The Right Employees OWN the Customer Experience

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Are employees the answer to the customer experience question?

I was recently challenged to defend this belief and here’s how I answered.

YES.

While there is data showing how some industries, like airlines, continue to increase profits while continuing to disappoint customers with surly staff members (who aren’t necessarily being treated well themselves), I still believe the “secret” to any great customer experience is the people who deliver it.

Profits go up in those industries because there is not enough competition or disruption.

the right employees

Make no mistake. When the challenger comes along, it does take marketshare from the companies who don’t get it. Southwest Airlines, Zappos and Amazon were all the disruptors of their day, and they all focused on delivering exceptional customer service. Companies that figure out how to hire the right people win.

But it starts earlier.

Know what your mission is.

It’s easy to say “we hire the right employees” but how can you measure it? How do you know you’re hiring right if you don’t know truly what you’re hiring for? If a great customer experience is your goal, then you better have a customer experience mission. If a candidate says they can deliver on skills but falls short on mission, then it’s time to find another candidate.

When it comes to training those who already work with you, you need a mission for that, too. Otherwise, bad people for your organization can hide behind competence. Training to objective accomplishments sounds great, but in reality we need humans who can handle other humans. This means we need to understand how to handle sticky situations that aren’t in the manual. The only way to do that is to know what the mission is.

If people understand what they should do, great. If people understand why they should do it, better.

Scale to fit.

As organizations grow, the mission and hiring to it becomes even more critical.

Google often comes under fire for taking actions not representative of their well-known corporate motto of “Don’t be evil.” As Google grew and grew, they took this motto to be a mission of sorts, even including it in their founder’s letter for their IPO.

The company has changed course after criticism of actions not fitting this motto, including blocking search results in China. Really this is about taking action based on who they are, not necessarily what they do. The leaders know this is a long-term strategy and they might miss out on short-term gains. Getting the right people involved who can innovate and support these ideals trumps hiring based on resume credentials.

the right employees

Now that Google is a juggernaut, it’s easy to criticize certain actions and say they aren’t living up to these ideals, but I’d argue that on the whole, they are.

When China’s government attempted to block Google results for politically sensitive topics, Google China redirected users to Google’s Hong Kong results. China recently blocked Google completely and appears to be shutting down the service for millions of users. The way Google attempted to release free information is about the users, not the government, and their motto stays true to that.

There are so many tricky situations we simply can’t anticipate when we develop interview questions or write training manuals. Finding who you are and the people who live those ideals is the best way to truly deliver on a superior customer experience.

Image credits: Clearly Contactstangi_bertin via Creative Commons license

2 COMMENTS

  1. While employees aren’t, necessarily, “the answer to the customer experience question”, there’s little doubt that they are, or can be, an important (and often unrecognized or indifferent) component of experience optimization. As companies move from a naive to natural state of customer-centricity, i.e. from passive and reactive to proactive and focused, employee ambassadorship is a central element for achieving this objective: http://customerthink.com/do-you-really-wanna-work-here/

  2. Jeannie: I admire that when asked “Are employees the answer to the customer experience question?” you were able to summon up a clear and decisive affirmative answer. My response would have been much more waffley and circuitous, (as you will see in my comment!) so I truly admire that you stuck to your guns.

    But I struggle with how the employee contribution to outstanding customer experience is elevated to the high pinnacle it seems to occupy. There are two reasons for this:

    1) most employees are, well, not innately focused on delivering outstanding customer experiences, loyalty-inducing interactions, what have you. Most people I have worked with are fundamentally good, well-intentioned, and honest. But they have lives outside of work, and they don’t live for receiving accolades from employers and customers. As one of my managers explained to me early in my career, “Andy, most everyone here likes to go home when the big hand hits the 12.” Most emphatically, he did not mean this disparagingly, or to imply that his employees didn’t care, but rather as essential advice for me to put my expectations of others in check. Obviously, I never forgot what he told me.

    2) The question you cited at the beginning of your article was positioned in a reductive way: “THE answer to THE question . . . ” I get that – today, people are pressed for time, and are looking for magic bullets. But with outstanding customer experiences having so many pieces and parts – product, information, form, venue, interactions and engagements, the technology and processes that underpin all of this – I don’t know how it’s possible to call out any one thing (in this case, employees) as the answer. For a train traveler between DC and New York to have a great experience, so many things have to go right.

    So I see a huge disconnect: companies want really, really passionate, compassionate, empathetic, motivated, people-oriented people to work in “customer-facing” roles, but there simply aren’t enough of them to go around, and, in my view, it’s not realistic to build a service delivery strategy on that expectation. Sooner or later, the best of the best will be snatched up, and companies will be faced with the quandary they face today: given the talent pool, how do we get the most beneficial outcomes from their skills and talents, and how do we build everything else (e.g. processes and technology) to deliver the best results for our company?

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