Customer Experiences Mirror Employee Experience

To deliver a seamless customer experience frontstage, there must be a mirrored frictionless employee experience backstage.

Gina Oh
Gina Oh
Sep 9 · 6 min read

Understanding customers and putting their initial needs at the forefront of business decisions used to be a strategic differentiator but is now the minimum requirement. What differentiates leaders versus laggards within any given market is how well businesses can seamlessly deliver on those needs throughout the entirety of a customer’s lifecycle.

Image of a singular initial need “before” versus circular multitude of needs “today”
Image of a singular initial need “before” versus circular multitude of needs “today”

Forging strategic differentiation necessitates a deep understanding of a user’s needs across the entire end-to-end journey. However, delivering a coordinated and consistent end-to-end experience can be especially difficult within a large enterprise where different parts of the customer’s journey are owned by different parts of the organization’s functions and business units. Therefore, by nature of interacting with large enterprises, a customer will encounter touchpoints from multiple teams across a single organization that may or may not provide a consistent experience.

To bridge those natural but painful breakages and inconsistencies, a team of service designers at IBM created the Journey System. The Journey System is a set of repeatable methods, frameworks, and tools that help IBMers at the enterprise level focus business priorities and orchestrate teams around serving end-to-end journeys.

The Cast

The Journey Team is a multidisciplinary squad of user researchers, service designers, and data scientists, who have since taken the Journey System’s set of principles to pilot, test, and prove the efficacy of the frameworks when applied to the business.

To address a shared understanding of the customer’s landscape, the team uses the service design concepts of “backstage” and “frontstage” to map out how customers interact with IBM. On the frontstage, customers interact directly with IBM through multiple touchpoints (websites, sellers, events, etc.), while in the backstage, IBM teams and business processes work behind the scenes to provide exceptional value to the frontstage user.

In a perfect world, the backstage efforts should not be visible to the customer. A “line of visibility” separates frontstage interactions and backstage processes. However, through iterations of pilots, the Journey Team discovered that more often than not, broken backstage efforts bleed through quick-fix Band-Aid efforts attempting to mask the line of visibility. Thus the backstage manifests into unpleasant frontstage experiences for customers.

Image of Frontstage and Backstage divided by dotted line of visibility
Image of Frontstage and Backstage divided by dotted line of visibility

The Prologue

When the Journey Team was paired with a business unit at IBM to pilot a new way of working, the team discovered that in order to deliver a seamless customer experience, there must be a mirrored frictionless employee experience backstage that reflects customer actions frontstage. There are quick win tactics to alleviate breakages for a customer’s frontstage experience. However, the most impactful and lasting work to the frontstage actually occurs backstage. This is achieved with re-envisioned handoffs⁠, or processes endorsed with incentives and tools that encourage collaboration across disparate functions and business units. The result is a single end-to-end journey.

Act I: The Investigation

The pilot began with an assessment of an identified journey by mapping out the customer’s end-to-end experience on an as-is service blueprint. The as-is service blueprint maps out the customer experience ecosystem, providing a bird’s eye view with customer actions linked to employee touchpoints frontstage. Those interactions then cascade down into the employee processes and tools backstage that are created to support frontstage touchpoints. Service blueprinting, though built with a focus on the frontstage customer, really helps to uncover the root cause of customer pain points that often hide backstage.

The Journey Team conducted primary interviews with around 40 discipline leads and practitioners across IBM, including marketing, sales, support, and offering management and secondary interviews with over 30 researchers across the business unit. Through this work, our service designers and user researchers put forth a POV on the as-is ecosystem of customer and IBM interactions on the end-to-end journey. After validating and refining the team’s POV through interviews with existing customers on the dedicated journey, the qualitative insights from interviews were paired with findings from quantitative data analysis for a more robust narrative and understanding about the user’s journey.

Our data scientists created a model that algorithmically determines where users are on the journey and their progression across their lifecycle before, during, and after they’ve began their relationship with IBM. This model was created by translating the combination of digital user behavior data and IBM systems of record data into customer steps across the service blueprint end-to-end framework.

Act II: The Culprit

From our quantitative and qualitative integrated insights, we concluded that users in the frontstage were spending an exceptionally long time at the front of the funnel as the complexity of the journey made it difficult for customers to progress on their own. This journey, by nature is a more high-touch and hands on technical engagement than others.

Based on our research, our team identified that improving this journey’s digital entry point through product page enhancements that reflect customer needs would be the most impactful area for quick wins to alleviate frontstage fractures. Through series of iterations, our team identified pages with the highest traffic for digital entry and provided recommendations. The set of recommendations that were implemented resulted in an overall increase in page engagement with a 2X increase in trial entry and 8X increase in primary CTA clicks within two weeks. Interestingly, a subset of recommendations provided, that were vetted and tested clear improvements to the user’s experience, was not implemented. Our team dug a little deeper to find out why.

The underlying cause of what appeared to be digital mishaps in product pages was a manifestation of broken handoffs and siloed objectives behind the curtains. Upon closer look, many of the frontstage fractures were representation of broken backstage employee experiences. Processes and incentives set in place were not enabling employees to best serve customer progression within a journey. Furthermore, teams were not empowered with the right tools, framework, metrics or shared understanding of the “journey” to work together to serve end-to-end needs.

Act III: The Resolution

Unlike frontstage quick wins, backstage reconfiguration is a long term transformation effort across the organization. It can be painful, it can take a long time, but the impacts are far reaching. Understanding the high impact of embarking on backstage transformation work, the Journey Team is moving beyond case by case pilots and into strategic efforts that intertwine the piloted and refined Journey System methods and tools into the DNA of IBM.

To deliver differentiating customer experience, education on the importance of considering end-to-end journeys is crucial in influencing the way people think; but to change the way people work, a business must provide their employees with tools and processes that embody the words of change. If the tools and processes that employees live and breathe are not foundationally built to support a new infrastructure, the invested efforts to bring a wave of change will topple down. Therefore, the Journey Team is focusing efforts to stitch together gaps in this way of thinking and working across the business by not only providing new tools that enable end-to-end journey orchestration and understanding, but also tactically integrating journey principles into the existing tools that teams use today.

True change that drives lasting business outcomes frontstage, occurs backstage by shifting both the employees’ ways of thinking and the ways of working. These paired efforts should result in continuous creation of cohesive and seamless end-to-end frontstage experiences, naturally develop as a byproduct of improved and aligned backstage employee processes.

Curtain Call

Stay tuned to hear about the learnings from the Journey Team effort to scale journey principles across the IBM organization to improve customer experience and business revenue.

For more information from design at IBM, visit

The above article is personal and does not necessarily represent IBM’s positions, strategies or opinions.

Design at IBM

Stories from the practice of design at IBM

Thanks to Allison Biesboer

Gina Oh

Written by

Gina Oh

Design at IBM

Stories from the practice of design at IBM

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