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Cracking the code of the worker experience - Adrian Swinscoe [Interview]

Cracking the code of the worker experience - Adrian Swinscoe [Interview]

March 8, 2022

About Adrian Swinscoe

Cracking the Code of the Worker Experience- Adrian Swinscoe [Interview]

Adrian is a customer service and experience mentor, with an experience of over 15 years. He is also a leadership coach and delivers keynotes and masterclasses on the same. He’s also a best selling author, Forbes contributor, blogger & podcaster, and a frequent conference speaker. Bringing with him a large range of experience, we are happy to have someone of his expertise on our interview series.

Vanessa Rose

vanessa rose

We have the pleasure of welcoming Adrian Swinscoe today to our interview series. I’m Vanessa Rose from the peopleHum team. Let’s begin with just a quick intro of PeopleHum. peopleHum is an end-to-end, one-view, integrated human capital management automation platform, the winner of the 2019 global Codie Award for HCM that is specifically built for crafted employee experiences and the future of work.

We run the peopleHum blog and video channel which receives upwards of 200,000 visitors a year and publish around 2 interviews with well-known names globally, every month.


Welcome, Adrian. We’re thrilled to have you. 


Hi, how are you doing? Nice to be here. Thanks for inviting me. Thanks for having me and all that. 


The first question I have for you Adrian is,

We came to know about a newsletter you own, called Punk CX. Can you tell us a little bit about it? 


Sure. The Punk CX newsletter was something I started while I was developing a book that I wrote that came out last year called ‘Punk CX’ and it was just about trying to almost put the idea out there about what punk CX is before the book came out and just to see who was kind of interested and to just update people on the progress of the book and the basic premise of the idea was that I believed that the experience space, that includes both customer experience and employee experience, that whole space that deals with experience is becoming a little bit like ‘Prog rock’ did in the 1970s. Prog rock was this, whilst it was popular, was a very complicated, very elaborate, self-indulgence style of rock music.

You had to have a Ph.D. in music to be able to kind of contribute or participate and many people thought, well, that's just rubbish, it's not inclusive, it's very exclusive in fact. So Punk CX was DIY Democratic, sort of do it yourself for music, where anybody could learn how to play the drums, a guitar or sing or whatever and could have a go at it and that sort of changed and made me think, well, if the experience base is looking a lot like prog rock, it's overly concerned with certification, frameworks, benchmarks, maturity curves, all these different things, and it's becoming almost so complicated that it's in danger of losing sight of employees and customers, the people that are supposed to benefit from all of this.

My question was, therefore, what would a punk version of that look like? What would get back to basics, do it yourself, dare to be a different approach be? That's gonna be why I started the newsletter and that's why I wrote a book on it. The book is not like another business book, it's like lots of black ink on white pages. It is like this, I'll show you. It is like this on the inside. It is like a fanzine.

I describe it as being a visual slap in the face for the experience industry because it's trying to encourage people by being provocative and being direct and to the point to encourage people to dare to be different, to think differently, to realize that the work they do matters and not to settle for second best.

And that's kind of why this whole thing around the Punk CX came about, I know your question said tell me a little bit about it, but that's possibly got a lot about it.


It's very interesting how you related a music genre to employee experience. 


Yeah, I mean, I just like music. I'm a bit of a fan of punk myself, and what's interesting is by trying to relate it to music is that people get it and people relate to it, whether you like ‘Prog rock’ or you like ‘Punk music’ or whatever, people still get it because music is like a universal language.

People just get it. Doesn't matter if you speak Hindi, or English or Mandarin or Spanish or whatever. Everybody gets music, the rhythm, and the beat. People kind of get that. 

I was lucky enough to be able to tell a story that relates to people's personal experiences. People go like, okay, now I get it. So that's cool. 


It's such a clever way to make yourself relevant and differentiate yourself. 


Well, it was an accidental sort of thing. It wasn't necessarily deliberate. It was just something that occurred to me. The actual origin of the idea comes from a discussion I had with a friend of mine, Osheen in the pub, over a few pints of Guinness. Some drunks might call it a moment of clarity, but I would say it would be Guinness inspired insight. I can't take responsibility for all of that. I think Guinness is gonna take some responsibility for it, too. 


It worked out well.




Adrian, do you think employee experience drives customer experience? What are your thoughts?


I think absolutely, the creation of a great employee experience is absolutely at the center of delivering a great customer experience but I go beyond that. I think that because people think about this idea that you get employee experience and then you get customer experience and I used to write it as a mathematics function where you have CX (Customer Experience) = f[EX] (Employee Experience).

