Many companies use design thinking to improve the customer experience. After finding it useful in the CX realm, businesses now try to apply similar approaches to improve employee engagement.
Electronic Arts (EA) Inc. found this approach helpful to improve the engagement of call center employees who typically experience the brunt of customer complaints.
"No one ever calls us when something good is happening," said Abby Eaton, manager of employee experience at EA. "They are calling because something has gone wrong and they are already frustrated, so the complexity of the advisers' jobs is challenging."
Design thinking can help improve the design of a space, physical products and applications and has been a trend since the 1990s. Now, companies are applying this same approach to improve applications in the workplace -- cutting costs and improving worker productivity, said Parminder Jassal, Work and Learn Futures group director at the Institute for the Future, a think tank in Palo Alto, Calif.
Improving customer experience
Customer service agents make up only about 5% of the employees at EA, but they play an important role in managing consumer frustration before it erupts on social media.
Eaton's work includes improving the workflow in the CRM platform and making it easier to access company information through other applications. Her job consists of looking at how agents experience their day-to-day jobs and the motivators that keep them engaged and inspired.
"My team exists because we believe a great employee experience can help create a great customer experience," Eaton said.
Abby EatonManager of employee experience, EA
Acting on front-line worker feedback is key to call center employee engagement, Eaton said. Executive suggestions and survey results can be a good starting point, but it's more important to spend time with workers to determine the employee pain points and design a plan that enables them to do their best work.
For example, Eaton found ways to reorganize the CRM software's layout, making it easier for agents to help solve player problems.
No more tools
Eaton also discovered that agents don't want more tools, even if the tools somehow improve their work process. Instead, agents want better access to information within their existing tools.
Eaton addressed this need by integrating a new service from within Slack, a collaboration tool EA uses, to find company documentation. This capability also makes it easier for employees to create custom communities to build camaraderie across offices.
Another effort at EA to improve call center employee engagement was to develop custom career development resources. Most of the front-line agents are entry-level employees, and this is the first time they have had to navigate a corporate environment and make career decisions. Eaton worked with the human resources department to reorganize company documentation into small chunks that are easier to digest.
"I would use design thinking to make these things as easy as possible," Eaton said.
The human factor
Businesses don't need a six-hour training from design thinking experts or any special tools to get started. Managers can go a long way toward addressing engagement in the call center with a five-step approach.
- Interview primary sources. Put more weight into what employees are saying rather than what executives are saying.
- Create a problem statement. This involves understanding what the user is trying to do and how the current approach makes them feel. Here are five questions to ask:
- Who is the user?
- What are they trying to do?
- What's in the way of doing that?
- What's the root cause of that obstacle?
- How does it make the user feel?
- Brainstorm and prioritize. Explore a range of ideas even if they don't make sense in the beginning. Sometimes, crazy ideas can be fine-tuned to fix an issue at hand. Then, narrow down those ideas by thinking about time, impact and effort until the best ones rise to the top.
- Storyboard the experience. Start with the problem statement and map out the current and future state. Map it out visually like a comic book or with sticky notes.
- Circle back to the new hires and hiring manager to get feedback. At this point, businesses may be tempted to show the storyboard to the CEO. It's better to show it to the employees to get their feedback first, however. Even if workers don't like the final product, this crucial step will help them buy into it. Often, there is a back-and-forth process with employees until the project is completed. Then, it can be shown to executives along with a plan and budget for the suggested changes.