How closely are the employee and customer experience related? Very. Today, it’s becoming clear that you can’t have one without another. Happy, engaged employees help create great customer experiences that lead to greater customer engagement, satisfaction and ongoing loyalty.
In this Q&A with customer experience expert Myra Golden, we explore some of the challenges facing employees, how companies can create better employee experiences and how doing so creates a much better customer experience.
Brittany Klokkenga: According to the Momentive Bold Decisions Report, the two top obstacles to the success of customer service teams are “employee motivation” and “collecting real-time customer feedback”. Are these challenges you see in the field? If so, how can teams overcome them?
Myra Golden: Yes. Those of us in the customer experience industry have always coped with the challenge of employee motivation. Still, the new pressures of the pandemic have really brought it to the forefront.
For one, the quick shift to remote work itself brought a lot of challenges for many. At the onset of the pandemic, a customer service professional might have found themselves working from home with a barking dog or trying to home-school their children with unstable internet – and yet they were still expected to meet customer expectations.
At the same time, customers became far more difficult because they were anxious and impatient. On top of that, many people resigned, and we had to do more with less. So, over the last two years, several very real factors made burnout potential much higher for frontline service professionals.
As EX and CX leaders, how do we motivate those who choose to stay? We need to nurture them. We need to be conscious of giving them a break. Maybe we need to allow them to pull back. Many people in customer service are spending 80% or more of their day on their phones, which is tough.
Getting real-time feedback is also an issue. It always has been because we have a tendency to work in silos and we get desensitised to what we hear because we hear it every day. But when we receive feedback, that's one of the best opportunities to be proactive. People on the front line are our first responders. Usually, they are the first to learn about an issue. If not handled, that matter could escalate to a product recall. Or on the flip side, it can spark innovation or create an opportunity to remove a bottleneck.
We need to go beyond business-as-usual to get feedback through a formal mechanism, look at it, drill into the data, talk about it and pick the low-hanging fruit to improve customer experiences. But for many brands, acting on feedback is a challenge due to a lack of resources.
Klokkenga: Ensuring customer service representatives provide quality experiences – especially during difficult conversations – is critical to building long-term customer loyalty and reducing churn. Are de-escalation and conflict resolution tactics more critical now than before the pandemic? If so, why?
Golden: Yes, those two skills are more critical than ever. In CX, we’ve always had to resolve problems and deal with complaints, but the pandemic has taken us into a new era of customer support. Customers are more anxious. They’re more impatient than we’ve seen in the past.
Pandemic-related policies, issues and obstacles have made things far more difficult for customer service professionals. Consider supply chain issues. Brands put frontline representatives in the position of having to talk about delays when they have no definitive dates, and those delays might be weeks, or months, long.
We seem to be moving away from Covid-related issues, but some policies have been challenging for frontline service employees to defend due to politicisation and polarisation surrounding pandemic mandates.
To deal with situations like this, I’m helping my clients learn how to avoid engaging negatively and encourage having a conversation about a mask policy for staff, or how to enforce policies to protect themselves when no one else around them is doing so.
Klokkenga: In the GetFeedback Ultimate Guide to Customer Service, you talk about the 3R method of de-escalation: recognise, reframe, resolve. Describe when you witnessed a customer service representative deploy this well and the outcome.
Golden: Absolutely. I have a client, a window company, struggling with supply chain issues, and their frontline professionals regularly need to answer questions about delays.
In this case, a customer ordered 28 windows for their home and put down a $10,000 (approx. £8,800) deposit. The company was upfront about the supply chain issues, and the customer understood it would be about five to six months before the windows were available and ready to install.
Four months later, though, the company had to call the customer and explain that although one of the 28 windows had arrived, when they called to check the status of the other 27, they discovered that the order was never placed. It would be another five to six months before the other 27 windows came in.
Of course, the customer was upset. Very understandably. But the company focused on addressing the situation using the 3R method to get to a better place.
First, they recognised the pain point of their customer. They acknowledged the customer’s frustration and that they had made an unacceptable mistake. Then they took the second step: they reframed the situation from talking only about the problem to discussing their commitment to fixing it. After some research, they took the third step: they resolved the situation. In this case, they paid to expedite the manufacturing of the windows to meet the original deadline. Then they made sure that they stayed in closer communication with the customer to keep them informed every step of the way.
