Influence the organisation’s internal dynamics to embrace customer-centricity

  • Leveraging employee experience for your customer experience

Culture is commonly defined as “the way we do things over here”. It is the way of life for a group of people. This group could be a community a country, a family or an organisation. It encompasses the behaviours, beliefs, values and symbols that the group accepts – generally without thinking about them. Admittedly, culture is a broad subject to be talked about; but for our purposes we are focusing on how culture can enable us to improve experiences for our customers by influencing a way of thinking internally (within the organisation) that aligns with the needs and interests of our customers.

An organisation that prides itself on customer-centricity as a culture is one in which every aspect of the corporate culture from the top down is focused on the customer; where Leadership has a shared vision with buy-in from all the constituents, and where Customer experience strategy is aligned with corporate strategy. Cultural change is about change in behaviour. By developing our capabilities to focus on customers we are helping employees understand what is amiss today, and supporting them to better serve customers.

The process starts with the launching of a Customer Experience programme to facilitate your company’s customer service goals. This could be the initiative of a Customer Experience Unit with a CX lead to drive the internal processes required to install and deliver an all-encompassing customer-focused initiative. The goal is to build a customer-friendly regime with an understanding of the ecosystem’s needs coupled with a desire to demonstrate empathy with its constituents. A balanced programme looks at the needs of both internal and external customers.

Just as the ship’s rudder is responsible for controlling where a ship turns, the role of employees is pivotal to the success of any customer experience initiative. Stefan Osthaus, a CX consultant who supports organisations that seek to become more customer-centric, has shared the following key principles on how leveraging the Employee Experience (EX) drives Customer Experience (CX). First, leverage EX for your CX. Second, listen to your employees. Third, blow-up your silos. Fourth, get employee feedback. Fifth, act promptly on insights.

Leveraging the employee experience

As we learned in last week’s article, planning and delivering a great experience is a critical success factor for any business. Employees will commit to their relationship with the organisation when their experiences are positive. Just as inflated tyres make cycling easier, motivated employees reduce the effort required for every customer experience initiative. Stefan shares these two scenarios to illustrate this.

You stand in front of the assembled staff and make a fiery speech for more customer satisfaction and demand the support of all employees. Or – much better – you make the same fiery speech about how you want to have not only the most satisfied and loyal customers, but also become the best place to work. The truth is that the second scenario is more likely to generate a spark more often than the first. What gets all of us started about anything is when the big question “What’s in it for me (WIIFM)” is answered in any context.

When employees commit to interests of the customer, they develop a harmony that emanates from working synergistically. Remember, synergy (as defined by management theorists) is 1 + 1 = 3. As coined by Aristotle centuries ago: “The whole is greater than the sum of its parts”. According to experts, where the CX initiative is successful you will find that internally there is a clear idea of your strategy (the role customer satisfaction plays in your organisation). You will find a culture that supports your strategy, where employees are empowered to do what it takes.

Furthermore, there is a solid organisational set-up for CX. CX initiatives are well-orchestrated, such that it is more of a full-time leadership role than a mere hobby, and with the right team behind it. There is effective governance where CX receives the right attention internally. Many executives spend time reflecting on their engagements and will go on away-days to discuss this with their team. Pay attention to the data and act swiftly on profound insights. Building these success factors into your initiative is the way forward to consolidate your customer experience.

Listening to employees

How do you gauge employee sentiments? There are common methods applied frequently that help assesses sentiments variously. Some organisations go so far as to assess such things as employees showing up for holiday parties, or the rate at which higher positions are filled within the organisation. There are still other listening-posts, such as the employee-engagement data for meaningful action-planning at a team level. These are real-time insights that are actionable, easy to interpret, and help teams improve internal communications and bring their best work to the table.

David Saunders of Qualtrics, a company that produces tools for surveys, offers 3 examples of innovative employee listening. The first is to give every employee a voice in a scalable way.  He outlines 4 reasons why this is important; it makes every employee a part of customer-centricity – even those that don’t interact with customers directly. Employees feel empowered to share their feedback on their terms.

Furthermore, the organisation is prepared to follow-up employee feedback using specific tracking features available with measuring tools, and it democratises data by allowing employees themselves to prioritise the changes they think will work best for customers. The second example is use of the company intranet to observe employee behaviour. There are 2 advantages here; It is easier to measure if investment in an intranet is having the desired effect, or whether there remains work to be done.

The other advantage is you can close out a survey in a more helpful way – for example, instead of a generic ‘Thank you’, companies can serve up relevant and helpful content based on responses. Finally, gathering feedback at a time of upheaval and change enables a company to respond quickly to any issues instead of allowing problems to develop and escalate. Additionally, it is a better experience for the people on the integrations team because they’re getting real-time insights to maximise their effectiveness.

