Good User Experience Starts with Good Employee Experience

A few years ago I was enjoying brunch with some friends at the Tavern at Lark Creek, which is rightfully known for excellent food and attentive and friendly service. Part way through the meal I had to excuse myself to use the bathroom. The bathroom was up some windy stairs, and was very nicely appointed, even more nicely treated than the dining room itself. As restaurant bathrooms go it was very pleasant, but I did not give it much thought.

At the end of the meal before hitting the road for a slightly long drive, I decided to make another pit-stop. This time I saw a downstairs bathroom, which was not as nice as the first one I had used upstairs (thought it was not by any means unpleasant). It became clear that I had taken a wrong turn the first time and had used the employee bathroom.

I could have chosen to be miffed that the restaurant didn’t ensure that the guest bathroom was as good as it could be. Instead, I realized that the quality of the employee bathroom was one sign that the restaurant cared for its staff, and recognized that taking care of the EX - the employee experience - is a prerequisite to a consistently high quality UX - user (customer) experience. They realized that “customer centric” does not mean ignoring employees. In fact it’s just the opposite, if you want to offer truly good service to customers, you need to start with treating your staff right.

As Olive Garden President David Pickens puts it, “It’s very difficult for the experience of the guests to exceed the experience of the staff.”

When you look at the company’s that consistently deliver superior UX - Zappos, Amazon, Google, Southwest, Starbucks back in the old days, Levenger, Niemen Marcus, the one thing they all have in common is that they pay huge amounts of attention to the quality of life of their staff, creating a culture and infrastructure of training that help their staff do the right thing, even when there isn’t an exact rule about what to do in a novel situation.

As an extreme example, read the letter that Zappos CEO Tony Hsieh wrote to employees when the acquisition by Amazon was announced. It is manically focused on the culture of the company and the worklife of the staff, superseding just about every other concern. “Culture” shows up 23 time in it, 7 times in association with “unique”, and 21 times with “brand”. In other words, Hsieh makes an intimate connection between the internal culture of the company and the external brand as it appears to customers - he recognizes that the EX is directly correlated with UX.