Beyond the Bagels: Designing Human-Centered Employee Experiences

Podcast Show Notes

There’s a lot of talk about ‘experience’ these days, but what does it mean? Why does it matter? How can you make it easier for employees to get their work done in the cloud?

Join us for our first podcast with experience expert, Diane Magers, CCXP, Threadfin’s Experience Practice Lead (and well-known Founder and Chief Experience Officer at Experience Catalysts), as we discuss human-centered, outcome-focused digital transformation. We’ll dig deep to get to the bottom of employee and customer experience, and more importantly, why it matters. After all, experience isn’t just this nice-to-have, it’s what really drives business success.

If you hear something that especially sparks your interest, contact us for deeper conversation tailored to your company’s needs. You can always find us at


Podcast Transcript

Intro (00:07):

Welcome to Experience Threading: The Podcast where we discuss human-centered, outcome-focused digital transformation. If you’ve ever wondered…How can we make it easier for people to get their work done? How can I move to the cloud and then stay in the cloud? What’s the best way to handle risk in this work anywhere world? Then we invite you to listen in for the tools, techniques and best practices you need to overcome these challenges.

Sara Keeney (00:44):

I’m Sara Keeney and I’m the Director of Marketing and Communications at Threadfin. Joining me today is Diane Magers and Diane is an experience expert. She’s a CCXP and she’s our experience practice lead at Threadfin. She is so well versed in experience. She has done this type of work for hundreds of companies. So Diane, thanks so much for joining me today.

Diane Magers (01:08):

Oh, my pleasure. I’m really excited about our conversation today and what we can share with our audience.

Sara Keeney (01:14):

So let’s just start in nice and easy. Tell me a little bit about experience and why that’s so important for organizations today. And we can talk in terms of customer experience and employee experience.

Diane Magers (01:26):

Of course. Yes. I really struggled with this as I, as we went through this career, you know, experience when people say those words, but they don’t really know what they mean. So when you tell somebody I drive experiences or I lead experience at a particular company they often give you kind of that strange look of, I don’t know what you’re talking about. They often think it’s about care. Like I run a support center for care, which is obviously very important, but I have a hard time really explaining what it is. So what I ask people to do is to tell me a story about a good or bad experience they’ve had. And inevitably when they tell me about the experience they had, they often communicate what they felt about it, and then they tell me what they do differently with the brand, whether they, they’ve never gone back there or they wrote a horrible review, or I tell all my friends because it was such a great experience.

Diane Magers (02:15):

And I start to have them understand that there’s somebody in an organization and who understands those experiences, who’s doing surveys or looking at behavior or data or looking at communities or social media to understand those experiences and they’re helping the organization build better experiences. And the importance of that is the fact that when you talk about what they did differently with the brand, we talk about, well if you don’t like a brand and you don’t go back and you tell other people, that impacts their revenue and their lifetime value with you and their their business results. And so experience isn’t just this nice to have, it is really what drives a business. If you think about all the activities an organization does, sales, marketing support, all of those things are driven to change customer behavior. And the experience is really what changes the behavior. It’s not what you do, it’s how well you do it and how, how that experience comes to life when the customer interacts with you.

Sara Keeney (03:09):

So there’s a lot more to it than we might initially think on the surface, right? So in terms of customer experience we’re thinking like a customer survey. You know, we’ve all been on those phone calls where they’re like, would you complete a short survey after this conversation? And you’re like, no, but there’s a lot more to it than that. And from an employee perspective, it sounds like you’re saying, you know, it’s way more than do they have Starbucks coffee in the break room or are there bagels on Friday?

Diane Magers (03:35):

Right. We call that beyond the bagels for a reason. Like it’s great to have those perks, but you know what, if you think about what you want from work, if you, if you work or you used to work, when you think about what you want, you want to be listened to, you want to be able to contribute your ideas, you want to be valued, you want to get feedback, you want to have a career path, those are the things that are important to people. The money actually falls below all of those things as layered in importance, particularly with the new generations that are coming along. So thinking about the employee experience, we talk about it in two ways. We talk about employee experiences being the experience the employee has as a customer of the brand. So what is your onboarding like, what is it like there to work every day?

