In the dozens of conversations I have each week with companies charting their paths to a better customer experience, the role of employees often comes up. We talk about the importance of employee empowerment and how critical it is that employees feel free to make decisions that are right for customers. We discuss tactics like hiring, socialization, and rewards that can help organizations build corporate cultures that reinforce customer-centric attitudes and behaviors.

But rarely — if ever — does anyone ask me about actually designing the employee experience.

As I’ve said before: Great customer experiences don’t happen by accident — they have to be actively designed. In other words, you need to follow a structured process to ensure that you’re meeting customers’ needs and enabling interactions that are easy and enjoyable for them. While the discipline of design hasn’t yet become mainstream in the business world, companies around the globe — E.On Energy, Fidelity Investments, Mayo Clinic, and Virgin Mobile Australia, just to name a few — have started to embrace the value of design in customer experience. They’re conducting ethnographic research to uncover customers’ hidden needs. They’re bringing customers in for co-creation sessions to develop new experience ideas. They’re iteratively prototyping and testing the proposed solutions.

So why aren’t these two concepts — employee engagement and experience design — more frequently combined? In most companies that I know of, even in those where customer experience is a priority, the employee experience just kind of happens. The IT department implements a new CRM or accounting system, finance and human resources introduce new policies and procedures, the facilities group moves employees to a new and unfamiliar location — and employees must learn (mostly on their own) how to adapt to these changes and integrate them into new ways of working. But just like great customer experiences, great employee experiences — those that enable employees to support customers as they’re supposed to — don’t happen by accident. They have to be actively designed.

This week at the annual Service Design Network conference in Paris, Mad*Pow, a user experience design firm headquartered in Portsmouth, New Hampshire, presented a case study of one of the few employee experience design projects I’ve ever seen. Waste Management (yes, the garbage company) came to the agency to help it “fix the intranet.” Rather than just focus on the website, however, Mad*Pow took a broader approach in examining employees’ information needs.

It traveled to multiple Waste Management sites throughout the US to conduct research with employees who collect garbage, do the compacting, and work in the back office. They looked at employee communications ranging from physical bulletin boards and newsletters to emails and internal TV monitors, and they observed employee interactions with these touchpoints. One of their key insights was that the internal TV monitors placed in break rooms, driver lunchrooms, and other staff areas (like the room where drivers pick up their route info) absolutely captivated the employees’ attention. In one break room with picnic-style tables, every single employee sat facing the TV monitor — even though it was turned off! However, the company had never really thought about structuring the content on these screens.

In the end, Mad*Pow created a set of six personas representing corporate employees, field managers, frontline employees, and customer support reps. And while it did redesign the intranet as initially asked, it also created wireframes for the internal TV monitors that structured key info like company news, important reminders, upcoming events, and employee kudos in a way that would make employees’ time in front of these screens more valuable.