Organizations are collecting colossal amounts of customer data, allowing them to understand their clients, tailor their experiences to their needs, and identify problems before they get out of hand. However, savvy business leaders are not stopping there; they're also recognizing another valuable source of information—their employees.

As the people who are in constant contact with customers, insights from frontline workers can be invaluable to organizations. These employees are the voice of those customers who are either reluctant to share information with the brands they do business with, or simply don't know how to pass on their comments or concerns.

Further, because they interact with numerous customers, employees can be instrumental in identifying negative trends before they become widespread problems and making sure that companies can capitalize on opportunities that arise.


Karine Del Moro, senior director at Confirmit, notes that savvy organizations are tapping into customer feedback to identify problems or opportunities and then mapping those results to employee feedback to get deeper insights. "Customer feedback answers the question of 'what,' but the most successful organizations use employee feedback to answer the question of 'why' this is happening," she notes. She says that many times customers don't know why they're having a particular issue. Moreover, seeing customer comments in isolation might not properly portray the extent of a particular problem. "Employees often have the best insights into why a customer is experiencing a particular issue and what can be fixed and how," she notes.

As cutthroat competition puts organizations under increased pressure to be customer centric, anyone who comes in contact with customers needs to contribute information to have a more rounded picture of customer interactions, notes Diane Berry, senior vice president of marketing and communications at Coveo. "More than anyone else, employees understand the underlying issues that customers face," DelMoro notes.

She points out that employees are not only able to provide invaluable information, but most times were willing to share it, allowing business leaders to identify issues like broken processes or conflicting metrics. DelMoro uses the example of a large retail organization in the United States, which collects about10,000 responses from frontline employees every month both through surveys and reports to better understand the customer experience it's delivering. The company is now piloting a mobile application that allows employees to point out positive and negative experiences in real time. "This makes giving feedback part of employees' jobs," she notes.

The insight that employees have into customer interactions and behaviors allows them to go beyond just pointing out problems or trends. DelMoro notes that employees are most often happy to share their ideas on how to improve the customer experience, giving business leaders additional information beyond what the issues are and why they are happening. In fact, as DelMoro explains, it gives organizations the ability to drive these improvements.

However, even companies that are cognizant that correlating information from employees with customer data can lead to business success are encountering some hurdles in bringing the two types of data together.

Overcoming problems in merging employee and customer data

One of the biggest stumbling blocks that organizations face in correlating customer and employee data is that a lot of information is unstructured, Berry notes. "There's an overwhelming amount of data that's buried, unstructured, and in different channels," she notes.

But even before adding structure to unstructured data, businesses need to bring this information together. A major problem organizations face is bringing together data that's being collected by different departments and stored in separate repositories; adding information gathered from employees can only compound matters further. Cyrus Ghalambor, founder of Adigami, says many times business leaders aren't aware of the data that's available in different parts of the organization.

Coveo's Berry says many organizations are still keeping these two sets of data apart, then having to access different systems to search for the information. "The concept of unifying information is still fairly new," she notes.

DelMoro agrees. "Until now, customer feedback was collected and stored by one department and employee feedback by another," she notes. If data is being collected by different departments which are not speaking with each other, this information tends to lack standardization, making the task of bringing it together more complicated. Therefore, organizations should take a look at the data that's being collected by different departments, and either centralize the information or allow different divisions visibility into data collected by other departments. Ghalambor suggests investing in a centralized platform that aggregates information from different departments.

However, rather than wait to have all the data in one place before starting to make sense of it, Ghalambor says organizations should start correlating the information that they already have available, before incrementally starting to add to it. He notes that business leaders should establish a strategy on how they're going to standardize information going forward, making the process easier in the future. Berry says many companies are starting by bringing together customer and employee data from one department, proving the benefits of this practice, and then getting the funding to expand the process.

Another problem is reluctance by some employees to share insights. Berry says a main reason for their apprehension stems from concern about the security of information that they share. She emphasizes the importance of establishing security measures to safeguard both employee and customer data, and then explain what the company is doing to staff members.

Finally, achieving and retaining high employee engagement is the key since this will encourage staff members to continue sharing their feedback. Further, organizations need to act on the data they gather from their employees, and then go back and let these workers know what action has been taken, allowing them to understand that their insights are appreciated and leveraged.