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Focus On People – and Don’t Let Up

Today’s journey of experience is ever evolving and that is what makes it such an opportunity for differentiation.

As we continue to move on from the pandemic into something more familiar, we are visited by the Ghost of CX past. The economy is a challenge, staffing is a nightmare, and we are all trying to find our way within this evolving marketplace.

It’s possible we need to take a step back and ask the fundamental question – why should anyone care about customer experience?

  • Because it drives sales?

  • Because it helps retain customers?

  • Retaining customers is more cost effective than finding new ones?

  • Happy customers recommend you and defend you in the marketplace?

But as most businesses are fighting for survival, they are ill-equipped to serve customers. There are struggles with recruiting that make staffing shifts a nightmare.

The answer for many has been to post a sign. You’ve likely seen them. They usually read:

Now the funny part is that the shop where I get my hair cut has been understaffed for 3 years because the managers are mean and the pay is terrible. Why would anyone work there when they can’t post a schedule on time, manipulate their tips, and never give them their breaks?

But now businesses have an excuse – a crutch – a magic sign written in crayon on the front door making their incompetence acceptable.

That takes us even one step farther back. That’s right, we are going to talk about employee experience. An issue that is near and dear to my heart as I have spent my entire life leading teams.

My last operationally focused job had me leading 500 employees and nearly 40 managers across 30 locations. I can remember taking on an account in Ohio that was close to imploding with out of control costs, an expired union contract, and low customer loyalty.

Now this is where I want to call your attention to two very important pieces:

  1. I am not the hero of the story and I’ll tell you why in a moment.

  2. I’ve actually led teams and served customers.

I’m going to call it like it is – most of the consultants you will meet out there have never led a team or served a guest – and if they have it wasn’t in the last 20 years.

It’s good to have that out of the way so that we can get to the fun stuff.

Employee Experience (often referred to as EX)

So you might be wondering how we turned around the account I mentioned earlier. It really wasn’t as tough as you might think. We started by speaking to every employee – that’s right, every single person. We learned what was working and what wasn’t – and we started putting some muscle behind fixing the issues. We made sure people got their breaks on time, that they had training they needed, and we took the time to listen to what they had to say.

  • We made sure that pre-shift huddles happened every shift (almost) and we told people when they were doing a good job.

  • We made sure wages were in line with the market and if they had a legitimate grievance, we settled it promptly.

  • The leaders on site were visible during their shifts and they coached and modeled he behaviors we wanted our teams to adopt.

  • We put our people at the center of our thinking and then repeated that every day until we had the foundational elements of culture taking root.

  • We didn’t pat ourselves on the back and have a beer – we kept doing it and kept talking about it and kept worrying about it.

We never let up, not ever, not for a minute.

And it was hard – and we didn’t always get it right – and when we stumbled, we picked ourselves up and started again.

Which brings me to the point of this and why this isn’t about me and my role. I certainly had a hand in laying out the strategy and getting the process moving, but then I was more a cheerleader than an active participant in many ways.

The Leadership Team Made it Happen. Any story you hear where leaders say it was all them or that their team did everything are both equally false. You need a leader – and executive sponsor – to start the ball rolling and give direction, but you equally need a team who can bring it to fruition. The team of managers who led the charge at this account made it happen every day. They were visible, available, and modeled all the right behaviors. They knew everyone was watching to see if this was real or just a flavor-of-the-month kind of thing.

We Made Sure We Listened. That is fundamentally what employees are looking for – an environment where they feel valued and with a path to growth. We made sure that after our initial listening tours that the regular employee touchpoints were locked on our calendars and non-negotiable. The thing our team liked best was the fact that we told them what was happening with their requests and ideas. Not every one of them was a winner, but we did take the time to update our team regularly on progress.

We Talked About Customers – A Lot. And when I say this, I mean both internal and external customers. We talked about people constantly and what impact every decision had on them. Not posting and employee schedule on time or not saying thank you had ripples into the guest experience. We talked about customer surveys openly and what was going well and not so well. We said thank you all the time and we talked to people who weren’t measuring up directly, but politely.

So, if you are reading this and thinking that nothing in this plan was revolutionary, you are 100% right. The only thing we did better than the team before us was to prioritize these simple pieces and not let up for a minute.

You don’t need 100 things, you need the right 5 things.

This is a great time to take a pulse check and see where you can take action to improve both your customer and employee experiences. Remember, along the way, that the best actions are simple, straightforward, and easily repeated – and allow you to focus your efforts in a specific way that can drive tangible results.

Check out 4xi's Evolving Experiences© and learn how we can help you and your business.


Tony Johnson is 4xi’s Chief Experience Officer and leader of the Evolving Experiences© practice. Before joining 4xi, he was the Customer Service Officer for Aramark, a global food and facilities organization. Tony is a Certified Customer Experience Professional (CCXP), award-winning speaker, and globally recognized employee and customer experience expert.

Tony is the author of 3 books on leadership, employee engagement, and customer experience and hosts an industry-leading weekly podcast, Customer Service Academy.


4xi: Inspiring a brighter future, together.

4xi Global Consulting & Solutions is a team of talented leaders from both the client-side and service provider side, creating an impact on the Human Experience (HX) for people at work, in education, rest, and at leisure.

We believe in a people-first, experience-led philosophy; whether client, employee, or guest – their experience is the fundamental foundation of success.

We work with corporations, service providers, and innovators:

  • Strategic Advisory & Special Projects (SPx)

  • Headquarters Fractional Support On-Demand

  • Evolving Experiences© - Employee (EX) & Customer Experience (CX)

  • Design4Life©: Environmental, Physical, and Experiential Design

  • Global Amenities Strategy, Design & Operations

  • TRUE NORTH©: Strategic Partnership & Growth

  • Explorers Innovation Directory: Gateway to Innovation

  • Sustainability Simplified©: Supply Chain & Innovation

  • Market Research Reports & Benchmarking


4xi is proud to be Chair of WORKTECH Academy for North America and a member of its Leadership Advisory Board. 4xi is a Global Ambassador for WORKTECH Academy.

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