Most businesses are only as strong as the employees who work there. It’s their passion, their hard work and their loyalty that can push average company performance towards exceptional performance. It’s also why the employee experience has been prioritised over the past few years.
Just as critical, however, is the customer experience. It’s what we, as customers, notice first about interactions with organisations – whether that be the personalised attention provided by a retail assistant, the exceptional care provided by a healthcare professional, or the concierge who goes above and beyond to make our hotel experience special. It’s what builds loyalty and wins over new customers; they can turn leads into customers, simply because they win people over with their enthusiasm, knowledge, and problem-solving skills.
Indeed, research from PwC shows that 73% of customers now say that customer experience is the key deciding factor in whether they purchase from a company. Executives understand this too. A Harvard Business Review articlesuggests that 55% of executives agree it’s impossible to provide good customer experience without focusing on the employee experience.
The link between employee engagement and the customer experience is strong. Research from Gallup suggests that engaged workers are 17% more productive and receive 10% higher customer ratings than disengaged team members.
To put it simply, happy employees equal happy customers. That means those employees need to have the support, training, tools and technology to do their jobs effectively. Their physical work environment needs to be free of safety hazards (and that includes physiological hazards), and direct managers need to be able to provide support and guidance.
Many organisations are now focusing on empowering their frontline, ‘deskless’ workers to think outside the box, to break down the rigid confines of job descriptions, and gather gold in the form of direct customer feedback.
Acknowledging that your frontline staff are the public face of your organisation, how can you support them to excel in that area? These four strategies are crucial.
Frontline workers are a fount of knowledge. They often deal directly with customers or the public so they can observe their behaviour constantly. They answer their questions, handle their complaints, provide recommendations, and so on. Listening to the voice of your frontline employees is invaluable. Whether that’s through regular informal one-on-one huddles or catch-ups, short pulse surveys or other feedback channels, make it easy for employees to share their insights and make suggestions.
Also remember that great ideas can come from anywhere, and that innovation – the end result of great ideas – isn’t necessarily about making huge steps forward. Sometimes it’s small improvements to processes, techniques, behaviours that can move the needle. Small improvements to how products are sold or services delivered can make a genuine difference over time. Again, innovation will only happen if employees feel they can share their ideas – and that those ideas are appreciated.
Read more about listening to the voice of deskless workers in our blog.
Empowering frontline workers can help create a bottom-up culture. That is, not everything comes ‘top-down’, and instead of going up the hierarchy to make decisions, employees are empowered to make those decisions themselves, ‘in the moment’.
This may not be possible due to a number of reasons. For example:
Rules are too rigid and are deemed more important than service. These rules may also not be applicable in different situations – but following them is mandatory, no matter what
Performance KPIs are based on time. Resolving issues swiftly, even if it results in a sub-par customer experience, is what matters most to the organisation. That means anything that takes a bit longer to resolve, or is deemed ‘too hard’, will impact these KPIs – and the performance evaluation of that employee will be impacted
Performance evaluation is based on the lack of mistakes made. Managers want employees not to fail, but they don’t encourage them to improve – and sometimes improvement is only possible by making mistakes (and learning from them!)
For all of the above, remember that customers generate revenue but employees drive the experience. If a decision or suggestion can be made quickly on the spot by the same person, but it still results in a satisfied customer, that’s empowerment at its best.
What if it’s a tricky customer interaction? For example, during the height of the pandemic and still today, 59% of frontline retail workers reported an increase in customer abuse.
While formal processes always need to be followed, especially if customers are verbally or physically abusive or behaving in inappropriate ways, it’s worth considering if frontline workers can be trained on how to defuse such situations. They can also be made aware that it’s ok to escalate an issue by making a note on a file or redirecting the interaction to a supervisor, or – most critically – empowering workers to walk away from these situations if it cannot be resolved ‘in the heat of the moment’.
Read some further tips in this article.
Great customer service is a matter of confidence and emotional intelligence. The former can be increased by bolstering employee knowledge of the product or service being sold. Keep employees updated on product or service developments or enhancements, and brand new launches. The latter – emotional intelligence – is a set of skills and behaviours, and these too can be taught.
As outlined on this website, emotionally intelligent people can recognise, adjust, and distinguish their own emotions from the emotions of others. Frontline workers with high emotional intelligence are able to recognise customers’ unspoken pains and concerns, their emotional and mental state, even their background. While some people may naturally be stronger in some elements of emotional intelligence, it can also be learned, developed and enhanced.
Training should focus on how to acknowledge, differentiate and accept emotions, reflect on their origin and handle them, as well as the emotions of others. Some organisations will use elements of gamification to help frontline workers handle emotionally basic or complex situations, have them resolve conflicts, support customers in unusual ways, and provide slightly different services or products to resolve a customer’s specific needs.
Of course, it’s a given that both technical and ‘soft’ skills need to be continuously developed. Soft skills might include communication, resilience, and problem-solving. Technical training might include being shown how to use equipment and technology effectively, such as POS devices. Make sure sales training also continues so that retail workers in particular can close deals effectively. Mentoring and buddy programs, whereby less experienced workers are paired with more experienced workers, can be an effective way to impart this knowledge.
Recognising the good work of employees can act as a powerful motivator and it can also reinforce company values and desired behaviours. If customer service is central to your organisation’s mission, make sure you’re rewarding and recognising those who go above the call of duty on that front. This might include recognising a sales rep who was named in a customer survey or on a feedback card with a gift card or thank-you note. Remember, what gets recognised often gets repeated, so making this a regular occurrence can only help with engagement.
Value your customers? Looking to build a truly customer-centric culture? If so, it’s time to invest in the employee experience for frontline workers. Train them, develop them, recognise their efforts – and reap the benefits that come from delivering a remarkable customer experience.
Humanforce is the best-in-one platform for frontline and flexible workforces, offering a truly employee centred, intelligent and compliant human capital management (HCM) suite – without compromise. Founded in 2002, Humanforce has a 2300+ customer base and over half a million users worldwide. Today, we have offices across Australia, New Zealand, and the UK.
Our vision is to make work easier and life better by focusing on the needs and fulfilment of frontline workers, and the efficiency and optimisation of businesses.
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