insight • Jul 28 2022

Designing the Employee Experience to Improve the Customer Experience

If we expect employees to treat customers well, we must treat our employees well. One way to do that is by designing an employee experience that supports the needs of both customers and employees.

Good design helps create a seamless customer experience. Additionally, across many industries including retail, hospitality, healthcare and more, good design can also support a great employee experience. This includes designing behind-the-scenes areas exclusively for employees — away from customers — where employees can take a physical and mental break, returning to the workplace refreshed and ready to provide good service to their customers. 

Employees are often the first points of interaction for customers. They have the power to either make or break the first impression of your business. For years the focus has been on using design to enhance the customer experience. However, now the trend is leaning toward designing the employee experience to improve the customer experience. 


Design Spaces With Workers In Mind

The retail industry in general took a huge hit during the past two years of the pandemic. Many brick and mortar locations laid off employees, adjusted their hours and their operations, or had to close entirely. There are more than 900,000 job openings currently in retail and many stores are finding it difficult to fill open positions for a number of reasons including safety and burnout.  For many retailers, the solution to attracting potential workers is to design attractive retail spaces with the worker in mind

According to a recent article in Fast Company, “Retail clients are seeking experiences that prioritize the clarity of the experience.” And this clarity includes a dual focus on both customers and employees to improve the customer experience. The goal is to continue to give customers an exceptional experience while making slight changes that improve safety and reduce the amount of time spent at the business. Design accommodations that accomplish this goal will improve the overall experience for customers as well as the retail establishment’s employees.


The Value Of Onstage vs Backstage

Disney is known for its masterful ability to create magical experiences for customers (guests). And they spend time and money training their employees (cast members) to deliver on these experiences. 

Disney knows that the employee experience drives the customer experience. If cast members are happy and they feel cared for, they will be more likely to carry those happy feelings “onstage” with them and work hard to make sure their guests feel the same way. So it’s probably no surprise to learn that there are intentionally-designed spaces throughout the Disney parks and resorts exclusively for employees. These “backstage” areas are a place for employees to eat, relax, and decompress. Best of all, these spaces are cleverly hidden from guests’ view in order to preserve the integrity of the guest experience. (Think about how strange it might be to see Mickey Mouse eating a slice of pizza or Snow White talking on her cell phone?)

Entertainment terms such as “onstage” and “backstage” are common in hospitality-themed organizations such as theme parks, resorts, hotels, and other entertainment destinations. But Disney was the first to use these terms broadly as a way to delineate the guest experience from the cast member or employee experience. This approach to designing the employee experience can translate to other businesses as well, including retail, hospitality, and healthcare. 


Healthcare Design and The Employee Experience 

Healthcare employees (especially during this pandemic) work longer hours with fewer resources under some of the most dire conditions. Healthcare remains one of the most highly stressful jobs. Healthcare employers expect their employees to take good care of their patients, but who is taking good care of their employees?

Design elements in a hospital or care facility setting should include well-thought out areas dedicated to employees. Consider break areas for those that work face to face with patients. Providing well designed spaces where employees can rest and recharge, contributes to the wellbeing of employees, and translated into how they treat and interact with their patients.

Another thing to consider? Separate dining facilities. Hospitals and care facilities usually have a common dining room or cafeteria where patients, visitors, family members, hospital staff, and medical personnel can dine. Imagine the family of a patient sitting down to enjoy lunch next to a table full of nurses who are complaining about their workload and long hours. What might their perception be? Or, you spot the surgeon who will perform your father’s heart operation later that day in the cafeteria having an argument with a coworker. How does the lack of a dedicated space for employees impact the patient experience? These issues can be resolved with good design that helps enhance the employee experience. 


Maya Angelou once said, “People will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.” Businesses invest a lot of time and money building extraordinary experiences to make their customers oooh and ahhh and feel cared for. And they rely on employees to deliver these extraordinary experiences. But at the end of the day, if your design doesn’t support and care for your employees, how can you expect them to do the same for your customers?

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