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How Employee Experience Transformation Makes Customer Experience a Differentiator

How do brands with the best customer loyalty strategically support their employees to create unique experiences for their guests?


As the post-pandemic economy re-calibrates and travel surges, travel and hospitality companies are re-investing in the guest experience through expanded loyalty programs,personalized marketing, modernized booking platforms and more.

But there’s one area that’s being drastically overlooked by most leadership teams in driving great customer experience: employee experience, or (EX) transformation.

When it comes to major crises or just day-to-day travel interactions, in-person and digital employee experience transformation is the backbone of guest satisfaction.

“In the travel industry, employee experience is inseparable from the customer experience,” says Pete Groves, senior managing director at Publicis Sapient. “It’s time to understand and enable employee journeys the same way we do with customer  journeys.”

How can travel and hospitality companies make EX, and the resulting CX, a differentiator?

How employee experience is ripe for transformation

Inflated travel costs combined with a strained economic environment mean both employees and guests are no longer loyal to their favorite travel brands. The “great resignation” also created a domino effect of understaffing, high employee turnover, increased customer dissatisfaction and loss of revenue. As travel becomes more expensive and customer service standards drop, so does employee engagement.

Making do, with less

Insufficient staff directly affects operations, even in the most digitally-native environments.  While the key players have found numerous ways to “do more with less” and continue to innovate, there are some fundamental elements of the experience that rely on present, capable and engaged employees to deliver.  


  • Airlines

    Several European airports were forced to cut flights and limit daily passengers due to inadequate staff—therefore forcing airlines to cancel their flights and forego revenue.


    Source: CNN



    87% of hotel operators report being "somewhat or severely understaffed," leading to delays and customer service issues.

    In the U.K., estimates show that £20bn in revenue was lost in 2022 due to a lack of staffing


    Source: AHLA, CoStar


    Only 54% of QSR employees reached 90 days of working before quitting in 2022.


    Source: Restaurant Dive

Understaffing across sectors in travel and hospitality directly affects customer experience and overall revenue.

Even when brands are fully staffed, employee experience is often the linchpin between minor customer service issues and a full-blown customer crisis.

How employee experience impacts the customer experience in hospitality and travel

Many of us have terrible customer service stories that we share for comedic value or a vague sense of contribution to a suggestion box, but those customer experiences almost always have a counterpart—and origin—in a terrible employee experience which may have a more strategic imperative to get right.

“Brands cannot rely on their employees to think on their feet if they don’t have the tools to support them,” says Kent Asaki, food and dining industry expert. “Employees are no longer accepting the status quo when it comes to employee experience because, post-pandemic, they’re no longer dealing with the status quo.”


The impact of EX on CX, by the numbers :


How EX strategy can prevent a guest experience crisis

When employees are operating under a high degree of stress in a challenging climate, they have very little reserve for when things go very wrong.

  • Airlines

    After 20+ passengers on a flight lost their baggage, they assembled to create a viral TikTok calling out the airline that got millions of views.



    When a credit card mishap caused a guest’s card to get declined at a luxury hotel, a lack of sensitivity from the front desk worker turned into a civil lawsuit.


    A U.S. QSR franchisee implemented a three-day workweek for burned-out employees. The story went viral and led to 100% retention and 420 applications for one job opening.

The way employees respond to stressful moments has the power to go viral—in positive and negative ways.

While unpleasant interactions can never be avoided completely, brands known for providing consistently superb customer service are the brands that give their employees the highest level of support.

How to improve employee experience in travel and hospitality

But how can travel brands systematically enable employee experience solutions at scale?

There are two key strategies: connecting CX to EX and designing digitally-enabled, personalized EX journeys.

Connect customer and employee experience

To deliver a differentiated experience that delights customers, travel brands need to integrate digital CX systems and journeys with EX from the start through a service design approach.

Service design addresses both customer experience transformation and EX together (CEmX),considering both the frontstage (what a customer sees) and backstage (what a customer doesn’t see) involved in delivering a service. CEmX requires working together with customers, stakeholders and employees to map journeys over time, develop personas and blueprint all aspects.

