In many organizations around the world, employees now travel to the office only on predetermined days or as necessary. More than 6 in 10 employees globally following such a hybrid work model, according to NTT DATA’s 2023 Global Customer Experience Report.

The meaning of “at work” has therefore shifted permanently – and we also have to think differently about customer experience and employee experience (CX and EX).

Before the rise in hybrid working, these experiences were split between office-based EX and (usually) contact-center-based CX. But, although customers would connect with employees through contact centers, contact-center agents were not always seen as office employees.

Now, these worlds have collided – and it’s the best thing that could have happened.

Our report notes that EX has emerged as the top C-suite priority in the context of CX, with the spotlight on technologies that enable and empower employees and raise efficiency levels. The better the EX, the better the CX.

Connecting the home and the office

Many employers want their staff back at the office more often, but employees aren’t easily convinced. So, organizations want to make their workspaces more appealing and productive.

This doesn’t mean creating a homely environment; rather, it’s about making it easier for employees to do their work and connect with their colleagues while they’re at the office. Let's be honest: some team interactions, like brainstorm sessions, lead to the best results when they’re done face to face. This improves employee satisfaction.

Intelligent workspaces present a solution. For instance, using advanced technologies like facial recognition to eliminate key cards and give employees access to facilities and systems is a wow factor.

Even so, for hybrid work to succeed, organizations must consider all employees, not just those working from the office.

Plans for smart offices and integrated meeting rooms, for example, cannot exclude colleagues who are working remotely. No matter how comfortable and interactive the meeting room, if team members working from home can’t see and hear their colleagues clearly, they’ll struggle to take part in the conversation.

Gearing up for generative AI

Employees want tools to help them perform better, and organizations recognize the potential of AI to enhance CX and EX. Our report shows the top outcomes of AI enablement are increased efficiency and speed, improved personalization and greater customer retention.

In a complex environment, integrating many tools into one platform makes it easier for employees to use the tools. AI can remove some of the stress of searching for the right information and the right tools, and AI productivity tools can automate basic tasks that are necessary but not productive.

Take meetings: how often are you stuck with no minutes of the meeting or no record of the action points? An AI tool can now provide that and a whole lot more, leaving you less frustrated and improving the quality of your work.

AI is a powerful tool, but you must use it right. It’s like a Formula 1 racecar: if you don’t learn how to drive it and finetune it before you hit the accelerator, you’ll crash into a wall.

Data must be well managed and properly classified to ensure that generative AI doesn’t access confidential or outdated information. Defining, classifying and setting the scope of what AI can access is essential and should best be attempted with an experienced partner like NTT DATA.

AI and omnichannel communication

Our CX report shows that only 43% of employees who interact with customers directly are based in the office full-time, while the remaining 57% work remotely – either full-time (30%) or as part of a hybrid working arrangement (27%). With fewer people making phone calls, communication has become more complex.

Employees face an overpopulated world of messaging tools. Searching for answers through a multitude of channels reduces productivity. At the same time, customers want instant answers to their questions through their preferred channels: voice, email, chat, WhatsApp, browsing on the website, you name it.

Now add the new dimension of AI to handle some of that customer traffic. If the AI tool cannot help the customer, a mechanism must transfer them to a human agent. The agent must be informed about the questions the customer has already asked and the answers they received, to make the customer interaction seamless when switching from the chatbot to a human agent.

The human touch remains essential

What keeps our clients awake at night is this: how do you get AI to always give accurate answers? And who will you put behind the machine to answer a customer’s question if the AI can’t do it? Passionate and experienced people are in short supply.

AI tools must be set up the right way, give easy access to the right information and learn and improve constantly. This will benefit customers and staff, but I don’t think AI will ever fully replace human employees.

Caring for employees therefore remains crucial, given the challenges of a heavier workload and a blurred work–life balance. The nuances of remote and hybrid working underscore the need for responsible integration of AI tools that not only enhance employee performance but also streamline tasks, yielding superior outcomes.

I embrace the link between CX and EX. Happy employees take good care of your customers.

Read more about NTT DATA’s Digital Collaboration and CX services to see how we deliver value at every touchpoint to create personalized and hyperautomated experiences.