Connection Counts with Customer Experience and Tethered Workers


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There’s a group of people who are sometimes overlooked when it comes to engaging them in delivering the brand promises of a company. They are the individuals who customers see and interact with as representatives of the brand, but who are not actually employees of the brand – or as I called them in previous research: tethered workers.

To most customers, tethered workers ARE employees of the company – and the brand gets the credit or the blame for the experience those workers deliver. Yet their employee experience and engagement with the brand is quite distinct from direct employees. In my report, I identified four characteristics of this group of workers that set them apart from a brand’s direct employees and that impact their engagement on the job:

They have different employers. The most obvious difference is that a different company issues the paychecks to tethered workers and largely governs their day-to-day actions. But this also means they are exposed to their own employer’s culture far more than the culture of the brand they represent – whether as a contact center agent, a food services employee at a hospital, or a bag handler at an airport, etc. The result: tethered workers can be left feeling a stronger affiliation with their employer than the brand they represent to the world.
They lack a direct connection. While there is evidence that this is shifting, in many instances tethered workers may have little or no direct exposure to the values and culture of the brand they represent. Without a clear picture of how what they do on a daily basis impacts the overall success of the brand and by extension their employer’s relationship with the brand, they may invest less discretionary effort and commitment on the job.
They are pushed for compliance. Because tethered workers are sometimes brought in to reduce costs or raise productivity for a portion of the brand’s experience, they are primarily managed by and rewarded for following tightly defined processes and achieving productivity metrics. That focus on compliance and metrics-chasing can often come at the expense of the behaviors that deliver a positive customer experience to end customers.
They are less empowered. Despite customers seeing them as part of the brand, tethered employees are often hampered by constraints put in place by the brand around what they know and what they can do. As a result, tethered workers often have less access to information, fewer permissions to make exceptions, and lower empowerment in decision making compared to the brand’s direct employees.

Regardless of who employs them, engaged individuals are valuable assets when it comes to delivering great customer experiences. So, a brand and its employment partner need to work together on connecting tethered workers to the desired customer experience. This plan should include ways to mitigate the impact the above characteristics have on tethered workers, on the brand’s customer experience (and ultimately on the success of the brand and partner overall.)

Here are some tactics that the employers of tethered workers can put to use:

While the weight of the effort of engaging tethered workers lies more heavily on the shoulders of the organizations that employ them, the brands that deploy these individuals can do their part to forge an attachment, including:

• Create a clear picture for tethered workers of their contributions to the brand’s customer experience success – and publicly celebrate those contributions when they happen
• Define customer promises in a way that specifically conveys how tethered workers can keep them with end customers
• Support tethered workers by sharing similar training and knowledge resources with them as are offered internally
• Periodically seek tethered workers’ insights and suggestions for improving customer experiences directly from them
• Examine measures and incentives to ensure they support rather than conflict with the brand’s expected behaviors and outcomes

To read more on how brands and their partners are tackling this challenge, check out my report Engaging a Tethered Workforce, now available free on the XM Institute website.

Aimee Lucas
I am a customer experience and employee engagement researcher, advisor, speaker, and trainer. I focus my work on guiding clients on how to optimize their employee and customer experience management programs, identifying and publishing EX and CX best practices, and shaping the future of experience management (XM). I have over 16 years of experience improving service delivery and transforming the customer experience through people development and process improvement initiatives.


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