You may have heard these stories…

ZapposA customer’s mother had recently had some medical treatment that left her feet numb and sensitive to pressure – and also rendering most of her shoes totally useless. She ordered her mother six pairs of shoes from Zappos, hoping that at least one of them would work. After receiving the shoes, her mother called Zappos to get instructions on how to return the shoes that didn’t work, explaining why she was returning so many shoes. Two days later, she received a large bouquet of flowers from Zappos, wishing her well and hoping that she recovered from her treatments soon.

TraderJoesAn 89-year-old grandfather got snowed in a couple years ago and didn’t have much in the house for meals. His daughter called several markets in the area to see if any of them had grocery delivery services, but the only one that said they did was Trader Joe’s. They don’t, actually, but were willing to help out this WWII vet. As the man’s daughter placed an order, the Trader Joe’s representative on the phone recommended other items that would be good for her dad’s low-sodium diet. An up-sell, you may be asking? Nope. They didn’t charge her a dime for the delivery or the groceries.

NordstromA member of the Nordstrom security staff noticed a woman crawling around on her hands and knees on the sales floor. When he discovered that she was looking for a diamond that had fallen out of her wedding ring while she was trying on clothes, he got down and searched with her. He also recruited a small team of people to help comb the floors. Eventually, the crew painstakingly picked through the dirt and debris in the store vacuum cleaners before coming up with the woman’s diamond.

AppleA man bought an iPad online, then returned it to the company almost immediately, affixing a Post-It to the front of the device that simply read, “Wife said no.” Returns processors must have gotten a kick out of it, because the story eventually made its way to a couple of Apple VPs, who refunded the customer and returned the iPad with an attached Post-It that said, “Apple said yes.”

SouthwestA family was traveling on Southwest Airlines from Buffalo, New York to catch a cruise out of Houston.  Due to a snowstorm, their flight was canceled.  They were booked on an alternate flight but soon realized that it would cause them to miss the cruise departure. They found a flight that would get them there in time, but it was boarding and their bags were on the other flight.  The customer service agent put on her coat, went out the back door into the snow, and proceeded to look for and retrieve their bags, then dragged them over to the other plane so that the family would be able to make it in time.

With stories like these, it is not difficult to understand why companies like Zappos, Trader Joes, Nordstrom, Apple and Southwest Airlines are continuing to disrupt and dominate in the markets that they serve.  There is no doubt that incredible customer service drives strong customer loyalty and trust.

But how do these exemplary companies develop this level of customer service?  They build it into the DNA of their company by focusing on and intentionally driving an amazing employee experience.

Richard Branson, Founder of Virgin Group, on the heels of announcing a new policy providing all employees with one year of paid leave following birth or adoption of a child, famously said “If you take care of your employees, they will take care of your business.”

But, is employee experience just about providing better benefits, higher pay and increased opportunities for advancement?  Or is it about knowing your people well enough to understand what motivates them and using that motivation to engage with them?  And is that even possible with the ever-increasing generational, sociopolitical and cultural diversity within our modern day workforces?

Bringing people together around company objectives and organizational philosophy depends on first identifying the underlying common thread that fundamentally motivates their behaviors—in this case, the desire to help and solve problems.

Once we accept that our employees are all fundamentally motivated by the same desired outcome, we can look at how we can best empower and enable them to succeed.  Again, there is an underlying common thread: access to the right information at the right time.

This is where we may start to see some divergent expectations within the workforce.

Experienced, long-term employees have often developed tools and techniques to overcome barriers to achieving what is required.  They tend to rely less on their company to close technology gaps for them, instead using the tools they have (e.g. Excel and Access) to solve business process problems.  They typically look for synchronous modalities such as in-person meetings for effective communication.  They sometime struggle to effectively collaborate with distributed teams.  They tend to develop repeatable processes for interacting with corporate knowledge and can become frustrated when information organizational systems and structures change.

Next-generation employees tend to depend more on their employers to provide engaging technologies to support flexible, consumer-oriented access to relevant information. Because of their experiences outside work with social networking (e.g. Facebook, LinkedIn) they tend to be oriented around topical communities.  They prefer asynchronous, democratic collaboration and value input from all participants regardless of job title, department or function.  They can become frustrated by rigid, taxonomic approaches to information organization.  Given the right tools, they can be extremely creative at making connections in ways that are difficult or impossible to anticipate in advance.  They value closed loops with frequent feedback, peer-based ranking/review systems and dynamic information tagging capabilities.

So, how can we rationalize these conflicting outlooks on access to business information?

First, we need to think about the information as separate from the organizational paradigms that we apply to it. Modern information management systems provide capabilities to organize your information using as many dimensions as you would like. There isn’t one right way to organize your information.  Some people will always think of information living in “folder structures.” Some people will more naturally gravitate to social networking style experiences where information is continually reorganized and reclassified using hashtags, mentions, likes and chronology.  Almost all users agree that improved information access depends on advanced, interpretive and anticipatory search capabilities.

Second, we need to provide multiple mechanisms to access and interact with the information.  Some users will rely primarily on their desktop computer to access and interact with corporate information repositories and email for collaboration.  Others will expect anytime, anywhere access to corporate information using native-optimized mobile applications that provide the immediate ability to launch a collaboration channel around a given set of content involving a geographically and functionally diverse team.

When the right technologies are implemented, integrated and embraced throughout the organization, each set of users can use their tools of choice to effectively interact with the corporate knowledge repository and collaborate around content.

And, when employees are more effective at accessing and interacting with corporate information, they will feel more engaged, connected and appreciated as key contributors to the organization.  In his book, The Nordstrom Way to Customer Service Excellence, Robert Spector says “happy, loyal employees inspire happy, loyal customers.”