Connecting the Dots Between Employee Engagement and the Customer Experience

I recently participated in a group discussion organized by NICE on trends and best practices in employee engagement and how it relates to the customer experience.

Joining me were Aphrodite Brinsmead — senior analyst at Ovum specializing in contact center markets and technologies, and customer experience trends and Shep Hyken — customer service and loyalty expert, and bestselling business author.


NICE:
The three of you are champions for Employee Engagement. Reading your recent work, each of you has been talking about engagement in different ways – that’s the exciting part of getting this group together, you’ve got different perspectives but the same passions. When I look at what’s in the public domain there is a huge and growing emphasis on customer experience, but far less attention paid to employee engagement. It seems that engaged employees are a prerequisite to a great customer experience. Are companies focused enough on employee engagement?

Aphrodite Brinsmead:
The focus has been a bit limited. Particularly in the contact center world where operational metrics have always been the core focus. More recently there has been a shift away from measuring performance metrics to improving customer satisfaction. But I still think that organizations should look more closely at how improving employee engagement will also impact customer satisfaction. Things like gamification and encouraging more flexible working for agents are creating a bit of conversation, but in general no, there’s not enough push towards improving employee engagement.

NICE:
Bob, one of the recent articles you wrote “Friendly, the Most Important Quality in Customer Service” really focused on employees. Do you feel there is enough conversation on Employee Engagement?

Bob Thompson:
No, the commentary – like a lot of things in business – has been too much about approaching things piece by piece. If you really look at what drives customers to be more loyal you have to consider how value is created by a company. For example, customer loyalty is affected by customer experience, but also by products, price, and so on. Companies are starting to explore the role of employees in the value chain, and recognizing that engaged employees can absolutely drive customer loyalty.

Shep Hyken:
Companies are learning that an engaged workforce – one that is fulfilled and respected for their unique talents and abilities – is built ground up. You have to align their efforts with broader company priorities, and then use teaching moments as they fail and succeed to reinforce organizational values. The bottom line is, what’s happening on the inside of an organization is going to be felt on the outside by the customer.

NICE:
That reminds me of something you wrote recently on Kimpton Hotels…

Shep Hyken:
I did a little mystery shopping because I’ve been so impressed with the Kimpton chain. While staying at the Alexis in Seattle I started asking people how long they’d been working there – 7, 13, 20 years – I was impressed by the tenure of the employees. The same stay I overheard hotel employees congratulating a coworker on a video he recently produced for the hotel. Video?… this guy worked in the restaurant. What happened was his manager discovered that his hobby was video, and encouraged him to create a short on the hotel. He was beaming when he shared the story. Great organizations exploit the existing talents and skills of their employees.

NICE:
How should companies be using rewards and recognition to motivate their employees?

Bob Thompson:
If you don’t understand what drives performance it’s difficult to decide what to reward. Rewards are done at a granular level, and many companies lack creativity and insight in rewarding their employees. Great companies have a culture of treating employees like customers. Everything lines up.

Shep Hyken:
That’s so true, Bob. I think of it as the employee golden rule – treat your employees the way you want them to treat your customers. When you have that kind of culture, you attract better talent. The best companies reinforce their culture by hiring for matching skills and personality, not just a warm body.

NICE:
If I look specifically at contact center engagement the numbers are very low. Aphrodite, where can contact centers look for better opportunities to engage their people?

Aphrodite Brinsmead:
Two key areas are for improvement are more visibility into productivity and technology. When employees have the flexibility to choose their shifts and more responsibility for their performance, they step up. Organizations can also engage their people by improving access to information. There has long been talk of a unified desktop—simplifying customer service and even guiding agents to the right offers and solutions in the moment. Today it’s still far from that ideal, but thought leaders are already moving in that direction. I also think social media and communities can be better used to help connect agents with customers and put them on the same page with regards to the latest issues and resolutions.

NICE:
How long does it take for a company to really transform the way it engages employees?

Bob Thompson:
Turnarounds take time. An engagement turnaround can take years, not months, and companies need to have realistic expectations. One of my favorites case studies is Sprint…it took a new CEO and about 5 years to refocus the company on customer experience. They did that by better understanding what employees needed to do their best work. They identified their top performers, ensured their commitment, and connected them with real customer feedback so they could see their impact. That totally reengaged their people and changed the trajectory of the company.

NICE:
The composition of the workforce is changing. Should companies be thinking differently about engaging their millennial employees?

Shep Hyken:
First off, it’s important not to become overly obsessed with any one demographic. Companies need to execute engagement across all of their employee demographics. Oftentimes it’s boomers that have been with the company the longest and have accumulated the most expertise—don’t alienate them by over-focusing on another group. That said, it’s important to remember millennials see technology as an extension of themselves, it can be key to engaging this group. They expect to have access to technology at work; to be networked with their peers and friends.