Diane Magers (04:18):

Do they have the right tools they need to do their work? Do they get rewarded? Do they have good performance? What is it like to work there and what are the experiences that they have? In addition to that, we talk about employee engagement or enablement. And what that means is do I have the tools or data or information or knowledge or skillset I need to do my work to serve the customer internally as well as external customers. So whether you touch external customers or not, you’re still providing experiences to each other. So when we talk about experience for employees, it’s that it’s the experience they have with the brand, but it’s also how we enable them to serve their internal external customers better. And so many opportunities in that space these days with the war for talent.

Sara Keeney (05:04):

Absolutely. You know, we had this great resignation and there’s been such a shift in the workplace in recent years and so when we’re thinking about employee experience, we’re thinking everything from, you know, way back in the beginning of the recruitment process even before people like maybe just as they’re applying for an organization and what does that look like through their entire life with the organization? Yes. And you know, we’ve all had experiences. If we think back on our work lives, you know, we’ve all had this experience where say you start a new job and you come in and everybody’s ready to greet you and you have your orientation and you’re presented with your computer and everything works exactly like it’s supposed to and you hit the ground running and you start working and it’s amazing. And many of us have probably had the experience where we go through this long recruitment process, we’re very excited to start our new job and then once we get there, we basically sit for a couple of weeks while we wait for everything to fall in line and we’re able to begin our work.

Diane Magers (06:04):

Exactly, exactly right. So that is really defining and designing that experience. When we think about the opportunities that we have, I’ll give you from your example, I’ll just leap off of that and say the very first thing that typically people do when they’re looking for a role is they’ll go talk to their friends about, have you heard anything about this company and what’s it like to work for them? Or they’ll go to Glassdoor. So the first thing they do is they’re doing research and your reputation as an employer is the very first thing they’re going to consider before they even apply. So you may be losing great candidates even from that work. So how do you improve those? How do you make sure your reputation is good? Well you’ve got to go fix some of the things that are there. Then it’s really understanding those needs and expectations that employees have today.

Diane Magers (06:48):

Like that shifting, that great realignment, I love to call it, right, is people want more from their work, they want that flexibility that’s changed from way before like over, even before covid that was changing. So understanding that, getting their input. People love to provide input and help really design their own experiences. So are you listening to the employees currently and discovering what are things that are obstacles for them or what do they need to be able to do their work? Or where is their leader a good leader? All of those things impact. So by understanding that we can move to designing great experiences, intentional purposefully designing experiences, not, hey, we’re going to try this or this, let’s really understand those needs and expectations, design around those and then try it out. Pilot it, launch it, prototype it, and then look at the benefits that you get from it.

Diane Magers (07:41):

A lot of times I see when they make improvements to employee or customer experience, it’s all about this to score. And that’s a great barometer but it’;s not the why. It’s not the why employees are leaving or why they’re not productive. That why is really what is most important. Understanding what’s really creating great engagement, what’s creating great experiences and how that impacts the business. If you’ve got productive engaged employees, you outperformed the marketplace. It’s proven over and over again. And I can lather, rinse, repeat that on customer experience as well.

Sara Keeney (08:16):

I know nowadays we are having organizations, the most successful organizations are really focusing on experience. It’s a buzzword we’re hearing, you know, all over the place in terms of customers and now also employees because traditionally it was customers first and then we’re like hey, we’ve got to focus in on the employees. I know some of the big organizations that are really focused on this have entire departments dedicated to experience both customer experience and employee experience. Are there things that organizations can do on their own? Say an organization doesn’t have a huge department focused just on experience. What are some of the things organizations want to do in terms of employee experience or customer experience? Things that they can manage on their own without a large department focused solely on experience but also taking it as you said, beyond the bagels.

Diane Magers (09:12):

Yeah, for sure. I think there are some, if I’m talking to an organization who really doesn’t have any formal way of doing that, like many organizations are trying to formalize and even if they have formalized, they typically are kind of stuck in this, getting the surveys, getting the information, looking at the data. They get tons of data but they don’t really have any insights. They don’t really take that information and say, you know, what’s the why behind this? We get surveys, we get scores, we get all this data, but it doesn’t tell us why the human being is acting the way they are. And so I often challenge people to say, take your number one strategic goal. If that’s retention or revenue or decreasing defection or expanding share wallet, whatever it is, take that one thing that your organization wants to achieve and I would challenge you to go find information from your customers about why that number’s not getting hit.

