‘Working environments, whether good or bad, are usually a good indicator of what a brand represents,’ says Mariann Wenckheim, director at strategic design consultancy 20.20. ‘For all the Google employees who get to take their laptops to one of the imaginatively designed breakout areas, there are many more workers who spend their days in drab, soul-less offices.’ Wenckheim raises an important point – although in the past three decades brands have radically shifted the way they view their customers, with designers striving to make customer experience the focus of their projects, brands keep forgetting about their employees.
‘While customer-centric brand delivery has now become the norm, many in the industry have failed to think more broadly about the people behind the scenes – the ones who pick up the phone in a call centre, greet you as you walk into a store or sell tickets to a football game,’ explains Wenckheim. ‘As the company’s most important brand ambassadors, surely they need to be empowered?’ Brands should of course continue perfecting their approach to customer experience by combining psychology with intelligent design – but improving employee experience is just as vital.
‘Equipping teams with the right skills and knowledge means they can better engage with customers and help them make informed purchases. When you think that customer journeys are emotionally driven, always individual and personal, colleagues should be able to recognize the cues and become part of the process,’ reveals Wenckheim. This concept became the basis of 20.20’s projects – customers ‘firmly in control of their in store experience’ and ‘confident, open-minded and knowledgeable’ employees, which is achieved by encouraging authentic conversations.
‘It is these ideas that should be used to develop offices in the future. After all, investment in employees is not limited to those in customer-facing roles but to the entire workforce. Different zones can promote greater productivity, with spaces to have discussions with colleagues and quiet areas,’ affirms Wenckheim. ‘It does not need to be as off-the-wall as Google’s offices – a flexible space that reflects the company values and fosters a sense of ownership among the team is often more effective.’ Based on interviews and customer insight, Wenckheim determined that people buy from brands that resemble the people they like and admire. ‘Every time a customer buys something, it is a reflection of their personal values and in fact, there are very few occasions when people go against their principles and feelings,’ she notes.
Ultimately, Wenckheim argues emotional investment should inform every aspect of design. The teams that create customer experiences are sidelined because brands do not express the true affection they have for their employees. ‘When we work with clients, our goal is to help them become what they believe in on behalf of all their fans, customers, colleagues and partners,’ she concludes. ‘These spaces, regardless of whether customers actually see them, should bring people together and spark conversations and connections in the real world. It’s all part of our mission to make people feel empowered.’
Designers are always striving to put customer experience at the heart of their projects – and rightly so. But all-too-often, the teams that deliver these experiences are sidelined. What’s missing is a true love for employees.