I was quite happy with that because I could see the idea that if you create the right environment and the right system for employees to have a great experience, and I'm not just talking about them having to be happy and satisfied, I'm talking about the whole thing and a bit like, how you hire them? How you onboard? How do you treat them? How do you educate and how do you train them? How you did all those different sorts of things? How you help them achieve? How do you help them develop? How do you help them thrive in the environment that you want to create? 

I'm thinking that's an absolute driver in terms of their levels of productivity and effort and insight and creativity, that's going to drive the delivery of a great customer experience. 

But that's only part of the story, because actually if you think about the employee's experience, and you think about how the number of either different people or different agencies or different firms or different partners, that companies rely on to deliver the experience that they want for their customers, that it can't just be about employee experience it has to be about the broader ecosystem, which I call sort of the WX, which is like the ‘Worker Experience’. 

Customer experience is a function of both employee experience, which is your internal dynamic and the W-experience, which is more your external dynamic that comes from your agency's, your contractors, your delivery firms

"Customer experience is a function of both employee experience, which is your internal dynamic and the W-experience, which is more your external dynamic that comes from your agency's, your contractors, your delivery firms"

...all these different sorts of people, they input into the overall experience. 

If you don't think about those things, then you end up opening yourself up to some kind of weakness or overlooking certain elements because it might feel like on the surface things are going well but if you look at how you treat those people that sit in that ecosystem and how it all connects together, then you're missing a large part of what you need to be really looking at, I believe.


So true, it’s not just one department. It's about the entire organization.


It's beyond the organization. It's like the organizational ecosystem that is all working together to try and feed that, to deliver to that customer. We need to go beyond where we are and think about all the things that help us to help that.


What are the key elements that an organization should incorporate in its culture for great customer experience?


What I just said about everything, like an ecosystem, how it all works together. I think that one of the challenges is that many people talk about culture initiatives and building our culture. Now that's all very well and good but I also think the thing that people overlook is the idea that culture in a large part is a product of the systems, conditions, in the environment that we create. 

"The thing that people overlook is the idea that culture in a large part is a product of the systems, conditions, and the environment that we create." 

It's a bit like we were talking before and I used this sporting analogy, for example, football. Imagine you end up having the rules of the game that come with football, it tells you about what you can and what you can't do, it tells you about how you know if you're winning and what should the structure of the game be in terms of time and so on and so forth. 

What it doesn't do is it doesn't tell you how to play the game, and what we see is we see different teams will operate in what we call in football terms, they're different systems and different systems require different types of players and different attributes and different characteristics and have different rhythms to them.

We spend too much time thinking about how we want our people to behave and that becomes almost like a culture that gets impressed on people rather than thinking about what are the systems and conditions that we want to create and then let our culture emerge from that

Actually, there's this really good little saying, which says, culture is like a reputation, your real culture shows up when you're not watching or when you're not in the room. What that basically implies is that you can't tell people what to do, you can't force them to be a certain way. What you can do is you can try and create the right conditions for them, for which they can thrive. At the same time, you hire the right people, that are going to fit into that, and then you support them to be as good as they can be in that environment and not the other way around.

Too many organizations don't think enough about changing their organizational structure to achieve their kind of output.

"Too many organizations don't think enough about changing their organizational structure to achieve their kind of output." 

Too many organizations think about being outside-in in our approach. Yet, if you look at those organizations they have not restructured themselves to accommodate that outside-in approach, they are still designed inside-out, they are still designed along functional lines so they're trying to fit customer demand into this kind of old and traditional style. That's why you get these suboptimal results. 


That's not expecting everybody to be the same, but to accept differences and then play on them.


Exactly. But people talk about culture as being isolated from other things. It's not, it's completely connected. Too many times people could have separated these things out and tried to do them in isolation. Well, that makes no sense, because if they're all intrinsically connected, then we should be thinking and looking at them in a very connected way. 



What challenges do you think startups face when it comes to establishing a marquee platform for customer experience?


Crumbs a lot. That's the same for pretty much every startup. I mean, we go back to my original point around the Punk CX thing. The experiences is becoming a crowded marketplace, very crowded, therefore the idea of taking over the world and being different is a big ask and so you have to start small. 

"The experiences is becoming a crowded marketplace, therefore the idea of taking over the world and being different is a big ask and so you have to start small." 

Every kind of business is all about one trying to keep it simple, and in starter terms, you probably want to start with what's our minimum viable product for our customers, and how do we get customer number one, or how do we connect with or recruit a bunch of better customers that helps us test and validate a proposition. And then we start growing from there and then beyond that, it's like, how do we get paying customer number one and how do we build up? So basically, think about the big, wide world and focus on a little world and define what the little world is. 