While the customer wasn’t thrilled by the situation, they appreciated the company’s attitude, engagement and resolution – and they remained a customer.
Klokkenga: A Momentive study found that stress is the number one reason people quit their jobs. Additionally, 22% of people planning to quit have explicitly stated that it’s because they “need to focus on mental health”. What resources do services professionals need to maintain their physical and mental health while also performing their duties effectively?
Golden: That statistic makes me sad. And I know it’s real. So many people get in touch to say that the stress is so intense it’s affecting their health. If a person is experiencing a definite impact on their mental or physical health, it’s not worth the job, and my advice is to take your skills elsewhere. Develop your CV and look for a company that will give you greater support.
At the same time, EX and CX leaders need to advise and guide those employees who want and choose to stay but who are also probably experiencing this stress, either in the short or long term. They can encourage employees to prioritise their health. They can encourage them to take advantage of the company’s EAP (employee assistance programme). They can encourage employees to use and not just bank their PTO (paid time off). As leaders, we have a responsibility to notice when our employees feel stressed, burned out or overwhelmed and encourage them to take a day off, or maybe just give them a day off.
We need to help people get a sense of balance and peace or they will burn out. And that only contributes to the Great Resignation.
Klokkenga: How does the employee experience affect customer experiences? From your tenure consulting for CX and service teams, do you have specific examples that showcase the benefits of prioritising EX and CX?
Golden: Every year for the last 20 years, I’ve looked at Fortune magazine’s “best 100 companies to work for” awards. And what makes them winners is their employee experience. Then I look at the companies rated as having the best customer experiences, whether that’s determined through something like the JD Power survey or some other, depending on the industry.
When you cross-check both, you see that you don’t tend to have one without the other; specifically, you’re not likely to earn a high rating for your customer experience without also being on the list as a company having a great employee experience.
Bottom line: You need happy, engaged and stress-free employees to sustain a great customer experience.
Klokkenga: Thirty-two percent of customers will leave a brand after one negative experience. If a service team is currently not measuring the quality of its interactions, what is one metric they should start collecting today to understand where their programme stands? Additionally, what metric should they leverage to improve service engagements?
Golden: I think it’s critical, especially if their customers experience an issue, that companies ask their customers two questions: 1) When you contacted us, what were you trying to accomplish?; and 2) What were the friction points in your experience?
We need to know what the friction points are because it’s at that point when customers are at the greatest risk of leaving. But if we can resolve that problem immediately and to the customer’s satisfaction, we have an excellent chance of keeping them and might even get positive word of mouth.
I would also suggest using a Net Promoter Score® question: Would you recommend us to a friend? If the answer is no, you know you have work to do.
Klokkenga: The GetFeedback 2022 State of CX Report found that cross-collaboration drives more revenue. Of the companies that reported significant collaboration between business units, 72% reported “very high” ROI. What are some “low-hanging fruit” steps that service teams and professionals can take to reduce interdepartmental silos?
Golden: Communicate! Just adopt the mindset that we are better together. So if I’m in CX, I’m talking to marketing. I’m talking to sales teams. Bring teams together to review complaints, data and insights. Those discussions can turn into something quite powerful. Get everybody at a table or on a video conference and just share.
For example, you might ask people to share three things that might be helpful for others to know. People will share more if you make it easy. Tell them, just come to the table with two to three things you’re seeing that you think we might find interesting or help smooth out the customer experience, make things fast or make things easier. Share what you think might help us to be proactive.
Customer feedback is a goldmine of data. It is market intelligence. It is research you don’t have to pay an outside firm to do for you. You just have to ask for that data.
Klokkenga: What do you think CX professionals should be excited about this year and in the coming years? What do you imagine this industry is going to shape into?
Golden: I think CX professionals, specifically customer support, should be celebrating right now. Celebrate the resilience, commitment and passion of the people who kept the world’s businesses moving through the pandemic.
Everyone moved swiftly to remote work and did it in weeks, if not days! This was a big shift for CX professionals. While other industries outside of customer experience faced layoffs, ours experienced growth. We needed more people to support because we were helping – and are still helping – more people than ever.
The pandemic was a challenge the likes of which we’ve never seen. We should celebrate that we made it through one of the hardest things ever to hit a business. And we should be excited about whatever is to come, knowing that we have the strength, creativity, grit and perseverance to make it through what we might choose to pursue next.