The challenge here is that often the data sits there unused for long spells, thus losing its relevance. Stefan recommends having a system wherein you pick the most relevant data sources and aggregate them into what he calls The Great People index. According to him, it exists as a supplement to existing annual employee surveys, as it provides a monthly snapshot of employee sentiment.

Blowing-up silos

Silo mentality is when a department or unit or region or sector focuses on its narrow goals over that of the whole organisation. The evidence of this state of affairs is that other departments and co-workers refuse to share information. When you hear comments like “the head office has no idea of what we do in our unit”; the finance group believing that everyone else just wants to spend money; most groups saying “we can’t get anything out of the IT group”, and so on.

Ultimately the customer suffers the brunt of the severe effects of silos. We need strong leadership to identify the silo problem and commit to actively working to reduce or eliminate it. Cross-functional teams work better if the organisation wants to interact within itself and, more importantly, represent its customers effectively at all touchpoints. Stephen Goldstein, a consultant who advises CEOs and businesses, recommends the following 3 approaches to breaking up silos.

He recommends, firstly, that we declare ‘War’ on silos by letting everyone know from top to bottom in the organisation why we must collaborate in favour of breaking up silos. As the leader, your ability to change this mindset will depend on the kind of model behaviour you exhibit for everyone to follow. As we learn from Prof. Eddie’s Leadership BEAT, it is less about what you say and more about what you do. Not only do we need to speak about this very important topic, but we must also reward good behaviour.

Next, he recommends that we promote transparency. We must find opportunities to share more information; such as newsletters and other company communications, including financial updates and other information that enables everyone to have a greater understanding of what the company is doing, how it is performing, and what is next. Furthermore, we must organise informal activities, such as lunches, where a leader from the marketing department, for example, can explain to others in the company what they do, how they support the company’s goals, and answer questions.

The more everyone communicates, the better each individual may be able to contribute in his or her own way. Finally, he recommends that we practice what we preach. Transparency starts at the top. If you want your company to value open communication and transparency, you as the leader need to set the tone and embody these values.

Spend time with each department, getting to know your employees. Encourage your staff to share ideas. Highlight instances of interdepartmental cooperation that made a positive impact. For example, a customer service representative who worked with IT to solve a client’s problem; a new product that was developed by two departments working collaboratively.

Getting employee feedback

To avoid boring your employees with a plethora of survey exercises, encourage open communication whereby employees feel empowered to offer suggestions and feedback voluntarily. For example, if your suggestion-box is not offering enough suggestions, you may introduce incentives for offering positive feedback. Employees will feel more empowered to speak their minds on issues that may have a positive impact on employee engagement.

You can solicit the help of HR to design a fit-for-purpose exit interview with leaving employees.

Acting on insights. Exit interviews offer a great source of interviews delivering many ideas for improvement. At the tennis court the other day, one of our colleagues shared how he left his former employers on a friendly note – offering him the opportunity to provide positive suggestions to them regarding his role in particular and the business as a whole.

You can always benefit from good listening by calling together a round of employees and conducting a group interview when the opportunity arises. Why is the new canteen not used for lunch breaks? What can be done to arrest this trend of non-usage? Asking questions this way enables you to obtain employee opinions in a generally frank and open environment. It offers you the ticket to find out the minds of your employees, and also encourages ownership among them in terms of how the organisation is run.

Acting on insights

It is imperative as you listen to employees that you act on the insights. For example, when you use focus groups for listening to employee views in a Voice of Employee (VoE) programme, make it positive by actively using the time to collaborate with employees. Ask them to come up with solutions to the challenges, to make the workplace ‘a better place to be’. Go on to implement these ideas once you have agreed on the need to make the suggested changes. Collecting the feedback and not doing anything with it is worse than not asking for the feedback in the first place.

You now have a situation wherein everyone is eagerly awaiting the next index or next round of feedback from teams and customers to swiftly turn them into improvement activities. When you get to this point, then your goal is achieved!  From here, everyone listens. All management levels and employees are keen to hear what customers have to say. From here, opportunities for continuous improvement are identified, prioritised and implemented. You have now created an organisation that is permanently getting better based on feedback.

An environment where good employee experience thrives is one where employees are customer-centric. They are empowered to try their best. If their workplace projects an air of support, they will feel confident about their work and less afraid of failure. When you improve engagement, employees with a positive view of their workplace will enjoy a high level of excitement about their job. Finally, note that happy employees are a pleasure to deal with – ask your customers!

The Writer is a Change and CX Management Consultant. He can be reached at 059 175 7205, [email protected],

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