Actually, there's this marquee platform which sort of implies we're gonna be the next best thing, that's the next best thing to the world, as it were. I would say you need to forget about that and you need to stay focused on being the next best thing for your next customer and for your current customers.

If you do the best job that you can do with a small group, and then hopefully that becomes a growing group and you keep looking after and keep nurturing and keep developing and, then you build your own little community, keep doing a good job for them, then hopefully with a fair wind and a great amount of success you will be successful and your customers will help you be successful and they will talk about you. 

Maybe you could get to that point that you become the next best thing for everybody. There's an older Confucian saying that says, the journey of 1000 miles starts with the first step.

Right? So you got to keep stepping. You gotta keep looking about where you're stepping, because actually 1000 miles down the road doesn't matter. What happens is the next step and the next step after that and the next step after that, that's it. Even though you're excited about big valuations and all of that, who cares? Customers don't care if you're a $1,000,000,000 kind of unicorn. Customers don't give a hoot. Customers want to pay you some money for you to do a great job for them. That's it. 

"Customers don't care if you're a $1,000,000,000 kind of unicorn. Customers don't give a hoot. Customers want to pay you some money for you to do a great job for them."


It's more about the short term goals you set for yourself until you reach there.


Yeah, absolutely. But you should never stop. It becomes that thing about discipline, right? And it is about focus. It's like if you have a company that's focused on the big valuations and things, then you lose sight of the smaller stuff that your success is dependent on. There's like a great example of, are you familiar with a guy called Warren Buffet?




So Warren Buffett is one of the richest men in the world. He's just done largely through investment and things. But he doesn't care about the money, really. He just really enjoys what he does is investing and trying to improve companies and trying to identify undervalued companies and things like that. The money becomes a product of what he does, actually, he's intent on giving most of it away, right?

So, he focuses on doing absolutely the right thing, realizing that everything else will take care of itself. And he's been doing that, he and his partner, Charlie Munger, have been doing that every day, day in day out for weeks and months and years and decades. And that's how they got better at it. But that's kind of how they ended up changing things because they're not focused on the money.


More of doing what do you love!


Yeah. Do what you love and if you're lucky enough, then you'll get paid to do it and if you're not lucky enough to do it, well, still give it a shot. Just see if you can make it successful, if not then find something else that either helps you get paid, but then maybe helps you continue to do what you can love as well. You should never give up what you love doing because it's just such an enriching thing.



So during this uncertain time, how do you think organizations should maintain their customer support? 


I think what's interesting over the last few weeks is watching how different organizations are faring in different ways. I mean, some organizations are furloughing the people or shutting down and just trying to survive and our demand is just like dropped through the floor, and they're kind of trying to move their people to remote working or some of them are even closing down. So there's a lot of different experiences right there.

However, there's also some companies that are really busy, and the big challenge that they face is that they've had to move many of the workers to remote working and also deal with an increase in demand at the same time. And that's caused all sorts of challenges in terms of providing people with the right sort of tools and equipment to be able to work from home. It has provided some challenges to people around, 'can I work from home?' and 'Is my home a good place to work from?' Not everyone is lucky as I am, some people have a better set up than others. I think there's also an employee character side of things.

Some people are better equipped to work on their own and from home, than others are so it's proving a big challenge for people and also for leadership and management as well to look after the health and the well being of their employees as they're working kind of in this new environment under these new conditions.

The thing I've been kind of talking about by that is because that makes it quite confusing and quite challenging, particularly when you're busy, cause when you're busy, it eats up time trying to keep ahead of things. But then it means it becomes quite hard for you to think about the other things and the stresses and strains that people are going through.

We are in a very strange place. I think we need to think about this as an unusual situation. So we should think about services unusual and to be successful, companies need to recognize that they cannot be perfect. But the customers will understand the challenges that we go through if we help them understand the challenges that we're going through and if they know that we're trying to do the best by them and that we're trying to look after our people at the same time.

So that requires two things or a number of things.

The first I would say is we need to communicate as much as we can with our customers. So let them know what we're going through and what we're doing to try and help them and also how we look after our people. But at the same time, we also need to ask our customers to step up because we need our customer's help to be successful through this time as well, and only with them stepping up will we be successful.

But that requires us to communicate way, way more than we've already done and to ask for them to step up and almost kind of like be a partner with us, in this kind of time because we know they need help, we want to help them but it may take a bit longer. In order to deliver on that, we need our customer's help so I think it needs to be less of a 'them and us' sort of thing and more of an 'us' sort of idea.

