Most organizations regularly survey employees, but these programs are typically limited to measuring employee engagement, identifying the drivers of employee satisfaction, and soliciting suggestions for improving working conditions. While surveys include in-depth questions about the workplace, rarely do they ask the questions whose answers could most dramatically affect the overall quality of the customer experience and efficiency of operations. Companies miss the opportunity to ask, for example, “What stands in the way of providing the best possible customer service? What do you need to perform your job better? What do you think is key to attracting and retaining the highest value customers?” Yet, apart from customers themselves, no one is better positioned to report on customer experiences than the employees on the front line — staff who also understand the operational challenges and constraints in providing a stellar customer experience.
Employees across the organization — from front-line sales reps to backroom IT specialists — all may have valuable intelligence about what will drive measurable improvements in products and service quality delivery. However, there is probably no group in the company in a better position to identify the obstacles to success than the frontline of your Care organization. While Care reps can often identify these obstacles, they are rarely asked to, and of course, have little if any control over operations or policies in other parts of the company that affect their ability to serve the customer.
Most organizations not only miss the opportunity to solicit systematic input from their employees, even worse, they inadvertently create cultures that make employees reluctant to share critical observations. Surveys in which employees are solicited for a 360-degree view of the company’s key performance measures can fill these voids. For example, STAT Resources, Inc. has just developed a new Employee Generated Optimization (EGOSM) survey program that is the first to use employee insight in this way.
A corporate EGO survey not only gives Care a voice that can be heard in the C-suite about what stands in the way of world-class service and market dominance, but, if implemented cross-company, also enlists the entire organization in reaching these goals. Even surveys of just the Care departments can give an enormous leg up on operational and quality improvements.
A lesson from the security industry
A major security company was eager to launch service quality improvements to increase customer satisfaction. Company research showed that the less time a customer spent on the phone with customer service, the higher the customer satisfaction scores were. In response to this finding, company management offered service representatives financial incentives to reduce time-spent-in-queue and for decreases in total average call length. Surprisingly, while the company dramatically increased the speed of response and call completion, customer satisfaction plummeted — along with employee morale. Why?
Had management enlisted employees in understanding the reason that shorter calls were associated with more satisfied customers, they would have learned that reps believed that the time-satisfaction link was often simply the result of quicker resolution time for simpler issues. More difficult and complex issues took more time and effort to resolve. When surveyed, employees agreed that reducing time in queue was relevant to customer satisfaction, but that simple remedies such as removing confusion in contract terms to reduce logjams would improve call satisfaction also. Similarly, they advocated aligning incentives with problem resolution rather than speed.
Implementing changes to contract terms had positive impacts on customer satisfaction, but when incentives were shifted from rewards for throughput to rewards to individual reps and teams for percent of “first-time fixes,” customer satisfaction really soared.
There are three, perhaps obvious, but frequently overlooked lessons from this:
- Before launching any improvement program, examine and validate all assumptions.
- Do not confuse correlation with causation — make sure the true drivers of quality are understood.
- Take care to align rewards and recognitions with objectives.
Benefits of employee involvement
Collecting rich and insightful feedback directly from customers can be difficult, and certainly expensive. Consumers are often reluctant and inattentive participants unless they are especially delighted or distressed. Customers are growing increasingly weary of being asked about their experiences and perceptions in every aspect of their life — from the store that sells them pens to the restaurant where they had dinner the week before. Fortunately, it is possible to learn almost as much by asking the right questions of employees as you can from trying to extract insights from over-surveyed consumers with little motivation to provide detailed or reflective answers.
Employees offer quick, efficient and economical perspectives that research has shown are highly consistent with those of customers themselves. In addition, employee feedback is enhanced by sensitivity to organizational constraints and challenges. This understanding is key to identifying feasible improvements to the customer experience.
Most robust employee surveying
EGO surveys replace traditional employee surveys and certainly complement — and perhaps even replace — customer surveys with a structure for a 360-degree examination of company performance in four major areas, each of which has two main components (see Figure 1):
- Human Capital Optimization
HR Management: Does the company offer attractive compensation, benefits and working conditions?
Employee Loyalty & Engagement: Do employees feel valued, empowered and supported?
- Customer Centricity
Customer Retention: Do we create an environment that inspires customer loyalty?
Customer Relationship & Communication: How well do we communicate with and listen to our customers?
- Product and/or Service Quality
Value Proposition: What do customers GET from our products and services?
Care & Support: How well do we handle issues when customers have problems or need support?
- Brand & Market Dominance
Brand & Positioning: What is communicated to the market and company stakeholders to create dominance?
Sales & Acquisition: Are we effective in acquiring new customers?
Typical results can then be displayed in a radargram (see Figure 2). Here we see a company that is quite strong in typical employee loyalty and HR measures, but is fairly weak in customer relationship and communication as well as care and support, resulting in low scores in customer retention. Why is this? The company scores well in brand and positioning, value proposition, and sales and acquisition, indicating that the product or service being delivered is of reasonable quality and that it is successfully acquiring good potential customers. Does the company need to introduce loyalty programs? Review customer care processes? Overhaul its communications strategies? Employee feedback in these areas can provide insight that would help to identify problem areas and possible fixes.
An extra benefit of mining employee intelligence
It is now commonplace to recognize the strong relationship between employee loyalty and satisfaction and the loyalty and satisfaction of customers. Here, the very act of soliciting employee feedback to guide improvements becomes an improvement in itself, communicating to employees that their opinions are valued. In changing the communication culture of the system and enlisting employees as partners in change, inevitably, the end result is increased morale and satisfaction. Satisfied employees are more likely to stay put, and their tenure provides their organization with a knowledgeable, experienced and stable workforce — the kind of workforce that is most likely to lead to happier customers. And not only does improved employee satisfaction lead to increased customer satisfaction and loyalty, it works the other way around too: satisfied customers improve employee satisfaction. And around and around it goes.
— Susan Ellerin, Ph.D. is the founder and president of STAT Resources, Inc.; Cathryn Noyes is the director of insight research for STAT. STAT has worked with many high-technology, financial, consumer products and services organizations over the course of its 30-year history. Ellerin specializes in focusing senior management teams on interventions that have immediate and sustainable impacts on the loyalty of high-value customers, improved operational effectiveness, and increased market dominance. STAT can be reached at 617-340-2173 or via e-mail at email@example.com or firstname.lastname@example.org.