One of the common things that comes up in conversations I have with board members and business leaders is how they wish their people could be more customer centric. The word ‘empathy’ is thrown about in business meetings and conversations, almost as if were something that can be picked off a shelf. In contact centre quality monitoring feedback sessions, I have even heard line managers asking their advisors to show “more empathy”. However if someone isn’t displaying empathy, simply asking them to be more empathetic probably isn’t going to make a difference. In situations like these, such words become platitudes.
I’m not suggesting for a second that the way in which front line staff engage with customers cannot be improved. There are simple conversation techniques and other actions that can be introduced that will significantly improve the degree to which the customer feels ‘engaged’. However if someone doesn’t know what they are doing wrong, just asking them to ‘get better’ at it simply won’t work – especially if that person is earning little more than the minimum wage.
Yet all of this still doesn’t hit at the heart of the matter. I have seen businesses in which staff are well trained and often relatively well paid, yet the organisation still feels as if their front line are not as engaged as they could or should be. So why is this the case?
Let’s get customer centric!
Very few people come to work to deliberately do a bad job. Although it may not be their dream role, most people understand that they are likely to get higher levels of satisfaction if they make more effort. Most frontline staff really do want to do the right thing by the customer.
Everyone remembers that ‘first day feeling’ when they turn up at a new job, excited and keen, interested and engaged. However within a few days, weeks or months, all of this can change. And if employees are disengaged, then they are not going to be customer centric.
Some of this comes down to complacency; however how much does the company play a role in this? Problems often stem from the business itself rather than its people.
No two situations are the same, so there is unfortunately no single cure-all for companies with disengaged employees. However the companies I have observed with engaged employees have a number of things in common:
- Good training: If you hear from your members of staff that customers they speak to repeat themselves, then it is probably true and there is usually a really good reason for it. Customers often feel as if they haven’t been heard. There are very simple conversation techniques that, if introduced, can make the customer feel as if they are being properly engaged. If correctly implemented, these techniques can reduce call durations, repeat calls, complaints and management escalations
- Good recruitment & selection: Getting the right people is never easy. However depending on the nature of your proposition and the customer profile, you need to identify frontline staff that can provide the right match. It is scientifically proven that, as a result of hormonal changes that happen with teenagers and young adults, they can often find it more difficult to empathise. This, combined with a less life experience and (often) less developed social skills, means that younger people can (sometimes) struggle to relate to the people they are speaking to. Also, in emotional and high-trauma scenarios, as is often experienced in the Insurance & Healthcare sectors, younger people can find dealing with some customers too distressing. On the other hand, younger people can often be less cynical, more flexible and more up-to-speed with current trends. And typically cheaper to employ too!
- Process rules system, not system rules process: One of my personal bugbears is the use of the phrase ‘IT solution’. Don’t get me wrong, some IT systems can be great; however I have also experienced situations in which new systems have been introduced; and because of poor specification/ design or inflexibility, the process the company follows has to be changed to fit the constraints of the system. This, of course, is very wrong. If the tool doesn’t allow the employee to do the right thing for the customer, then they can soon become frustrated and disengaged. Systems should always support processes, not the other way round
- Leaders that lead, not manage: This phrase is often overused, but it is very true. People who get promoted into leadership roles are often very good at managing work; however that doesn’t mean that they can delegate or are natural leaders. Different people need to be led in different ways, as is demonstrated by the Situational Leadership model. However without training, most new leaders will not naturally understand what they need to be doing
- Empowered people: One of the mistakes leaders and managers can make is to assume that the people that work for them are less intelligent, trustworthy or talented than they are. Most people in a business, given the right tools, training and rules/ constraints, are able to make the right judgement calls. Once these things are in place, then there should be absolutely no reason not to trust people to make the right decisions by the customer. People on the front line need to be able to operate without fear or the threat of reprisals. When people get scared, they stop making judgements; and when you lose judgements, you lose innovation. However if a policy that has been made continues to be broken, maybe the business needs to reconsider the policy rather than scrutinising the people breaking it
- Making it fun: Work environments that are fun generally tend to be more productive. Introducing a little competition and extra-curricular fun into the workplace can provide a great morale boost, however…
- Keep it professional: Having fun doesn’t necessarily mean a drop in professional standards. In a call centre I once audited in the North of England, although the people were not particularly well paid, they all wore business attire and spoke to each other professionally at all times. For them, this was about being taken seriously by each other and the business they worked for. This business had engaged employees and extremely low staff turnover. Part of keeping it professional is…
- Giving them hope: Although it may not be a dream job, if people are able to see the benefit of the skills they gain; and can also understand what their opportunities for progression are, then they are far more likely to be engaged. If people understand that the current job is a potential springboard to something better, either within or outside of the business, then they are far more likely to make an effort and focus on doing the right things. Creating a career roadmap for each employee can often be a good way of achieving this
- Competitive benefits: It isn’t always about the pay and benefits, however they usually help. If the business considers the cost of staff turnover in terms of recruitment, selection and training, then offering a little bit more in terms of benefits might turn out to be a better financial approach overall
- Fair appraisals: Everyone needs to feel as if they are being treated fairly and that there is no favouritism towards other people. A clear and fair appraisal system can lend itself to making this the case