"In order to deliver, we need our customer's help so I think it needs to be less of a 'them and us' sort of thing and more of an 'us' sort of idea."

So I think there's a lot of people that are doing that, and only if we do that, can we then start to maintain and potentially build on the relationships that we have with our customers, just as importantly, how we can manage and look after the health and the well being of our people that are trying to help our customers. Because I think that's one of the big things that remote working for many people could be a challenge in terms of, how is it going to impact their mental health and their overall well being?

We still don't know that. That's something that will come out later but we need to do the groundwork work now. We need to be paying attention to that sort of stuff now because otherwise, we'll end up losing people because they're just not well, and it will be our fault because we haven't looked after them.


Especially in uncertain times, it matters most how organizations treat their customers.


Treat their customers and their people. I think there's different bits of research, some of which is coming out. One of which was from Adelman, they generally do an annual trust barometer and they've just released new research that was released in March saying that, 90% of customers around the world that they surveyed, are saying that they're watching brands and watching what they're doing in this current time and they're saying they want those brands to look after both their employees and their suppliers, and even if that costs them in the short run because it's the right thing to do.

Look after your people, look after your suppliers, even if that costs you because it's the right thing to do.

"Look after your people, look after your suppliers, even if that costs you because it's the right thing to do."

And in the same piece of research they also found that, if they spot brands that are not doing as well as they would like to see, over 70% of them report that it would possibly result in them losing trust for that brand almost forever. And they would be inclined never to do business with that brand ever again.

So there's a responsibility because people say one thing sometimes and do another. But it's in their mind, and that might not be 70% but it could be 40%, even 4% is a big number.


Yeah, I like what you said, even if the world is on lockdown, people are still watching brands.


Yeah, absolutely. Many people don't have much else to do rather than watch because of their own furlough and things and so they're paying attention. 


Well, with the increasing millennial generation, the gig economy is on the rise. So what are the challenges that new organizations face when it comes to maintaining CX in this circumstance?


So I go back to what I was saying about this idea around, CX=f(EX)+WK. Customer experience is a function of employee experience plus worker experience (WX).

"Customer experience is a function of employees experience, plus worker experience(WX)."

The worker experience would include the gig economy workers, whether they are the designers, web designers, or their delivery drivers or their advisors or consultants or whatever they might be, so that's only going to grow.

I think it was a piece of research when I wrote about this in the ‘Punk CX’ when I was saying that in some companies about 40% of their workforce is sort of almost contracted out in many cases, and that's only gonna rise because people need to be more adaptable, more responsive and so on and so forth.

People that are in the gig economy are getting the hardest hit. Because I've got friends and colleagues that as soon as a lockdown happened, pretty much 95%, if not 100% of the work that they were doing just kind of went away. I'm lucky that I'm not in that situation. I've got stuff that's gonna keep me going, which is great, and I've got more stuff coming in, so I'm very happy and I'm very fortunate, and I'm very grateful for that, too.

But given the situation that we're in, that whole gig economy sphere is going to inject a degree of uncertainty into that kind of model. The people that are in that gig economy will get hit the hardest because many of them are not supported by the government support programs and things. And I'm wondering how this experience will affect them going forward because we're now at the virus part, we've yet to see what the economic part of all this looks like.

I'm wondering if the gig economy will still grow, if people will still be keen to be part of that when you end up with a tight economy that's going through a recession, and if people are going to look for more certainty by taking a job rather than actually trying to generate the next gig as it were.

And so it's still uncertain about how that will impact the overall organization. It will impact an organization's ability to maintain that kind of experience. But right now we don't know how that's gonna work. I don't think companies know that economically they are gonna start to feel the pinch, how they respond to that remains to be seen as yet.


Yeah, still too early to say.


I think so. I mean, we are only at this at the start of this. This is something that we are going to be living through the remnants of or the residual effects of for many years to come.


So, the last question Adrian,

Do you have any important soundbites you’d like to leave our audience with? 


Yes. Do better work. Your customers and your employees are waiting. Get on with it.

“Do better work. Your customers and your employees are waiting. Get on with it.”


That's some solid advice. Thank you so much, Adrian. 


You're very welcome. It's been a delight talking to you. Awesome. Thank you very much for asking me to be part of your series.


It was very nice having you. Bye

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October 25, 2021

A very inspiring list. Thanks for putting this together


October 25, 2021

This is such a great list of women leaders! More power to you all

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