Credit by Craig Donaldson

Organisations need to put employees first – and not the consumer – in order to improve the customer experience, drive innovation and deliver better business results, according to an expert in the area.

Employees which are customer-facing play a critical role in brand and the customer experience, said former VP of innovation and creativity at Disney, Duncan Wardle, who explained that HR plays a critical role in this process.

“Take the hospitality industry, for example, in which waiters and waitresses are put on the minimum wage,” he said.

“You should stop that, because they’re in touch with your guests, every hour of every single day.”

These employees have more impact on the customer experience as well as brand and quarterly results than any other part of an organisation – “yet, we insist on paying them the minimum wage,” he said.

Wardle, who recently spoke at the Indeed Interactive conference, gave the example of putting the employee first on Disney cruise ships in order to deliver a better a better customer experience.

Disney conducted a program in which it asked its stateroom hosts to take an hour off in their normal 8-hour shift to talk and engage with guests directly, instead of cleaning cabins and performing their normal duties.

“We said ‘We’re going to give you a free hour during your shift to just talk with our guests.’

“We wanted to make their jobs more fun and less labour intensive, and also provide guests with a more personable experience,” said Wardle.

This program subsequently increased intent to return and intent to recommend higher and faster than any capital investment ever made onboard Disney ships.

Rethinking brand experience and value

To learn more about the company and its customers, he went to a DIY store and observed how customers – and in particular younger people – interacted with and purchased their products.

“This is the problem with companies that are maniacally focused on their quarterly results – they are iterating and not innovating”

“I went back to the world’s leading brand in tools and said, ‘Look, not only do Generation Z not care about your brand: they’ve never heard of your brand.

“’They’re not interested in your products, your hammers, your chisels, or your saws, and they’re not even talking about the price point.

“’What they are interested in is what’s very important to them, and that is building their dream bathroom, or dream living room, or their dream house.’”

Wardle explained to the company’s leadership team that it needed to rethink its customer experience and broader purpose and said that this extended beyond simply making tools.

“If you’re the brand that helps people build their dreams, what else could you want?

“Think about the other lines of business or other industries could you get into – you could get into finance, theme parks, education or other lines of business that haven’t even been considered.

“And they looked at me as if to say, ‘Well, how’s that going to drive our quarterly results?’

“This is the