National Customer Service Week is just a month away; it’s awesome to set aside time to recognize and to celebrate those employees who work hard every day of the year to support customers. It’s also a great reminder that customer service is a critical aspect of any business. With this post, my focus will be more so on the employee, on your customer service representatives, than on the customer.
There is a clear linkage between the employee experience and the customer experience. We know this, and yet many companies still refuse to make the employee experience a priority, focusing instead on stakeholder value, the bottom line, or customer experience without considering the implications of a poor employee experience to all of the above.
It’s time for companies to think about their employees first. I love this, from Tom Peters: “CEO Hal Rosenbluth chronicled the incredible success of his travel-services firm, Rosenbluth International, in The Customer Comes Second. Love that title! Who comes first? Don’t be silly, says King Hal; it’s employees. That is – and this dear Watson, is elementary – if you genuinely want to put customers first, you must put employees more first.”
It’s time to invest in your employees now! It’s time to make sure they have a great experience so that they deliver a great experience for your customers, but more importantly, so that they don’t leave. Churn is a big problem in the customer service profession. But it doesn’t have to be.
Here’s an interesting thought: Why do companies conduct exit interviews when employees leave, but they don’t conduct stay interviews to understand why employees stay? Or what would get them to stay?
I don’t even think I need to pose this question, but why focus on employee retention instead of turnover or churn? Without a doubt, employee turnover is costly – not just in terms of the costs of recruiting, hiring, and training a new person but also in terms of the knowledge and productivity that just walked out the door.
As an employer, it raises a few concerns. Namely, what company wants to incur the costs associated with hiring new employees every year (or more frequently)? And the impact on the customer experience every time you lose a more-seasoned employee and have to start over again with a new one is huge. Plus, the time invested in training and developing the employee also becomes costly. But, then I’m reminded of the saying…
What if we train employees, and they just leave?
What if we don’t train them, and they stay?
… and so that cost needs to be absorbed, either way.
Let’s go back to my question about exit interviews. In an exit interview, we typically ask what went right and what went wrong. (I’m over-simplifying, but you get the point.) At this juncture in the employee-employer relationship, where the employee has checked out, the employee has no vested interest (usually), and either doesn’t provide any information worth acting on (sometimes for fear of recourse) or does such a huge dump of things gone wrong that you find it hard to believe, i.e., is it vendetta or truth? It’s typically too late to save the employee, which can be a costly mistake. Honestly, I’m not so sure that an exit interview is a good use of time and resources. I do, however, like the concept of the stay interview.
Why don’t we ask, on a regular basis, where employees stand; how they feel about the organization, management, culture, and vision/direction; and if they have everything they need to be successful in their roles? You might say, “Well, I do an employee satisfaction survey. Isn’t that good enough?” I say “Bravo to you!” if you do conduct employee satisfaction (engagement, culture, etc.) surveys! You’re ahead of the curve already! Stay interviews are a bit different, though, and supplement your annual or semi-annual employee survey. They are more conversational in nature and are conducted between manager and employee, perhaps during weekly 1 on 1’s.
While exit interviews are more like autopsies in nature, stay interviews are more like your wellness visits, focusing on what current employees enjoy about working for the company, as well as on aches and pains and what needs to be fixed. As an employee is walking out the door, there is really nothing that a manager can correct immediately to keep him (and throwing money at them is really just a temporary bandage), while employees who are staying can be reassured that they are appreciated and can witness their feedback being used to transform the organization and its culture.
Key to this process is that managers are trained on how to conduct the interviews and on how to address concerns and feedback. Also important is the need to close the loop and keep employees abreast of improvements and changes as a result of the discussions. Changes, if needed, must be made in order for this to be a successful initiative. In addition, these discussions must happen on an ongoing basis.
Paramount to everything else is a culture that accepts the feedback gleaned from these interviews without recourse and embraces employees who are open and honest, in the spirit of success of both the employee relationship and the company.
So this year why not use National Customer Service Week to make a commitment to learning what it is that truly engages your employees. Commit to setting up and conducting your own stay interviews. Trust me, it will be a strong statement of how deeply you value your employees. And that translates to employee loyalty…which in turn, translates to customer loyalty!
Annette Franz is Vice President, Client Experience at Compellon. She spearheads delivery of best practices that help Compellon clients incorporate Compellon20|20 into their CX strategies and ensure they achieve successful outcomes by making real changes in the areas that matter most to their customers. Prior to joining Compellon, Franz served as Director of Customer Outcomes for Fidelity Investments. She previously held instrumental roles in market research and customer experience leadership at Touchpoint Dashboard, Confirmit, Allegiance, Medallia, CustomerSat, BizRate, Data Development Corporation, Mattel, and J.D. Power and Associates.
She is also the author of the popular blog CX JourneyTM, where she shares her 25 years of experience and passion for teaching companies about customer experience and helping them understand the importance of the employee experience to a great customer experience. She has been recognized as one of “The 100 Most Influential Tech Women on Twitter” by Business Insider and by several other organizations as a top influencer in Customer Experience. She is an active CXPA member, as a CX Expert, CX Mentor, and a SoCal Local Networking Team Lead; she also serves as an executive officer on the Board of Directors.
The ICSA is the only non-profit professional association dedicated to the customer service & customer experience industry. For information regarding membership with the ICSA, click here: ICSA Membership