Years ago, I worked in the billing department of a large B2B company that was struggling with customer experience. After receiving a particularly dismal report on customers’ dissatisfaction, the vice president of the department leaped into action. He called a meeting of all the billing CSRs and spent about 15 minutes yelling at them to improve.
Shortly after this completely ineffective meeting, a director in the department, who knew I had a background in both CX and training, asked me to travel to all of the company’s contact centers to deliver—what else?—customer service training.
Unfortunately, this sequence of events often passes for engaging employees in efforts to create a customer-centric organization. And, equally unfortunately, it rarely gets the desired results. This is because so many attempts to increase employee engagement are based on three flawed theories of change:
- If you give information, they’ll change. This assumes that people, when presented with enough of the right information, will do what you want them to do. If this were true, the world would be a very simple (and boring) place. Information is important, but employees derive much more information from what an organization does than from what it says.
- If you give incentives, they’ll change. This assumes that people are mechanistic and will do what you want them to do when they get the right bribe. There’s nothing wrong with the judicious use of incentives as part of a holistic change management effort. On its own, however, this approach robs people (and their employers) of their agency and self-efficacy and sends the message that whatever they’re being asked to swallow requires a spoonful of sugar to be palatable.
- If you give orders, they’ll change. This assumes that people simply need to be told what to do. Unfortunately, for leaders who buy into this, command does not always lead to control. Instead, it leads to passivity, groupthink, and dependence. At best, you’ll get compliance, but you certainly won’t get engagement.
As they say in the infomercials, there’s got to be a better way! And there is.
After observing so many employee engagement efforts that went wrong (and a few that went right), I put together a six-step approach that CX professionals can follow to truly engage employees in creating a customer-centric culture. I call it:
The 6 Es of Employee Engagement
Empathize. Just as with engaging customers, we begin by listening to employees. When I was asked to deliver customer service training, I didn’t. Instead, I traveled to each of the contact centers and asked questions. What does customer experience mean to you? Why is it important to our organization now? What do you need to deliver an amazing customer experience? What’s getting in your way? Real communication requires both speaking and listening.
Engage. Once employees feel that they’ve been listened to, they’re ready to get involved. Solicit ideas for improving CX from employees. Give back-office employees opportunities to meet and understand real customers. For inspiration, check out MultiChoice Pty’s #ninetynine campaign, a winner of the 2018 CXPA Innovation Awards.
Educate. Only after you’ve listened to and involved employees have you earned the right to train them. What must employees know to be part of your customer-centric company? In most cases, employees need to understand just three things: (1) what CX is and why it’s important now; (2) who our customers are and what they need from us; and (3) how each employee’s work affects customers.
Enable. Now it’s time to make sure employees have everything they need to deliver the customer experience you want. What tools, resources, and skills do employees need? This is where the listening you did in Empathize starts to bear fruit.
Empower. E Source’s CX research has repeatedly found that employees are not empowered to do what’s right for customers. Usually, this means that policies, processes, and procedures are getting in the way. Once again, if you start by listening to employees, they’ll tell you what’s getting in the way. Examine existing policies for unintended consequences, and determine if you need to add new policies to encourage employees and send a clear message. For example, a utility in the Northwest encourages its field employees to spend up to $500 to take care of any customer need while they’re out on a service call.
Embrace. Finally, to reinforce the importance of CX and maintain momentum, you’ll need to recognize and reward customer-centric attitudes, behaviors, and outcomes when you see them. Evaluate existing recognition programs to make sure they’re aligned with your customer-centric goals and aren’t encouraging unproductive behaviors. To be effective, rewards don’t have to be monetary. They simply have to be frequent, relevant, specific, timely, and personally significant to the recipient.
At the end of this process, you’ve listened to employees, involved them in improving CX, educated them about how they affect your customers, made sure they have the tools and skills they need, evaluated your policies and processes, and rewarded and recognized customer-centricity. This simple, research-based framework leads to employees who are authentically engaged in transforming your organization—and is guaranteed to be more effective than yelling your way to customer-centricity.
Credit where it’s due: The 6 Es framework was originally inspired by a presentation given by Reginald Chatman at the 2014 CXPA Insight Exchange and by many conversations with Roger Pugsley about his admirable work at Oxford Properties. It’s also informed by Prosci’s research on managing individual change.
Eryc Eyl is a Certified Customer Experience Professional, Accredited Human Synergistics Organizational Culture and Effectiveness Consultant, and Prosci Certified Change Practitioner. He is lead analyst in the CX practice at E Source, a research and advisory services firm, focused on advancing the efficient use of energy.