“It is often the employees on the ground who are responsible for delivering make or-break experiences for your brand,” says Asaki. “Travel companies have the ability to set up these employees for success through integrated CX and EX journeys.”

Design digital employee experience platforms

Travel brands can invest in the digital workforce experience to make customer interactions more efficient and more personalized.

Airline call centers:

As airports and airlines work to enhance their approach to customer service, providing innovative digital tools to employees should be at the top of the list.AI-driven scripts based on caller sentiment analysis can better prepare call center employees to provide the right interaction for the right customer need at the right time.

Hotel front desks:

Just as hotel brands upgrade front desks through digital to create seamless customer experiences, similar investments can be made for employees. Using geofencing via a loyalty app on a member’s phone can alert the hotel lobby and front desk staff when a high-value elite member is arriving. The alert can be sent to a handheld device with high-level customer data and photographs, prompting employees to greet the guest by name and kick off a personalized experience.

Measuring employee experience

Brands also need to ensure that employee success metrics are in alignment with upgraded technology and customer service expectations.

QSR self-service:

A global coffee chain introduced the ability to customize drink orders via its in-app ordering capability to improve the customer experience, yet employee success metrics weren’t upgraded in tandem. The chain’s employees were measured on time-to-fill and accuracy, and new custom drink options took two times longer to make, creating tension between customer needs and employee motivation to succeed.

Invest in employee experience journey design

To fully connect CX and EX, brands not only need to design digital tools that benefit both customers and employees, but they also need to invest in more personalized employee experience journey mapping.

“Travel brands have been investing in customer journey reinvention, loyalty and personalization for years,” says J F Grossen, global vice president of customer experience at Publicis Sapient. “Yet every employee has an equivalent and unique journey with your brand that deserves the same level of strategic consideration to increase employee loyalty and revenue.”

How can travel and hospitality brands create an end-to-end EX journey?

Employee experience journey mapping

The first step is intelligent segmentation. Each employee has vastly different motivations, expectations for the role and plans for their future. Even within a particular role, employees are not a monolith, and just like customers, they should not be treated as such.

QSR (Quick-Service Restaurant) EX segmentation:

A leading coffee house chain in the Nordics used a segmentation exercise to identify clusters of employees based on their attitudes about work and expectations for the employer-employee relationship, as well as their performance and behavior data. As a result, the brand could then design differentiated EX journeys to drive attraction and retention in priority employee segments.

Holistic employee experience design principles

Just as price is not the only lever in building customer relationships, pay is only one lever in designing employee experience, and brands need to look at EX holistically. Two value drivers that are often overlooked are motivation: ensuring employees have meaningful incentives and compensation to want to deliver great CX, and ability: ensuring employees have the tools, support and working environment needed to consistently deliver.

QSR dynamic pay :

A global QSR introduced a solution that allowed restaurant operators to easily tailor differential pay for difficult-to-fill or less desirable shifts to encourage staff to fill them. While, in theory, it's simple to say, "I'll pay an extra $2/hour for the late night Friday shift," often the pay systems don't allow companies to seamlessly enact the simple solution and tailor it to the needs of the situation.

Personalized employee engagement

Building on segmentation and journey design, brands can allow employees to personalize their work life in a way that makes sense for their unique goals, creating increased employee loyalty and retention.

Same-day worker pay:

Personalized or same-day pay options allow employees to create flexible schedules to match life needs. A seamless, personalized portal with training recommendations, feedback and recognition and communications makes it easy for workers to take advantage, and gamified work with micro-bonuses for desired behaviors can increase performance.

Transform your travel and hospitality
employee experience with Publicis Sapient

EX and CX can no longer be addressed separately, especially in travel and hospitality, where talent shortages are having a material impact on business operations. Creating an impactful experience means aligning team support and compensation with CX and business expectations.

Get in touch to discuss how Publicis Sapient, an IDC leader in employee experience consulting, can support brands to develop an EX that drives growth and creates a sustainable, differentiated CX.
Pete Groves
Pete Groves
Senior Managing Director at Publicis Sapient
Kent Asaki
Kent Asaki
Dining Industry Lead at Publicis Sapient
J F Grossen
J F Grossen
Global Vice President of Customer Experience at Publicis Sapient