In 2004, a Forrester colleague (John Ragsdale) and I published a report which we notoriously titled, “Why Marketing Should Own The Contact Center.” Our chosen title was not aimed at changing reporting relationships. Rather, the emphasis and urgency we sought to establish was recognition of the fact that, for many companies, employees play an absolutely central and crucial role in establishing the customer’s perception of the business and the brand. Our position in the report (which is still absolutely valid today) was that the purely operational metrics – e.g., # calls handled, average call duration, etc. – by which many companies measure the performance on contact center personnel run counter to the objectives that many companies have established around improving customer experiences.
The report was focused on the contact center, but the concept extends easily to all employees that interact with a customer at any level. While books can (and have) been written on this subject, I want to focus on one element that I believe continues to be overlooked and underemphasized as the industry attempts to develop processes and technologies to facilitate customer interactions and improve customer experience. That is: empathy – specifically, encouraging and empowering employees to engage and relate with customers as people and fellow human beings.
Encourage Employees To Relate With Customers As Fellow Humans
While I firmly believe that no company can make every customer happy 100% of the time, the companies that have really made strides towards delivering differentiated customer experiences are taking steps to help employees better understand and relate to their customers. Some examples:
- USAA makes customers personal for its employees. USAA, well known for its customer service leadership, caters to military families. To ensure employees empathize with its members, the company hires a high percentage of former military personnel, encourages employees to read personal letters from deployed service men and women, and incorporates aspects of military life into its new employee training program.
- Cabela’s doesn’t draw a line between employees and customers. Cabela’s, a top direct marketer of specialty outdoor merchandise views it employees as be valued customers. The company encourages employees to take gear home and give it a try as long as they submit a review.
- HP rewards employees that put customers first. In her recent article on CustomerThink, Liz Roche how HP encourages employees to participate in HP’s in store Demo Days. In addition, HP does a number of other things to help employees to better relate and empathize with customers. The company has established a formal customer experience training program to help employees experience interactions with HP from the customer perspective, it includes customer metrics in employee evaluations, it encourages employees to surface feedback from customers and provides tools to facilitate employee efforts to do so, and it awards employees that go above and beyond “customer hero” awards.
- Four Seasons gives all employees a firsthand customer experience. Four Seasons, the luxury hotel and resort chain, provides all new employees – from chamber maid, to maintenance engineer, to kitchen staff – with an opportunity to stay at a property with a guest. This helps employees understand the customer experience from the customer’s point of view.
- Fidelity Investments encourages all employees to interact with customers. My husband is a technology guy with Fidelity. All Fidelity employees are also customers. In addition, the company encourages employees, regardless of their role, to interact directly with customers. So, several times a year, my husband volunteers in the call center to take customer calls. These experiences help my husband take the customer into account when he and his team are designing products and interfaces that will eventually land in the customer’s hands.
Allocate Marketing Budget To Build Customer Empathy
Consider the billions of dollars that companies spend on marketing and advertising each year. Consider the number of scenarios when companies that you interact with as a customer don’t live up to the promise that the brand makes in its external messaging. If your company is not investing to help employees better relate to the customer, perhaps you should consider allocating some marketing budget to do so, eh?