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Employee focus transforms customer experience management strategies

CEM initiatives suffer when employees can’t provide their perspectives on customer concerns.

Most business managers know there is a link between happy employees and satisfied customers, yet they are often challenged to capitalize on this connection when implementing customer experience management (CEM) strategies.

As a result, analysts caution that CEM projects are at risk if managers don’t focus more on employees. Two issues come into play for CEM initiatives, which are typically cross-company efforts aimed at improving customer experiences throughout the lifecycle. First, managers need to find ways to help employees care more about their jobs. Otherwise, customers immediately recognize an apathetic employee, and that can damage even the best mapped-out CEM plan.

Second, managers need to create opportunities for employee feedback, not just on jobs and tasks, but on company plans. The goal is to factor that feedback into CEM projects. As several analysts note, employees, particularly those on the front lines of customer service, can often provide the best insights into customer concerns.

“The best companies have the most engaged employees,” said Jeanne Bliss, co-founder of the Customer Experience Professionals Association (CXPA). “If the employee is at the table, everyone is working towards delivering something better.”

Bliss recalled her own experiences as leader of customer experience at Lands’ End, a clothing retailer well-known for customer service and now owned by Sears Holding Corp. Once a month, the company president would meet with a few dozen employees to hear comments about all aspects of the business, Bliss said.

But analysts said that while ideas such as the Lands’ End group sessions seem obvious, these efforts often can be stymied by a corporate culture that doesn’t give employee feedback much value.

“It is logical and straightforward, but a lot of managers don’t connect the dots,” said Jim Clemmer, president of the The Clemmer Group, a customer experience and management consulting firm in Kitchener, Ontario.

Experts say executive support key to CEM strategies
Without executive support, employees likely will not be a priority in a CEM initiative. Often, executives are so focused on the market and the company’s competitors that internal strategies drop down their priority lists. In turn, that thinking trickles down to the managers running the customer-facing projects, analysts said.

“This can’t be lip service,” said Kate Leggett, an analyst with Forrester Research Inc. in Cambridge, Mass. “It has to be in the DNA of the company.”

A second problem stems from the traditional organizational structure that creates silos of expertise. Typically, managers charged with employee relations are tucked away in human resources departments, preventing collaboration between them and the business managers running the CEM initiatives.

But companies having success keeping employees engaged are using a combination of survey software and old-fashioned employee encounter programs. One example is Nicor National, which sells home warranty and energy management plans. The company, a division of Nicor Inc. and based in Naperville, Ill., relies on automated survey programs, but it doesn’t shy away from the soft tactics, either.

“We begin with the strong belief that the environment for our employees is the one our customer experiences,” said Barbara Porter, vice president of business development and customer service.

Porter said the company uses survey tools from Allegiance Software to gauge employee satisfaction and customer satisfaction. It has been able to chart direct correlations that show when employees aren’t happy, customers start giving Nicor lower service marks.

That data helped Porter get funding for new contact center software that acts as a front end to several contact center legacy systems that employees had found increasingly difficult to use. This change boosted agent performance, and customer satisfaction has increased as well.

Porter said her group uses other methods to help employees become more engaged. She points to the company’s contact center ambassadors, who work on employee concerns with managers. Ambassadors are elected each year and meet with contact center managers twice a month to discuss various issues.

Creating emotional bonds
Industry analysts said managers should look for tactics that help employees feel more emotionally connected to their workplace. Often, this comes from sharing the big picture with workers. CXPA’s Bliss recalled a client that made children’s cups. When the company began seeking input from employees, not just as workers, but as people and parents who understood what children liked or didn’t like, they found employees were more enthusiastic about their work overall.

Emotional connections also could be forged from a variety of low-cost incentive programs. Paul Greenberg, president of The 56 Group, spoke of a company that hands employees the authority to give occasional company-sponsored $50 rewards to co-workers who they believe have done great work.

Finally, Kathleen Peterson, founder of Powerhouse Consulting in Bedford, N.H. said to simply ask employees direct questions and listen to what they say. She suggests starting with this query: “What are the smartest things we do, and what are the dumbest?”

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