Diane Magers (10:06):

And what I mean by that is I would ask you for example, one of the top five reason that customers don’t come back once they buy from you. Okay, and you’re like, hmm, ok, well I think I know. Well you probably have data that’s pointing you in that direction, but have you really gone and talked with customers? Do you do exit interviews with customers to say, you know, sorry we lost your business and we really want to understand what we can do better for maybe you in the future, but really for us as an organization to improve, same with employees by the way. Stay interviews are a great way to get to employees needs, right where they are, you should be interviewing them as well. You should be getting more feedback from them all throughout time, not just this one-time employee survey that nobody does anything with.

Diane Magers (10:49):

So it’s looking at that data and really trying to tie what do I know about customers that’s going to help me achieve that strategic goal? And so by digging into the information and asking the why and finding out the why through qualitative work, whether you’re going and talking with customers or employees, bringing that in and bringing them together and really developing some insights, that kind of aha moment about, oh my gosh, there’s these three things are really what are creating our customers not buying from us anymore. Or these are the three things that are really creating advocacy for us and we’re getting more customers as a result of that. Let’s do more of that. I always don’t want to focus on just the negative. We need to focus on what are you doing really well that you need to make a best practice. So I encourage people to really get a, there’s plenty of people in an organization get a group together and kind of target what are you trying to accomplish, even if it’s a project you’re working on, start with the human and what you know and develop insights around those needs and expectations and what behavior you’re looking for from customers.

Diane Magers (11:49):

Sales is the same way sales wants customers to adopt a product, right? Say okay, what does it take? What does good look like when adoption goes well? What are the things that have happened and what do we need to remove that might be in the way? So it’s gaining insights, it’s taking some action and becoming more proactive about when you’re building something, thinking about that human first. So those are the three things that I encourage organizations to do in a very small way. You don’t have to tackle everything, take a project and just start looking at it from a different lens, from the outside in, from the customer’s perspective or employee’s perspective.

Sara Keeney (12:27):

That’s some really good advice. And it sounds like one of the things that organizations could also do, you know, I’m thinking back to the example you gave of a salesperson and finding what are they doing really well. What is actually closing the deals? And maybe you’ve got a couple of salespeople who are just totally rocking it and you can spend some time studying what exactly are they doing differently than what everyone else is doing. And then figure out how do you turn that into a process or put that into your operations, train your other salespeople to do that thing that’s having such positive results.

Diane Magers (13:04):

Yeah, that’s a great example of what I love to do is what I call the mirror. If I find those salespeople, I’ll go and talk with the customer as well because I want to understand what that salesperson’s doing to meet their need or creating value for them above and beyond what another salesperson might be doing. So it’s creating this mirror of internally and externally, what are those perspectives and identifying, oh hey by the way we saw this guy was doing a really great job and he’s rocking it, but the customer is saying I’d love to have this and this, this, this, and this would really make it sing, and you’re like, okay, now I’ve got a sweet combination here. So it’s this whole discovery phase when you really go into understanding the experience of you’ve just got to talk to the human, you’ve got to understand every day what we need and wouldn’t expect.

Diane Magers (13:56):

It’s like that, you know, tell me a story thing. Like if I pick, I picked up the phone and called Chase this morning because I had an issue with one of my credit cards and they were so pleasant and they said, don’t worry about it, we’re going to close the card down. We’re going to send you a new one overnight. If you don’t need it overnight, we’ll send it in a few days. Which would you prefer? Don’t worry about these charges, we’re going to take care of it. You’re totally protected. I hung up the phone like, huh? Like I don’t have to worry about it. That’s value. That’s, why they create great experiences and how you can engage someone. So if you don’t understand what that customer’s going through and how to build those types of interactions, it’s super difficult to know if you’re hitting the mark or not.

