8 Ideas to Improve Customer and Employee Experience — by Walking in Their (Uncomfortable) Shoes

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Two articles over this past Memorial Day Weekend emphasized how it’s essential to improve customer experience (CX) and employee experience (EX) by walking in your employees’ or employees’ shoes.

In “Here’s a Job With Lots of Baggage”1, the Chairman of the world’s biggest airport baggage handler Menzies Aviation “Spent an hour [at an airport in Cancun, Mexico] wearing boots issued to the company’s ground crews. “They weren’t very comfortable”, he says. People have to wear these boots for 8 to 10 hours a day, every single day. The company is now finding a new supplier.”

In a review of a new biography of esteemed WW2 correspondent Ernie Pyle2, “The peerless chronicler of World War II from the G.I.’s perspective found his calling putting the impossible into words for readers back home.”

Both of these articles reinforce what David Jaffe and I featured in our 3rd book that came out last year, The Frictionless Organization3, where we shared “Good stories” about companies whose senior leaders routinely devoted time on the frontline such as T-Mobile USA requiring all Directors and above to spend a week in a retail shop working directly with customers. We also addressed “Why doesn’t every organization become frictionless?” by citing “Complacency … as organizations get larger and more complex, they stop noticing the friction that develops as internal hierarchies or increased scale and complexity prevent problems from becoming visible.”

This means that it’s important to make friction visible (uncomfortable shoes, the plight and pluck of the foot soldier) for customers and for employees.

There are loads of simple ways to do this. Try these eight ideas and watch how they affect your customers and your staff, identify improvement opportunities, and help you and others learn what’s important – and what’s not important. What other ways have worked for you and your companies?

1. Call back customers who offer suggestions or provide critical feedback.

Instead of scanning overall averages (NPS or c-sat or Customer Effort Score trendlines), pick up the phone and call customers to thank them for their input and find out more from them. Costco executives used to have to call members who left comment cards by noon the day after getting them in the warehouses.

2. Sit with your customer service agents.

Listen to customer calls by double-jacking or observing email or chat interactions, and ask questions between contacts such as “What could have made this easier for you?” 

3. Ride the trucks.

Go out to customers’ home or offices with installers or repair teams and find out all of the stuff that your customers are telling them that never get recorded or reported. DIRECTV’s Gary Qualls would do this and garner many new insights.

4. Listen to random customer calls as a team.

Pull together your direct reports or peers to review recorded calls or even live calls, revealing insights into customers who are upset, and how well your support or care team is helping them. Dell’s CEO and his senior team used to do this regularly and routinely produced a long list of fixes from each call.

5. Go “back to floor” as the Menzies CEO did on the tarmac in Cancun, either incognito or wearing your badge.

SAS’s CEO Jan Carlzon famously would assist baggage handlers to ensure quick turns for the aircraft and to learn how hard it was to achieve that “moment of truth”. He turned this into his popular book4 with this apt summary: “How he righted three travel companies as CEO by listening to the knowledge accumulated by frontline employees.”

6. Ask your frontline staff “What are our customers saying?” (WOCAS).

In roundtables or by using apps or tablets including one called WOCAS5 you will be able to augment reason coding with richer details like “How often does this happen?” and “How upset was our customer?” This also leads to targeted speech or text analytics as reported in our book by German-based energy giant E.ON.

7. Use your company’s phone support line, apps, and portals.

Instead of having a direct line to an internal help desk or IT expert, executives and managers should “be the customer”, as my former Amazon colleague Cass Nevada used to say. They will learn about customers’ frustrations with hold times, channels that do not link up, and inability to get answers.

8. Ensure that your frontline also uses digital tools.

With all of the current and emerging digital tools, customers often get confused or frustrated and wind up talking with agents or retail staff. Equipping these frontline staff with experience using these tools will help them to advise customers and increase usage.

Another airline CEO was in the news recently, for serving passengers on long-haul flight6: KLM’s new CEO Marjan Rintel. This article included five comments from readers, the first two positive, the third one beseeching, and the last two negative. 

  • “Awesome. What a way to interact with customers. Kudos madam”
  • “Nice and good leadership!”
  • “I wish she was on my flight, I had something to tell her. Not that she cares…”
  • “This is ridiculous She should take care of other things She is overpaid to serve passengers …”
  • “Doesn’t she have something else to do as CEO?”

Seems to me that the critics are missing the point entirely; she could have remained in her office in Amsterdam reading PowerPoint reports, but instead, she probably picked up dozens of ideas or improvements during this 12-hour flight and “showed the flag” to the flight crew. 

Where do you stand on this? If I hear back from her, I’ll send updates in a future article!

In summary, there are plenty more ways to walk in your customers’ and employees’ shoes, most with little cost other than time, all aimed to “Just get out there!”

Notes

1 Benjamin Katz, “Here’s a Job With Lots of Baggage”, Wall Street Journal Saturday / Sunday May 27-28, 2023 – Vol. CCLXXXI No. 123, cover page A1.

2https://www.wsj.com/articles/the-soldiers-truth-review-ernie-pyle-at-the-front-7e9bd3bd accessed 31 May 2023

3 Bill Price & David Jaffe, The Frictionless Organization: Deliver Great Customer Experiences with Less Effort, Barrett-Koehler June 2022.

4https://www.amazon.com/Moments-Truth-Jan-Carlzon/dp/0060915803 accessed 31 May 2023

5 “Happy Customers. Happy People. Compelling customer experiences with empowered employees” https://www.wocas.com/en/ accessed 31 May 2023

6 Chris Loe, “Undercover Boss: KLM CEO Spotted Serving Passengers On Long-Haul Flight”, Simple Flying 23 May 2023: https://simpleflying.com/undercover-boss-klm-ceo-spotted/ accessed 6 June 2023 Undercover Boss!

Bill Price

Bill Price is the President of Driva Solutions (a customer service and customer experience consultancy), an Advisor to Antuit, co-founded the LimeBridge Global Alliance, chairs the Global Operations Council, teaches at the University of Washington and Stanford MBA programs, and is the lead author of The Best Service is No Service and Your Customer Rules! Bill served as Amazon.com's first Global VP of Customer Service and held senior positions at MCI, ACP, and McKinsey. Bill graduated from Dartmouth (BA) and Stanford (MBA).

4 COMMENTS

  1. 15 years ago, I joined a Southwest Airlines activity called “Cutting Edge”, where pilots do the ground crew’s work for a day. Like the author mentioned, the positive impact of pilots walking in the ground crew’s shoes was huge. This was amplified by the fact that all Southwest employees are focused on serving customers profitably, and share in annual profit sharing. This article shows research that proves partnering with employees drive profitable results in any company: https://www.inc.com/bill-fotsch/a-key-strategy-to-double-your-profitable-growth.html

  2. Thank you for encouragement to get out there and lead by example. With one of my team key members being out of the office this week, I have the pleasure of covering the telephone and appreciate the opportunity to interact directly with the customers.

  3. Great article! Walking in your employees’ or customers’ shoes is an excellent way to improve customer and employee experience. By making friction visible and identifying improvement opportunities, companies can create a culture of empathy and customer-centricity that permeates the entire organization. The eight ideas mentioned in this article are very helpful in improving CX and EX. Thanks for sharing!

    Highest Regards,

    Michael Wichkoski

  4. @Bill Fotsch — Thanks for adding the “Cutting Edge” from Southwest Airlines. Helps to explain the company’s high CX ratings. @Camille — Bet that you learned a lot on the phones! @Michael — Glad that you liked my examples, meant to spur adoption and sharing more!

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