Aphrodite Brinsmead:
There has been limited use of gamification for engaging staff in training and onboarding. But introducing simple game mechanics can help tap into the competitive nature of millennials. I expect we will also see more integration of technology through mobile – smart phones and tablets will have greater influence on how agents do their jobs in the future, and millennials will embrace the change.

Bob Thompson:
I’m not sure I buy the idea that millennials are that much different than the rest of us. If you look at studies, regardless of age, people want to be valued at work. Millennials are more likely to leave if they don’t get that. Sprint launched a very interesting Social Media Ninja Program that tapped non-contact center employees to solve customer problems using social media. It was part of the overall plan to reengage contact center staff and rebuild the reputation of Sprint. The program was open to everyone but targeted at the millennial group.

Shep Hyken:
If you look at every generation and demographic you’re going to see are a lot of differences in personalities and expectations. Every employee wants the same thing… it’s how you go about it that differs across demographics.

NICE:
Give me a specific example of a company who really excels at engagement. 5

Bob Thompson:
Sprint’s Social Media Ninja program solved a real problem; it was valuable to customers and appealed to a specific subset of Sprint’s employees. Sprint engaged employees in a way that also contributed to their business.

Shep Hyken:
Brian Keeley, the CEO of Miami based Baptist Health, has a great concept; create a clear definition of the culture you want and build an organization that supports that vision. He said we want to be a “destination employer”, meaning if you come to work for us it’s going to be the last place you ever work. The Scooter Store has a VP of Celebration and they are one of the largest purchasers of confetti in the US. It’s not so much that these companies are doing bizarre things they are doing the right things and they do them really well. More organizations should follow suit.

NICE:
What is the first thing a company can do to put themselves on the right course?

Aphrodite Brinsmead:
The first thing with any project is assessing where you currently stand, by getting feedback directly from employees. Then dig deeper into the individual steps needed to make improvements.

Bob Thompson:
The number one impediment to change is the lack of a “burning platform,” or lack of motivation. If you are constantly making excuses a year goes by and nothing changes. Companies that want to transform need to find that burning platform – growing attrition, customer churn, competitive share – and then get it in front of the right champions. When leadership is committed, you can move forward with purpose.

Shep Hyken:
I love the concept of creating a mantra; often it’s a brand promise. It needs to be short, concise and easily remembered. Ritz Carlton has one of the very best, “we’re ladies and gentlemen serving ladies and gentlemen.” Align the company around that kind of mantra, and reinforce it with action. It’s a virtuous cycle that will drive employee engagement.

NICE:
Thank you Aphrodite, Bob and Shep for such an engaging conversation.


Aphrodite Brinsmead is a Senior Analyst in the Customer Interaction team at Ovum, where she covers contact center markets and technologies, and voice and video business. Her work primarily focuses on analyzing trends, strategies, and practices for topics such as multichannel analytics, workforce optimization technologies and CRM in the contact center. She has also written and presented on the emergence of social media as a customer service tool.

Shep Hyken, CSP, CPAE is the Chief Amazement Officer of Shepard Presentations. As a customer service speaker and expert, Shep works with companies who want to build loyal relationships with their customers and employees. He is a hall of fame speaker (National Speakers Association) and a New York Times and Wall Street Journal best-selling author.

3 Responses to Connecting the Dots Between Employee Engagement and the Customer Experience

  1. David Beard May 20, 2014 at 9:24 am #

    Nice post —

    It reminds me of a blog back in 2009, where I discussed how employee engagement intersects with a CRM strategy. To me, it’s obvious. Any CRM strategy needs to be company-wide & have employees at its’ heart. Anything less just dilutes strategic effort & spend.

    The original post is here:
    https://community.sagecrm.com/user_community/b/talking_about_customers/archive/2009/09/01/managing-employee-engagement-amp-crm-strategies-it-s-easier-than-you-think.aspx

    -= David

  2. Zeeshan November 17, 2015 at 7:55 am #

    Employees are indeed crucial to effective customer support. Completely agree to the points you guys mentioned!

  3. Faryal Hassan December 8, 2015 at 5:09 am #

    Nice post! I agree with Shep. I was reading an article by Aimee Lucas on CX and a company’s internal culture. I’ll repeat what I said there. What is on the inside shows on the outside as well. If an organization’s employees are motivated and if the culture itself promotes customer engagement and the whole concept of delivering a good customer experience, only then will the employees truly act upon it and work to deliver the best customer experience that they possibly can!

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