Sara Keeney (14:36):

So all of this sounds, I mean it almost sounds magical, Diane, right? We have conversations and those conversations are probably fun. They’re probably really interesting. We probably are like, I love my job, this is amazing. I’m meeting new people and having these fantastic discussions. I can change the world. But when it comes down to it, we have to take all that information. Well first we have to make sure we have the time and energy to go and gather the information. Then we have to take the information and figure out what’s the most relevant. Then we have to figure out like, okay, all of this stuff is relevant, but what’s the most important? So how, how on earth do we manage all of this, not only for employees but for customers? How do we do that by ourselves?

Diane Magers (15:16):

<Laugh> Well I think when you, when you think about a little bit of boiling ocean, whenever I tell somebody what this job is that I talk about some of the things that, that we do as experienced professionals, like this is actually a profession. Now there’s a certification like a cpa, it’s called a CCXP because there are frameworks and best practices and ways to approach this. But the whole, what you, when you talk to people when they’re trying to do this work, they do get overwhelmed pretty quickly because they’re saying, well, if I want to really think about it that way, I also have to understand all of those things that contribute to that experience, the things that customers are touching and interacting with. But how I hire people like Chick-fil-A for example, when they hire people, they hire happy people and they have very specific criteria when they interview somebody how to hire.

Diane Magers (16:02):

So when you start to think about all the things that go into it, people get very overwhelmed like, I have no idea how to tackle this. That’s when you call, you know, call Ghostbusters, right? It’s like you need to, you need to get somebody in the room who’s done it before, who can bring you frameworks and best practices who can take you through methodologies that allow you to get there. Who can do this knowledge transfer. One of the things that we do really well at Threadfin is we talk people through it and we’re teaching them as we go along so that we’re not just coming in and doing the work. We’re right beside them. Helping them in the navigator seat to explain why and how and how these things fit together to give them that bigger picture and those aha moments about the best way to look at this is across all the silos from top to bottom.

Diane Magers (16:48):

And yes, that seems overwhelming, but if you don’t tackle it at some point, at least even for a project, you’re missing a lot of the potential of a better business case. You’re missing the potential of what you can do to really impact the experience and you’re missing the ability for the organization to be innovative and collaborative. Which if you think about what CEOs are after today, that’s kind of at the top of their list. So we’re helping organizations to do that in a very structured way and bringing them the tools and resources they need to do that, as well as the skill and knowledge and competencies. I mean it’s really helping build a different way of working in a different way of thinking.

Sara Keeney (17:25):

This makes total sense. It’s amazing because I mean you can get certifications and degrees in this now, it is that robust and that in-depth and there’s so much to it. But I want to go back for a second. You talked about silos and working in silos. One of the big challenges I see in organizations is that, you know, we have an IT team doing something and then we have the leadership team doing something and then we, then we have the customer service team doing something and all of those things are actually super interrelated, but nobody’s necessarily talking about it. So historically we would always see that, you know, decisions would come from it and it would be like, okay, we have to improve security so we’re going to implement this particular product or you know, this particular product is too expensive so we’re going to implement this other particular product which is less expensive.

Sara Keeney (18:15):

They tell leadership, leadership says, great, everybody here’s what we’re doing. Get on board. But the end user experience can often be very, very impacted and it can often be not great. And so when we bring everything together through our process called Experience Threading, we’re removing the silos, we’re getting everybody in the room together and we’re able to have those discussions. You know, if we’ve got the chief financial officer saying, Hey, we’ve got to get rid of this particular digital product because it’s too expensive. Then we have customer service in the room, we have IT in the room, we have the CEO in the room to be able to say, okay, if we have got to get rid of this one for costs, what is it that we’ve got to actually accomplish at the end of the day? How are we going to make it easy for people to get work done? How are we going to make it a pleasure for our customers to do business with us? And then coming up with the solution there versus somebody just dictating this has got to change somebody deciding what the change is going to be and then going with it. Right?

Diane Magers (19:19):

How many times does that happen to us in our careers, right? Where it’s like we’re going to a new platform, it’s like, ugh. And then they give you training that you spend weeks sometimes adopting what you don’t really understand. Or, I remember one organization a long time ago, we moved to SAP. It was before SAP really had the front end, you know, it was back and, you were really digging, you’re working in the back, in the ERP system. What I think you’re really referring to is that ability for us to think about what experience we want to create and then if we have a certain technology in mind, the way that we build a technology, how we release it, how we engage the organization as we’re building and designing, what’s going to happen, how we phase it in, how we really measure is this going to meet the needs and is it going to, are we going to improve people’s lives by doing this?

