I recently ran across my post in CustomerThink from January 20091 as the U.S. was beginning to dig out from “the Great Recession”. In “Four Big Steps to Trim Contact Center Costs and Improve Customer Experiences” I recommended how important it was during that stressful period to (1) Pay attention to the cracks, (2) Get rid of dumb contacts, (3) Retrain your workers and flex everyone, and (4) Celebrate taking initiatives and the successes.
Today as we are stuck for the foreseeable future in this COVID crisis, I believe that all four “big steps” are still valid, with #3 and #4 squarely focused on your employees.
Six years ago, after our 1st book was 5 years old, my LimeBridge Australia business partner and co-author David Jaffe and I pondered “Are there patterns that can define how companies consistently deliver an excellent customer experience that others can adapt?” We read a lot, asked our other LimeBridge partners for their perspectives, and ultimately decided to go out and ask companies directly. We were fortunate to be able to interview more than a dozen well-recognized leaders in customer experience from around the world including Hilti, Nordstrom, Vente-Privee, and Yamato Transport.
Hierarchy of Customer Needs
Based on these interviews and data collection we created a 7-part “Hierarchy of Customer Needs” with 39 Sub- Needs, all expressed in the customer’s language, that defined how these companies pursued and delivered customer experience excellence. We called each of the Sub-Needs “positive” statements and for each Sub-Need suggested the opposite or “failure”statement. Every one of these customer experience leaders firmly believed that they didn’t see themselves in the B2C or B2B business but rather as “servant leaders”2 operating in the reverse “Me2B” orientation = the customer in charge. The 7 Customer Needs are:
When we fed back our findings and this hierarchy to these companies they said humbly that they didn’t succeed in filling all of the Needs, but they also told us that their employees had the same Needs, so they always tried to fulfill their employees’ Needs and many of the Sub-Needs.
This discovery resonated with us so we started to re-write our book draft to include stories and implications for customers and employees, but soon discovered that the book would either be too long or overly watered down, so we carved out some of the employee parts in the final chapter featuring the “4 Foundations” of Me2B leaders including the 4th Foundation that we called “Energized Workforce” with 6 dimensions: the Right Hires, Right Role Models, Right Rewards, Right Metrics, Right Paths, and Right Empowerment. Each of these 6 dimensions connects back to my 2009 post to (#3) Retrain your workers, and flex everyone, and (#4) Celebrate taking initiatives and the successes but they go way beyond it.
Since the book’s publication in 2015 (Your Customer Rules! Delivering the Me2B Experiences That Today’s Customers Demand3) we have worked with many clients around the world to score the 4 Foundations and the 39 Sub-Needs, rolling up to the 7 Needs, for their customers and employees. From the employee scoring using Me2B we’re discovering that:
- Low scores for the Foundations, Needs, and Sub-Needs are correlated, causally, to declining levels of productivity, more absences, and higher levels of attrition, as well as more frustrated customers who had been working with these employees; and
- High scores for the Foundations, Needs, and Sub-Needs are correlated, causally, to greater productivity and engagement, more willingness to put in overtime or adjust schedules or take on different tasks, positive suggestions for improvement, and more retention as well as positive word of mouth. High scores are also connected to more satisfied customers.
We now believe strongly that these Me2B employee Needs and Sub-Needs can become a core part of your roadmap to ensure employee engagement during and coming out of this COVID crisis.
Score Your Organization
Let’s test this out with your organization. I’d suggest scoring your company’s success using one or both of these scales offering only 4 choices so that you’re not stuck with a middle score (apologies to the Likert scale and more skilled survey mavens). As you can see the expressions are meant to come from your employees.
You can (and should try!) to ask your employees directly in roundtables, interviews, or a formal survey, making sure that you also ask “Why?” or “Why not?” and capture their verbatim comments. In fact, as I learned in my 2nd McKinsey engagement many years ago, if you compare your responses with your employees’ responses you will produce rich insights (e.g. when you think that the score is high but they say that it’s quite low).
While all 39 of the employee Sub-Needs are relevant and predictive (we have proven that in some ground-breaking “Big Data” analyses with clients), these three are a good way to start, with positive statements in bold followed by their opposite or failure statements:
1. “You know my preferences”
Part of the 1st Need “You know me, you remember me” vs. “Can’t you remember that I’ve already told you what I like and dislike?” Employees share preferences for work schedules or roles or other areas with their supervisors or in previous surveys, but these preferences are usually lost. When you ask them directly, you might learn more about your employees’ preferences for work schedules (you might be surprised how many of your staff would prefer to part-time, helping to fill gaps in your schedules), roles, the need for more training or mentoring (also picked up in the Foundation “right mentors”), preferences for stand-up desks, and a lot more.
2. “You listen to me and act on what I say”
3. “You treat me like a new hire all the time”
Part of the 6th Need “You surprise me with stuff that I can’t imagine” vs. “You treat me as a commodity once I’m on board, and only give the best offers or assignments to attract new folks.” New hires remember fondly (one hopes!) how special they felt when they started, meeting their new boss and peers, getting individualized support to learn systems, policies, and procedures; your staff wants to feel that way as newbies join, too. Understandably this is much harder during COVID with you and your staff working at home, but we’ve seen companies gin up fun games or contests like “Favorite mug” or “Your best dog shot”
While the world’s economy improved coming out of the “Great Recession”, unfortunately for many job insecurity, food insecurity, and health concerns during COVID has upended employee engagement and satisfaction. Working from home has broken the social bonding and ability to reach out for help. However, following the 7 Me2B Customer Needs from the employees’ point of view and examining in detail the 39 Sub-Needs (both the positive and the failure statements) can go a long way to build excellent customer experiences during and coming out of this crisis.
1https://customerthink.com/contact_center_trim_costs_improve_experiences/ from January 2009, accessed 3 September 2020
2 While few of these customer experience leaders used the “servant leader” expression, their stories and commitment were strikingly reminiscent one of my favorite guidebooks by Robert K. Greenleaf, Servant Leadership: A Journey into the Nature of Legitimate Power and Greatness https://www.amazon.com/Servant-Leadership-Legitimate-Greatness-Anniversary/dp/0809105543/ref=sr_1_3?dchild=1&keywords=Servant+Leadership&qid=1600803321&sr=8-3
3 Your Customer Rules! Delivering the Me2B Experiences That Today’s Customers Demand (Wiley/Jossey-Bass 2015). Here are the 7 Customer Needs that Lead to a Winning “Me2B” Culture; each Need breaks down into a total of 39 Sub-Needs.
- “You know me, you remember me”
- “You give me choices”
- “You make it easy for me”
- “You value me”
- “You trust me”
- “You surprise me with stuff that I can’t imagine”
- “You help me better, you help me do more”