A Customer by Any Other Name

I was consulting with a senior leadership team about designing experiences across their business. At one point in the meeting I was blending the concepts of customer and employee experience under a broad banner called the business’ “overall experiential offering.” A well-meaning executive spoke up to encourage a more precise use of terms. He said, “lets keep the customer and staff members separate and develop different strategies for each.” Being blessed with so much work that I no longer need to monitor my honest thoughts, I spoke out by simply asking “why?” I knew all the traditional answers, heck I’ve offered some of them myself. Those answers include reality such as different departments overseeing customers and staff, and organizational structures that provide different communication teams for customers and for staff As members of that leadership team answered my spontaneous question in predictable ways, I acquiesced to their conventional wisdom and resistance and two very different channels of experience were designed for their organization – one for customers and one for staff. But ever since that meeting I’ve been wondering if the traditional approach is really the best one.

Upon reading a blog entry, written by Erin Raese, Editor-in-Chief of Loyalty Management it seems that others are asking a similar question. Erin writes, “One piece I keep coming back to is the similarities between consumer focused loyalty and engagement strategies, and those of the employee channel. There are so many similarities, yet organizations continue to keep the strategies and messaging to these entities separate. – Why?” Why indeed Erin?

Erin and I seem to share a definition of “customer” championed by the loyalty marketers association, Loyalty 360. Loyalty 360 defines a “customer” as anyone your organization touches. By that definition a customer is your employee, vendor, channel partner and of course your end user.
Erin concludes by asking two rather interesting questions, “why do we continue to be so segmented in the way we approach strategies for employees and consumers?” and “Are we…too siloed within our organizations to share learnings across departments and responsibilities?” As you ponder those, I’ll add a few questions of my own…

1) How are your customer and employee engagement strategies similar and how are they different?
2) Are those differences truly necessary or are they simply artifacts of tradition and organizational structure?
3) What aspects of your approach to engaging customers might work also work in engaging your best employees?

I stand behind my view that business success depends on “profiting people through people” – no matter what labels we place on those people. Most of the mapping strategies I advocate are parallel for customers and employees and are designed to deliver exactly the same outcomes for all people the business touches. How about your processes and outcomes – when must they diverge for the people inside and the people outside the business?

Smoke over black background

Joseph A. Michelli, Ph.D. is a professional speaker and chief experience officer at The Michelli Experience. A New York Times #1 bestselling author, Dr. Michelli and his team consult with some of the world’s best customer experience companies.

Follow on Twitter: @josephmichelli


  1. Abhinaya Chandrasekhar on August 20, 2009 at 3:28 am

    Hi Joseph

    This post had me thinking for a long time. I believe that the underlying basis for customer and employee engagement are similar but the strategies will have to differ. Its like a chain with the employer, employee and the customer. Empowering the employee will result in a positive effect and this will be passed on to the customer. This has been brought out very well in your book – The Starbucks Experience. I recently read this book and reviewed it on my blog.


  2. BarbaraAHughes on August 20, 2009 at 6:31 am

    Enjoyed your blog, Joesph and good thoughts/points.
    You ask why companies would segment employee and customer strategies and I’d suggest that functions still hoard knowledge and power. Everyone wants to know who “owns” which relationships. Until leadership settles that argument, it’s hard to think that a culture is created whereby there is a deep understanding of joint accountability for business results through key relationships.

  3. Joseph Michelli on August 20, 2009 at 8:04 pm

    Brilliant distinciton! Engagement and loyalty are mutual outcomes BUT strategies may need to diverge. Awesome point!

  4. Joseph Michelli on August 20, 2009 at 8:06 pm

    The issue of knowledge “as power” and the hoarding of information is simply genius. It takes C suite leaders to breakdown those silo’s of power and incentivize for true collaboration. Bravo Barbara

  5. Bob Homes on June 13, 2011 at 2:01 pm

    “He said, “lets keep the customer and staff members separate and develop different strategies for each.” ”

    I can understand the concept of this; you don’t want customers having the same knowledge as staff members, otherwise they wouldn’t buy anything. At the same time, transparency has a place in the corporate world, and I don’t think you should pull the fleece over your customers’ eyes even when you can.

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