Diane Magers (20:11):

Or if there’s a hurdle in the road, do we know about it? And have we really mitigated that and educated people about what’s going to happen? So it’s that kind of ready, fire, aim, <laugh> that we we’re getting away with and saying, really, let’s plan, let’s really understand what this is. And people go, well we don’t have time for that. We have to move forward. And I always tell them, would you rather undo things like you’re doing today and backpedal and not get the adoption and do all those things? Or would you want to spend a little bit of time as you’re building, as you’re already doing this understanding configuration, you know, all the activities we know happen, would you rather do that with a group of people internally to really know what’s going to make an impact and what’s going to be adopted and what the organization needs. Knowing you won’t have to redo all that work in the end or put band-aids on things, which is what we want to avoid.

Diane Magers (21:01):

So it’s being proactively designing that so that we’re designing for the outcomes as well as a technology. And that’s really where I think people will go, oh <laugh>, you’re designing for the outcomes. Which outcomes to me means financial and intangible impact. Because if you can make employees more productive, if you can get them to be more collaborative, if you can feel like they feel valued at work and they’re able to serve the customer quicker because they have information at their fingertips or they can build products in a quicker way because they’re collaborating online, I think that translates to financial impact. And so whenever I talk to people about experience management and thinking about, oh it’s a nice to have, it’s the surveys, it’s the feedback. Well yeah, that’s a little part of it, but really when you talk about experience management, it is what separates those great brands and makes them outperform the marketplace.

Diane Magers (21:54):

Google, Adobe, all the organizations and brands we love are all experience-led. They start with the experience and so why do you think they outperform the market and they’re innovative and collaborative and a great place to work? It’s because they’ve centered it around this human. And so you too can adopt it. It doesn’t have to be an overnight, it won’t be an overnight because you can’t magically change the way people think and work. But these small incremental steps that you take in order to get there is how people really build this muscle within the organization. It’s a new concept. It’s new and I often tell people it’s not a separate department. My goal with an organization is to really put what I call the mortar between the bricks. It’s bringing the organization together and really putting that connective tissue between what you’re doing and the human and all the different departments. Because that’s really what is sometimes creating a lot of the bad experiences or creating opportunities that we don’t want to have to address. We want to design it right in the first place.

Sara Keeney (22:55):

Yeah, designing it right in the first place is really so key because band-aids are expensive, right? If we do something really fast, we just have to move. There’s this whole concept called tech debt, which is basically like, we did it the fast way in the beginning and that’s going to cost us so much more on the backend. And the thing that I really love about the way we work through this is that we are bringing everybody together, right? It’s not just one department. When we do this Experience Threading at Threadfin, we’ve got the folks across the organization, we’re looking at the long-term impacts versus just like, what do we have to solve for like right now, right? So it’s not the quick fix. I mean there can be interim fixes, but it’s not the quick fix that’s going to wind up costing you a lot more money down the road.

Diane Magers (23:45):

I would also say, let me leap in there because I think it’s a perfect point to go back to our last point of when you’re looking at it holistically, you get what I call an additive business impact. Meaning it’s not just the fact that you’re looking at one thing to say, if we implement this technology, our cost of ownership is going to go down, or we’re going to reduce our maintenance fees, right? Whatever goal you have for that, when you really start to design it, you can take credit for a lot more things like productivity of employees. We’ve talked about the responsiveness to customers, the increase in advocacy, like you can look at the bigger picture because there’s more benefits to be had. And so your implementation has all of these tentacles of value that it’s creating. But few organizations really look at it that way.

Diane Magers (24:34):

They kind of look at, oh, we’ve got to do this as part of our tech stack. It’s like, mmm, no, because this is how your organization is powered to run. And if you don’t think about the impact it’s going to have, then you’re short changing yourself as far as the benefits that you can create. So we’re actually, what we call value creation. We’re focused on value creation. What are we going to do that’s going to create more value for the organization? Even if we think about it’s just shifting to the cloud or it’s just moving to teams. No, it’s not. There’s so much more that we can extract from that, from a value perspective and that’s what we hope organizations do.

