Following on from our last post on customer centricity, we thought we would share our thoughts on another critical focus needed for success – Employee Centricity.

Organisational leadership can say all the right things regarding customercentricity. Human resources can do a tremendous job of recruiting intelligent, emotionally aware and motivated agents to handle customer interactions; learning and development can train them to the fullest extent possible, however without delivering effective workplace practices, these efforts will provide little, if any reward. They will do little to elevate the business from one restricted by in-built shortcomings to one empowered by strength. 

Whether approached from the external perspective of the customer or the internal perspective of the employee, ideas are meaningless. Actions are everything, and if an idea is incapable of making the transformation from thought bubble to effective action, it might as well have never been put forward. Today’s business leaders have no choice but to make a total commitment to the notions of customer and employee centricity. Many do it in theory, but too few do it in practice, rarely committing to what is required to drive meaningful change – and meaningful results. 

With customer experience being increasingly recognised as a significant competitive differentiator and employee engagement accepted as a fundamental driver of customer experience, failing to act can no longer be accepted. Successful leaders need to make the tough choices that will put weight behind their customer-centric and employee-centric rhetoric. 

At BBB Advisory, our SPEC Framework focuses very much on delivering outcomes that support what we refer to the Thee E’s of employee effectiveness: 

1. Empowerment

If customer (internal or external) satisfaction truly matters to a business, the business will make every reasonable effort to win the customer’s support. It will not allow minor gripes over fees, delivery charges or policies get in the way of a favourable long-term relationship. 

Customer centric enterprises can no longer survive if they maintain a chain of command approach to customer processes. If it is going to rectify issues and deliver high levels of customer engagement and loyalty, it will achieve far more by entrusting front line staff to handle the issue – thus minimising support time, improving first call resolution, and boosting employee satisfaction, development and engagement – than it does forcing the staff to pass the customer’s enquiry to a supervisor with “more authority”. 

To succeed, businesses must engage their frontline. To engage staff, businesses must establish clarity about the purpose of the service function and the agent’s role in driving value. 

Once a business successfully communicates that value to it’s staff, it has every reason to expect their staff to operate in accordance with that value. It’s staff clearly know their business’ objectives when dealing with customers, and they know how best to respond to customer enquiries. 

To make it happen the enterprise must empower them to do so.

Not simply a customer-facing philosophy, empowerment also concerns an employee’s role within the organisation. Often forced to adhere to a hierarchy, front line staff often feel powerless to respond to customer concerns, call meetings, summon support from colleagues and managers and introduce ideas about new strategies and practices. The result is a weaker, less collaborative, less productive environment. 

If an employee knows the enterprise means it when it says the employee experience matters, it will give them the power to use their knowledge, logic and senses of customer-centricity and organisational value when interacting with customers, knowing they are supported by effective controls and measures. 

Effective empowerment drives dramatic improvement in engagement levels for both customers and staff 

Imagine how the customer and employee experience would shift if, for example, you could move front line decision-making on supposed “complex” issues from less than 20% to over 70%…? An outcome that is not as hard to deliver as many believe. 

2. Enablement

Businesses that believe they can rid their sales, service and support experience of flaws by purchasing and installing new technology are horribly misguided. 

Technology is no substitute for effective strategies and practices. Whilst it does serve to enable both, businesses that believe they can optimise their customers’ experiences without assistance from technology are also misguided.

Just as a successful business empowers it’s agents to act in the best interest of customers and clients, it must also provide a technical form of empowerment. It must give them access to the desktop views, customer insights, knowledge bases, workflows and intra-office communication tools they need to efficiently deliver more effective outcomes. If staff lack access to the data they need to respond to customer issues, or the platforms they need to facilitate the desired outcome or communicate their responses, and the perspective they need to monitor the outcome, they have no chance of meeting the evolving expectation of customers or performing to their capabilities.

There is an increasing body of evidence that in today’s tech savvy employment market, staff will leave if the systems they have to use are outdated – often they find they have more technical capability in their personal lives than their employer offers. The question of BYOD (Bring Your Own Device) is an another discussion!!

We must enable employees to have conversations with customers that go beyond the immediate transaction or issue, and start focusing on educating customers how to maximise the value they get from the products and services offered.

Training and development also plays a major part in the enablement process. Businesses must rethink and transform the overall objective of training. Instead of simply focusing on how to use the systems and successfully interact with customers, training must focus on how to optimise value by blending these skills with improved social skills and emotional intelligence. In addition coaching must be tailored to an employees’ unique skills and needs, never a “one size fits all” approach. On behalf of customers, we are continually frustrated by observing the efforts to “normalise” all agents against some internally focused metric or standard – not against how well they met the expectations of the customer. 

Learning, development and coaching must evolve to unlock the unique qualities each and every employee brings to the team. When that happens, an employee will not only have a personal understanding of where they fit into the process, but also an understanding of, and personal confidence in, their unique ability to drive value and make a difference. 

A sign of the business’ commitment to the customer, the proactive approach to service and support will transform it’s identity from one that can fix things when things go wrong to one that goes above and beyond to make sure things always go right for the customer. 

Only then will their investment into agent engagement and empowerment provide the desired return – a reduction of customer issues, greater satisfaction, a more stable and capable workforce, and more successful outcomes. 

3. Engagement

Some may argue this is the most important of the 3 E’s and so seek to develop employee engagement strategies. We have a different point of view as we see too many of these programs fail as the enterprise has yet to deliver on the two biggest drivers outlined above – empowerment and enablement. 

They are fundamental to driving employee performance and engagement in today’s environment of “knowledge workers”. The other frequent cause for this disconnect is too many KPI regimes include a benefit from a high “Employee Engagement Score” so staff score engagement highly to maximise bonuses etc. 

We have observed more than one client with an annual employee turnover in excess of 60%, and yet claim to have engagement scores in the high 80’s – an impossible outcome. A modern business necessity, the concept nonetheless finds a way to consistently confound businesses. Creating two approaches to engagement: 

  1. The desired outcome – staff giving discretionary effort because they get so much value, development and respect through coming to work ; and
  2. The undesirable outcome – “staff” love working there because you never have to do much and no one makes you accountable – that is not engagement although some have argued it is! 

For employees to successfully function in a customer facing environment, they must develop a comprehensive understanding of the skills required to achieve their objectives within the business’ core objectives, and enough agility in their thinking to move effortlessly between the issues and individuals they will interact with. 

Generic communication about corporate values and generic training and scripting are not the answers for creating a more engaged customer-centric workforce. Evidence of lots of open communication might be offered as a definition of engagement, but it will not deliver the desired levels of engagement unless supported by the actions outlined above. I was once engaged by an enterprise that had an abundance of communication, yet when surveyed set a new benchmark for employee disengagement! 

Rewards linked directly to customer-centric and business-centric outcomes that the employee can control, rather than arbitrary, outdated internally focused measures, clearly boost engagement. When an employee senses an alignment between what the organisation needs them to do and want they want to do, and is recognised and rewarded for doing so, the enterprise functions most effectively. 

True engagement involves developing an unrelenting culture – a set of practices that create an environment where staff do the right things for the enterprise, their customers and their colleagues because they want to – not because they have to. 

To achieve this the leaders must not only talk the walk, but walk the talk.

 A r t i c l e wr i t t e n b y S t e v e M i t c h i n s o n
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