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Manufacturers: Forget CX. It’s Time to Focus on EX.

Group of confectioners laughing together while working in a chocolate factory
Credit: iStock/AJ_Watt

This blog is part of a monthly series brought to you by the America Works initiative. As a part of the MEP National Network’s goal of supporting the growth of small and medium-sized manufacturing companies, this series focuses on innovative approaches and uncovering the latest trends in manufacturing workforce development.

Do your customers feel valued all the time, or do they only hear from you when you want a sale?

How are they interacting with your salespeople, and do the frequency, channels and messages make them feel good about your company?

When customers have a complaint, do they feel heard — or ignored?

Customer experience, or “CX,” is all the rage in marketing circles nationally. Customer experience refers to how a customer experiences your company at every point of their buying journey — from marketing to sales to customer service, and everywhere in between. These can be tangible actions, such as emails and phone calls, but it also can be the feelings that coincide with their buying journey.

Businesses around the country have realized the importance of providing a great CX, and the resulting return on investment (ROI) from customer loyalty. In past years, Gartner reported that “customer experience is the new battlefield.” In fact, my quick Indeed search for CX jobs brought up more than 61,000 postings nationally!

Despite all this, I’d like to make the case that small manufacturers need to refocus from CX to EX, the employee experience, if they want to grow and succeed in the years to come.

Sadly, what’s gotten lost in this unrelenting focus on the customer has been optimizing your worker experiences. In fact, it’s almost paradoxical to expect your workers to give great customer experiences, but not expect them to have great experiences themselves! Unfortunately, while many companies have meticulously planned out their customer journeys — from marketing to ecommerce to communication — very few have done the same for their employees. Perhaps that’s why the national “quits” rate continues to hover near 3%, well above the long-term average of 1.99%. In a time of workforce shortages and talent mismatches, it’s never been more important to create a new discipline: worker experience.

Planning Your EX Strategy

The good news is that, as a small manufacturer, you aren’t alone. Whether you aspire to become an “employer of choice,” or talk about strengthening your work culture, or focus on improving job quality, there are numerous resources out there to assist you on your employee experience journey. MEP Centers can help you with all your team’s functions: attraction, recruitment, onboarding, upskilling, career pathways, and even exit.

The benefits are huge: more engaged and productive employees, lower absenteeism rates, reduced turnover, increased quality of work and better customer interactions. Another study showed that employees with good EX feel belonging, purpose, achievement, happiness and vigor in the workplace. An additional benefit I’m sure your HR department will love: When you’ve built a strong EX, you don’t have to focus so hard on recruitment because you don’t have nearly as many openings.

“Wow! I have a great job! I think I will quit and go somewhere else.”

–No One, Ever

Love this from my colleague Bob Fangenmeyer in his blog post.

To help you get started, your local MEP Center almost certainly has best practices to share in attracting and retaining workers. This is a primary focus of the MEP National NetworkTM these days, and a simple phone call or email to your local Center can get you started on the right path.

The Right Tool at the Right Time

Second, the new Job Quality Toolkit is available to assist you. Developed by the Baldridge Performance Excellence Program, the Toolkit covers eight areas critical to your worker experience:

  1. Recruitment and Hiring
  2. Benefits
  3. Diversity, Equity, Inclusion and Accessibility (DEIA)
  4. Empowerment and Representation
  5. Job Security and Working Conditions
  6. Organizational Culture
  7. Pay
  8. Skills and Career Advancement

An overview of the eight drivers along with how they have been applied to real world challenges by the MEP National Network in this infographic serve as a valuable teaser for the whole toolkit. Whether you already apply these drivers or recognize that there are improvements that can be made, the real value is in starting the job quality conversation with your team internally, from management to employees. At the same time, your initial self-assessment serves as a baseline for a conversation with your MEP workforce professional, who can gather your employees’ perspectives, create an action plan and help you implement it.

In effect, we’re asking ourselves the CX questions but with a focus on workers:

Do your workers feel valued all the time, or do they only hear from you when you want something?

How are your workers interacting with your leadership, and do the frequency, channels and messages make them feel good about your company?

When your workers have a complaint, do they feel heard — or ignored?

Take the Plunge Into EX

MEP Centers are well-positioned to help you move from assessing your EX via the Toolkit to actually addressing it. While the list of tactics is long, they generally fall into three categories:

  1. MEP Centers can help you improve your corporate culture. Your workers should feel energized and motivated when they work, and adjustments to communication, structure and attitudes can all make a huge difference.
  2. MEP Centers can help you leverage technology. Whether it’s automating low-quality jobs, moving your learning to the cloud, or taking advantage of virtual and augmented reality experiences, there are so many ways to improve your company’s EX through technology.
  3. MEP Centers will help you get the most out of your physical plant. Whether it’s lean assessments, plant layouts or ergonomics, we can all agree with the main goal: Employees who are happy in their work environment will concentrate better, have improved well-being, and will be more productive.

As I discussed last month, not every worker issue can be solved internally. But identifying and addressing what you can control is a huge first step. Perhaps you want to focus on “inclusive excellence,” creating a work environment that is radically welcoming and fosters a sense of belonging. Or maybe you want to increase the various benefits of working for your company. 

Regardless, don’t wait another minute to focus on your EX. Start the journey toward improving your workers’ experiences today, and know that the MEP National Network is here to help you along the way.

About the author

Matt Fieldman

Matthew Fieldman is currently Executive Director of America Works, a nationwide initiative to coordinate the American manufacturing industry's training efforts, generating a more capable, skilled, and diverse workforce. Based at MAGNET: The Manufacturing Advocacy and Growth Network, Matt works across the nation's Manufacturing Extension Partnership (MEP) system to increase collaboration, efficiency, and impact of local and regional workforce development efforts.

Previously, he was Vice President of External Affairs for MAGNET, a nonprofit that helps Northeast Ohio’s small- and medium-sized manufacturers grow locally while competing globally. In this role, he launched the Ohio Manufacturing Survey; mspire, a regional startup pitch competition; helped launch manufacturing apprenticeships for inner-city youth; and is responsible for fundraising, legislative relations, media relations, and more. Concurrently, Matthew is the founding Board Chair of EDWINS Restaurant and Leadership Institute, Cleveland's first nonprofit restaurant and one of the first of its kind nationally to train formerly incarcerated individuals to work in fine dining. He raised over $600,000 to start EDWINS and was named “2014 Fundraiser of the Year” by Fundraising Success magazine for his efforts. He is also the founder of Cleveland Codes, one of the nation's first nonprofit software bootcamps devoted specifically to training low-income adults for careers in technology. Originally from Orlando, Florida, Matt earned a Bachelor of Science in Psychology, cum laude, from the University of Florida, a Master of Business Administration from The George Washington University, and a Certificate in Nonprofit Management from Case Western Reserve University. He is a former Ariane de Rothschild and American Council on Germany Transatlantic Fellow, and is currently a Civil Society Fellow at the Aspen Institute.


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