Sara Keeney (25:10):

Yeah, because I think a big thing too is, and we alluded to this a little bit earlier, is the prioritization. So when we’re doing our discovery and we are really understanding all of the things, you can’t handle all of the things at one time and you don’t have to make it a huge project all at once, start with the small ones, start with the easy pieces, get some traction there and then move forward. One thing I think is really interesting that we haven’t talked about yet is how things change over time. Because unfortunately, once you get your arms around this, you’re going to find that employee experience and customers experience are not static. You know, a few years ago, I mean maybe five years ago, all of us were still happy going to the mall <laugh>, and now as consumers we expect to have it all delivered to our house, right? And that was just like boom, overnight. There are so many changes and we need to be ready for those and be ready to adapt to those. So just talk to me really briefly about how we consider change throughout all of this, because it doesn’t just stand still.

Diane Magers (26:18):

One of the things that organizations, as they mature in this experience management practice is what we call it, when they’re really paying attention to the experience, they have what I would call a master plan. They have a master outline or map of what’s happening today. And the importance of that is that that really isn’t something that organizations have ever really had. If you think, think about it, we’re working in such silos. Everybody sees a piece of what the experience is or sees it from their lens, but there’s not this larger, here’s exactly how we’re working and operating and how the organization comes together around the experience. The importance of that is when you have that all mapped out and you can see what projects are impacting what, you have this kind of ongoing machine or factory and this pulse of all the things that are happening and what’s impacting the experience.

Diane Magers (27:12):

So when you have an external factor, like a disruptor in your marketplace or a change in technology or the metaverse or whatever it is that’s coming our way, you’re able to say, well what can that do for us? If we really already have a viewpoint like that, how can we take the metaverse and look for all those opportunities? Or how is this competitor going to impact everything from sales and marketing and care and support? Or how does putting in a new technology, how is that going to change everything from end to end? So it’s that visibility and view and management, we call it journey management. Really trying to understand how if you’re current in your state and you have a change that’s coming, how do you see those ripple effects? How do you plan for those? How do you adjust the experience and manage that so that you’re creating experiences that will continually evolve and develop around that change that you see coming. So it’s a discipline.

Sara Keeney (28:08):

<Laugh>, it is a discipline and I think it takes discipline to manage that and keep it current and make sure that every time something’s coming or there’s some different need or some disruptor, you’re going back to that journey map or that blueprint I guess we could say. And making sure you’re understanding what are the impacts everywhere and then adjusting accordingly.

Diane Magers (28:30):

Yeah, that’s right.

Sara Keeney (28:30):

Diane, we have covered so much useful information today and I hope we’ve given folks some takeaways,? Some things that they can do on their own to start moving in this direction. I hope we’ve given folks a really good understanding of experience, what it means in terms of employees, what it means in terms of customers, the value, how it can impact the bottom line and overhead and all the things. If you’ve got a digital technology project coming up, why don’t we get involved in that and let’s work through this on a real small scale first and then see where we can grow those tentacles, like Diane put it, and let’s see how we can work with you guys and your team to go beyond the bagels, so to speak.

Diane Magers (29:11):

Lovely. I think it’s a great way to really discover, and that’s what we’re here for, is really to answer questions because this is, as we said, a very complex approach to things, but in all reality, it’s fairly simple. We’re just starting with the human, so how can we really help you to do that? Just pick up the phone and call. Let’s just have a conversation and we’ll figure out a way to look at a couple of your projects and figure out what if you did X, Y, or Z differently, what would that do for the organization? And then you have a story to go back to your leadership and talk about, or if you’re leading a project, this could be something that you add in that could really have a huge impact to you and make your product or your solution more valuable. So we look forward to hearing from you.

Sara Keeney (29:52):

Yeah, absolutely. It’s the way to keep the humans in the digital technology, which is something we don’t often see in this space. And Threadfin’s really excited to be pioneering that and to be talking about that so early on. Thanks so much, Diane. I really appreciate your time.

Diane Magers (30:07):

My pleasure. We’ll talk soon.

Outro (30:09):

Thanks for listening to Experience Threading: The Podcast. We invite you to leave a rating and a review on the platform you use to listen to this podcast. If you heard something that especially sparked your interest, contact us for a deeper conversation tailored to your needs. You can always find us at

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