than going big and collecting everything. This will create a more compelling EX strategy that will attract the right talent and, ultimately, improve staff satisfaction and retention.”

Measuring employee engagement

CIOs can even go further by implementing technologies aimed at measuring EX more effectively and creating new channels through which to view digital footprints. 

Robert Ordever is managing director of OC Tanner Europe, a specialist provider of employee recognition programmes. He cites the example of one company whose annual staff survey found that female employees felt less appreciated than their male counterparts. There was nothing the firm could see in its data that highlighted any variance in how the contributions of men and women were acknowledged. 

“Using advanced technology to analyse this data more closely, the organisation found a difference in the words that employees used to recognise each other’s performance,” he says. “It turned out that male employees were receiving recognition with stronger positive statements at a higher magnitude than female employees.” 

The firm then went one step further by blending data from its staff survey, recognition programme and performance management system. 

“The analysis revealed that female employees received less than fair performance reviews and were more likely to feel disconnected from the organisation,” Ordever says. “This insight informed targeted training for leaders that was cost-effective, manageable and impactful in addressing the root causes of disengagement and feelings of exclusion.”

The bottom line is that more CIOs must recognise the significant role that technology plays in employee engagement and how it can be used to underpin a winning EX strategy. 

Pierre Lindmark is the founder and CEO of Winningtemp, which has created an AI-powered EX platform that gives employers a real-time view of how their people are faring. He observes that, as long as “digital innovations continue disrupting business models and cultures, CIOs need to work more closely with HR teams to ensure their successful implementation. CIOs who equip themselves with people analytics or insights are in a unique position to drive business transformations, as they can show hard data to support their EX strategies.”

It’s no longer a question of whether EX should be included on every CIO’s to-do list – it’s a question of why it isn’t near the top.