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Harnessing the Voice of Employees to Improve Customer Experience

 

In recent blogs, I’ve been sharing results of the 2014 Voice of the Customer Challenges and Practices Survey conducted by Maritz.  Today, I’d like to continue by focusing on another of the many VoC best practices revealed by our research:  Harnessing the Voice of Employees to gain insights that drive customer experience improvements.

The actual number of customer data sources in play is not what distinguishes organizations having effective VoC programs from others:  In fact, a majority of all firms utilize somewhere between three and five such data sources.  However, results of the 2014 VoC Challenges and Practices Survey (see graph below) reveal that companies with “very successful” VoC programs are more likely to include feedback from front-line employees and channel partners in their mix of customer intelligence than other organizations.  The same holds for companies that report year-to-year improvements in both customer satisfaction and customer retention.

Why should you include employee feedback in your VoC program?

Customer experience expert, Lou Carbone, says “your employees already know a great deal more than they probably have ever been asked to share about what customers are experiencing.  The simple act of asking your employees about their experiences with customers, and what it would take to manage them more optimally, will create a bias for action.”

When asked to identify and describe his organization’s “best ideas and most effective VoC solutions,” one manager in our survey saidput it succinctly:

“We gather feedback from front-line leaders and employees.  They are the ones who know our customers.”

In fact, feedback from front-line employees and channel partners often furnishes a number of critical insights:

  • Customer-facing employees and channel partners routinely witness customer experiences, and often can spot customer problems and unmet needs long before those issues surface from other VoC sources.
  • That said, feedback from employees and channel partners frequently reinforces improvement opportunities that are identified when other VoC data are integrated and analyzed.

Employees and channel partners also can play a critical role in correcting problems and making improvements in customer experience:

  • Because they are immersed in the policies, processes, systems, and practices used to co-create customer experiences, front-line employees and channel partners often are able to identify the root causes of poor customer experiences.
  • In the short-term, they can adjust front-line interactions and back-end decisions more quickly than managers who are trying to develop “top down” solutions.  In the longer-term, these employees and channel partners can play a major role in developing and implementing systemic customer experience improvements.

There are many different ways to incorporate the Voice of Employees into a VoC program.   In the airline industry, for example, flight attendants and customer service representatives often file “reports” on behalf of customers who experience a problem or service failure.  In contact centers, supervisor audits of customer service interactions routinely are used as an internal performance metric, as well as a basis for coaching customer service representatives.  Such reports and audits may be viewed primarily as components of an internal performance management system, but they also can offer valuable insights into what customers experience and evaluate.

Focus groups and/or intranets frequently are used to capture employee observations about key aspects of customer experience, both positive and negative.  They can provide a forum to discuss needs and opportunities for improvement, as well as organizational strengths, assets, and best practices that should be shared and leveraged.

Some organizations conduct service climate assessments.  Unlike other measures of employee experience, service climate measures focus on front-line and channel partner perceptions of organizational culture, policies, processes, practices, and systems that either enable or inhibit co-creation of a great customer experience.  Insights drawn from service climate assessments often expose gaps in an organization’s readiness to fulfill customer needs and expectations.  These gaps provide an impetus for corrective action.  You can learn more about service climate assessments by downloading our whitepaper on The Challenge of Building and Sustaining a Strong Service Climate.

Does your organization incorporate feedback from front-line employees and/or channel partners into your mix of customer experience intelligence?  How do you do this?   I’d love to hear from those of you who have found effective ways to harness the Voice of Employees to understand and improve customer experience, and I’m guessing that other readers would as well.