Today’s employees have high expectations from employers. How well you meet those expectations can make the difference not only in attracting new hires, but also in consistently pleasing your customers.
Many organizations who have a focus on improving customer experience (CX) want to be easy for customers to do business with. In my work as a CX professional, I’ve made sure that the B2B technology company for which I work includes that goal in its mission statement. It is an excellent mantra. It keeps us focused on quickly spotting and dealing with any process that causes our customers frustration.
We developed our CX mission statement several years ago, and recently I’ve begun to realize that it’s missing something in our quest to satisfy customers: We not only need to be sure customers find it easy to do business with us; we need to be sure employees find it easy to do business FOR us, too. Sure, you can talk “employee engagement” all day long, but unless your company passes the acid test of making it easy for employees to work for you, you likely will fall below the customer satisfaction scores you want to achieve.
Last month, one of our customers raised this subject at an executive summit during Engage, our annual customer conference, and I’ve been thinking about it ever since. There is growing competition in hiring today, and an important weapon in the arsenal is having the right technology tools for employees to use. There is no longer a choice, he said. Today’s generation of employees in contact centers and other environments have no tolerance for old technology, for having to struggle with disparate systems and tools that impede the way they want to work.
In short, if your employees have the feeling they’re stepping back in time when they go to work, forget it. Technology that is more difficult or cumbersome to use than the sophisticated tools they use at home can be a deal-breaker in the hiring world. And it can make a difference in the way employees engage with customers, too. What can you do about it? Here are three tips:
1. Understand that employee engagement technology is also a CX investment.
In the contact center, customer service representatives (CSRs) must be able to provide answers quickly. Having fragmented systems where agents search five places to get the answers they need does not make for a pleasant experience … for the employee or the customer. Step one in keeping up with technology is to bring a single, unified system to the employee’s desktop.
For example, our company’s new solution capabilities have expanded our offerings and enriched our customer engagement platform, but naturally growth and expansion can pose some internal challenges. Our Customer Support team was maintaining seven different systems, with portions of customer information in each system. There were multiple ticketing systems, knowledge base systems, etc.
Not only was it more difficult for our customers, it was hard for our employees because they had to check many systems to resolve issues. Alt+Tab’ing back and forth between applications, having multiple windows open, jumping from one system to another can really slow down resolution time, and really frustrate a customer in need of help. In response, the department is implementing a new Incident Management System that will include all customer information in one place. What a relief! This will not only make our employees’ jobs easier, but it also will help our customers because their issues will be resolved faster. It’s important to understand that an employee engagement investment like this one is also a CX investment.
Automating tasks with chatbots or Intelligent Virtual Assistants (IVAs) is another way to support contact center agents, freeing them to respond to more complex inquiries. It’s the way customer service is moving, after all. Our company collaborated on a global consumer study in 2016 which confirmed that, even in our digital world, consumers still appreciate in-person or telephone interactions with a human being, especially when dealing with issues more complex than an address change or refund request.
Here’s a good example of how one of our customers, a benefits administration and human resources outsourcing company, is responding to this trend. The company is transforming its web self-service experience by using the chatbot as the anchor technology and a unique health, benefits, and HR natural language model that understands the questions and needs of millions of different users, in their own words. During the 2017 open enrollment period between October and December, the busiest time of year for the firm and its clients, the new self-service system handled over 760,000 interactions, and there was a 67% reduction of live chat engagements in the call center over the previous year. Most of these customers didn’t even know that they were interacting with a bot because of the human touch that it provided.
2. Use technology to stay one step ahead.
Another innovative use of IVAs in contact centers? Companies are using them to anticipate the next best step in an employee-customer interaction and to provide agents with the right information stored in knowledge management systems to support those steps. When deployed alongside speech and text analytics, it’s a powerful new tool.
One of our customers, an insurance company, has used speech analytics to capture call drivers on 70% of its contacts, so it can provide its agents with the information they need, on their desktops, to respond efficiently and knowledgeably to each of those reasons for calling in. In doing so, it is building a foundation for improving transaction net promoter scores (TNPS) across the organization.
Likewise, the company has gained new insight into customer sentiment on coverage change notifications, driving a new initiative for outreach to customers affected by upcoming changes. This is one of those “more complex call” situations that agents, with scripts and answers to likely questions at their fingertips, can handle. Customers will feel that the company really cares about their concerns and wants to resolve them. And employees will be motivated because they are handling something more challenging than an address change.
3. Don’t resist the winds of change.
Our company has conducted another study, results of which were just released this year, showing that more than 70 percent of 36,000 consumers in 18 countries see an increased use of automation technology in their workplaces. The study showed that those workers overall are becoming more comfortable with the changes taking place. Approximately half the respondents said technology, such as AI and robots, is helping them do their job more effectively. Employee effectiveness and engagement tend to go hand in hand.
This fresh research raises questions about what the workplace of the future may look like. It suggests the line between the workplace and home will continue to blur. More than two-thirds (67%) of respondents said they expect workplaces to be more flexible to suit employee preferences as technology improves, and 62% said technology is already making it easier for them to work from home or have more flexible work hours.
I can’t say specifically what type of technology the respondents are using, but I’d be willing to bet that many of them work for companies that have unified fragmented systems and are providing such things as mobile apps that enable employees to check work schedules from home and perform other job-related tasks. These, too, are important employee engagement tools in today’s world, and I speak for our customers and our company when I say they do make a difference.
Engaged employees go the extra mile
I know that employees who are engaged will go the extra mile for customers, doing everything in their power to delight them. I see it every day, example after example. Helping employees feel good about who they work for is not just about retention, it’s about developing customers for life.
Easy to work for is fine, but not particularly motivating or engaging. No one who knew or worked for Steve Jobs would refer to him as easy to work for. It was the challenge and accomplishment that was motivating and engaging. In a similar fashion, industry leaders, like Southwest Airlines, Capital One and BHP Billiton, and hundreds of private companies empower employees to think and act like owners, driving and participating in the profitable growth of the company. It is the challenge that drives engagement, motivation and consequent superior results. These Forbes and Harvard Business Review articles provide more background: https://hbr.org/2018/01/more-than-a-paycheck
Recognizing the importance of updated technology as an employee resource (among many employee resource elements), progressive companies should see resource availability as defacto, i.e. expected for response and performance in both CX and EX, like oxygen for life. That said, resources and tools are not culture or leadership. In optimizing CX and customer value delivery, and in all strategic and tactical CX planning, a key and fundamental question needs to be asked, “Who in the organization doesn’t own the relationship with the customer, either directly or indirectly?” This transcends technology and also effort required of customer-facing employees. Recalling the work of W. Edwards Deming, he believed that everyone in the organization is “either serving the customer or supporting someone who does.” This means that, driven by leadership and reinforced by culture, the ideal of employee and customer experience needs to permeate the entire enterprise, from the board room to the mail room. Beyond the fit, alignment, and productivity inherent in engagement, employees need to be ambassadors. I’d suggest that resource availability, contributing to ease and effectiveness, is both an emotional and functional component of employee ambassadorship.