At the center of a superior customer experience? An engaged employee.

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As any customer experience leader will tell you, technology plays a critical role in meeting rising consumer demand for simplicity, speed, and convenience. While there is an abundance of evidence to support this point, companies cannot and should not underestimate the importance of human interaction in creating a truly compelling customer experience.

During my twenty-plus-year career focused on customer experience excellence, I’ve come to appreciate that mastering human interaction can be a true differentiator, especially in the service sector. This is particularly evident post-pandemic, as people are emphasizing human connection.

Customers want to be listened to and treated with empathy and transparency, no matter the channel they use to engage with a service. The use of digital tools alone can provide customer with partial answers or lead to dead ends. At some point in the process, consumers want to have a real person help them address their concerns swiftly and with empathy.

Investing in this capability begins with investing in the employee.

Frontline employees interact with customers every day, making them an important asset and an opportunity for service companies to make a positive impact on the consumer. These employees are a critical piece of building trust with the brand. They can be your biggest brand ambassadors, but they can also detract from your brand, if you aren’t intentional about engaging them and cultivating a “desire to help” culture.

The reality is that their experience as employees directly translates into the service they provide.

To build that differentiator and excellence, companies need to be intentional about creating a connection between the employee experience and the customer experience. Basic training is not enough. Companies should undertake these four initiatives:

Help employees understand their role in the business
While frontline workers serve as this bridge between the company and the consumer, most don’t have a full understanding of how their work fits into the business and its success. If employees are shown how customers are growth engines for the company, the customer becomes an important stakeholder and employees clearly see how their roles tie into business growth.

Connect voice of the employee with voice of the customer
Most companies regularly survey customers to understand their needs and how things are working for them. However, not all companies effectively communicate customer feedback to employees. Even fewer companies see their frontline employees as an important source of real-time customer feedback.

Companies can greatly benefit from empowering frontline employees to share what they hear from customers. Often, employees discuss among themselves the feedback they’re getting from customers and have ideas about how to address it, but they aren’t in a position to offer these ideas. Critical information is lost as a result.

In my experience, some of the best solutions come from feedback we get through our employees who are with customers every day. These employees can point to specific gaps in service or identify tech innovations that are necessary to improve the customer experience. Having this feedback loop not only addresses customer hurdles but also improves the employee experience by making them feel heard and critical to the overall mission of the company.

Treat technology as partner
Technology plays an essential role in the connection between the employee and the customer, and it should be leveraged as a partner to both. There is an opportunity for companies to automate the repetitive and mechanical tasks of customer experience to enable employees to focus on more qualitative – and higher impact – efforts to enhance customer value.

Today, strong foundational digital tools like call center technology, great customer websites, customer apps and chat are a must. Artificial intelligence can also play a role, along with automated content that surfaces based on the customer journey. Overall, automation should be utilized to shorten the path to valued human engagement, which remains a critical component of the customer experience in the digital age.

Incentivize and reward
It’s also important to implement tangible incentives and recognition programs for customer service employees, both formal and informal, that are tied to delighting customers. Aside from the monetary rewards that clearly have their place, well-funded and formally administered recognition programs that highlight and publicize individual and team accomplishments are vital in boosting employee satisfaction and morale. Employees become more inclined to take ownership of the quality of service they and their teams provide, and to hold themselves accountable.

Delivering an excellent customer experience has long been a competitive advantage – particularly as the number of providers customers can choose from continues to grow. Today, a superior customer experience starts with a digital foundation and is strengthened by engaged employees who are excited to serve customers.

Companies must not overlook the employee experience and put it at the center of their digital customer service strategy. More than ever before, organizations that understand the link between the employee experience and the customer experience and take thoughtful action to ensure they are well aligned, will come out on top.

Diana Brown
Diana Brown has more than two decades of leadership experience with customer-centric sales and service organizations. She currently serves as senior vice president of sales operations and customer experience at XPO, a leading provider of freight transportation services. In that capacity, Diana leads the company’s customer experience team and is responsible for high customer satisfaction. Diana holds an MBA from Anderson Graduate School of Management at UCLA, and a bachelor’s degree in mathematics and economics from Indiana University.

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