Improved data collection, analysis and insights have played a key role in understanding and improving both the customer and employee experience at leading beauty retailer Sephora, according to its global chief people officer, Karalyn Smith.
Sephora had been conducting customer and employee experience surveys for a number of years, however, this data was gathered separately in the past.
This was the case until Sephora’s leadership team had a breakthrough moment in which it became clear the customer experience and the employee experience were inextricably linked.
“Key to understanding both types of experiences was in realising the one thing customers and employees had in common was their humanity,” said Smith, who explained that Sephora’s culture and approach is driven by the belief beauty is for each person to define and celebrate.
With a presence in more than 34 countries and 38,000 employees around the world, Smith said that Sephora is focused on embedding this inclusive culture and vision across a diverse range of communities.
“As Sephora continues to grow, we rely heavily on our strong culture to attract and retain the kind of talent that will live the company’s values,” she said.
“Data and insights are vital in understanding what drove customers and employees to engage with Sephora in the first place, and how to enhance those experiences to drive even deeper loyalty from both sets of people moving forward.”
Sephora, which is owned by French multinational LVMH and operates more than 2500 stores – with an expanding base of more than 200 stores across the Asia Pacific region including Australia – uses Qualtrics to gather improved insights around the entire employee experience, and link these to the customer experience.
Sephora’s 5-stage strategy
Based on a scientific understanding of what drives human behaviour, Sephora developed a strategy that aimed to create love and loyalty for all humans engaging with the brand.
“We relied on various understandings of human needs, as well as motivational needs such as the desire for purpose, autonomy, and mastery”
Smith explained that this had five key elements:
1. Get to know me: Collect employee and customer data, then use it to personalise experiences.
2. Make it easy: Sephora aims to remove all barriers to interactions.
3. Appreciate me: it’s essential to demonstrate to customers and employees the company returns their loyalty, so Sephora focused on ways to treat customers and employees with respect, recognise them for who they are, and reward them for the work they do.
4. Make it fun: recognising that customer and employee engagement depends on the person feeling a strong relationship and connection with the business, Sephora looked for ways to constantly refresh that relationship.
5. Give me purpose beyond profit: customers and employees want to be associated with a brand that’s making a difference. Sephora gave further focus to good corporate citizenship both because it was the right thing to do and because it’s good for business.
“Key elements of our employee experience strategy included finding the intersection and connectivity between the customer and employee experience, to inspire fearlessness,” said Smith.
“To build this we relied on various understandings of human needs, as well as motivational needs such as the desire for purpose, autonomy, and mastery.”
Operationalising the strategy
Sephora runs a range of programs to foster deeper engagement for both employees and customers, and Smith said Qualtrics’ employee engagement survey helps people feel heard and provides useful insights.
“We follow up with focus groups, in-store visits, and face to face discussions with all levels and corners of the business,” she said.
“We ask questions like, ‘if you were the CEO, what’s one thing you would change as a company?’
“We then turn these insights into action, as it is important to us that engagement is both something leadership has a responsibility to shape, but also something each individual take ownership for.
“We have a high ‘say-do’ ratio, by focusing on a few things to action, and then once we solve for those we move on to the next actions.”
“One thing we can do is shift the idea that HR is about transactions and ‘resources’ and instead recognise that HR is about people”
These engagement actions encompass little things that make a meaningful difference, including Summer Fridays where employees can work extra time during the week to take Fridays off, as well as free products and “surprise and delight” desk and in-store product drops and cards reminding employees that they’re valued and appreciated.
Sephora also offers a range of more significant benefits including investments in training and development with courses created for employees through Sephora University, the ability to set aside time for personal development as well as a range of events for reward and recognition.
Data challenges and successes
In making the switch to Qualtrics and better understanding tangible links between the customer and employee experience, Smith explained that it is “practically impossible” to get everything right the first time – so the most important thing is to be open to continuous learning and growth.
Sephora is now able to constantly measure engagement and responses to initiatives, enabling teams to respond to expectations and opportunities in real-time, she said.
“And, the answers/solutions are really in the hands of our people,” said Smith.
“When they tell us what gets in the way of feeling most engagement and motivated to perform, we must listen not only to what isn’t working but also to ideas on what is needed to increase engagement.
“The survey alone won’t solve for engagement, but it can help tell us where to dive deeper, follow up and listen to what will really drive and motivate individuals to perform.”
There have been a significant number of improvements across the business as a result, according to Smith, who explained that Sephora is continuing to grow and expand globally with a team of highly committed employees and loyal, engaged.
“We have a strong employer brand and desirability in applicants wanting to come work with us as well,” she said.
“Most recently, we saw a double-digit increase in favourability from employees in one area of the engagement survey where we spent time and focus last year because it was our biggest improvement opportunity.
“Let’s start putting people’s needs and motivations at the core of our strategies and actions”
“That demonstrates that when we listen and take action, together we can be even more engaged,” she said.
Advice for HR
Smith explained that there have been a number of lessons learned for Sephora in the process, and said it is important to realise that human needs are at the centre of engagement for both employees and customers.
When organisations recognise this and that all people have the same core needs, she said the work of employee and customer engagement efforts can connect and exponentially accelerate.
“One thing we can do is shift the idea that HR is about transactions and ‘resources’ and instead recognise that HR is about people, so let’s start putting people’s needs and motivations at the core of our strategies and actions,” she said.
“Once those needs are identified and articulated, it becomes possible to map them back to the brand,” said Smith, who added that this makes it more clear in terms of actions required to fulfill those needs for employees and clients.
It is also important to understand the efficacy of tactics used by measuring not only actions (“did we deliver that or complete this?”), but also impact (“what result did we deliver, how did the employee or client experience improve?”), Smith observed.
This means undertaking benchmark surveys and measuring KPIs before introducing new initiatives, during the execution of those initiatives, as well as afterward.
“This lets the team see whether the tactics have moved the needle for employees and customers in positive ways or if the programs should be scrapped, tweaked or expanded,” she said.
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