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The Employee is the New Customer

If companies put employees first, as they claim they do, why are 71% of American workers are “not engaged” or “actively disengaged” in their work (per this Gallup poll)? If 71% of your external customers didn’t engage with your brand, would it be acceptable? Treating employees like customers is simply good business and has been directly responsible for success of “strong culture” companies like Zappos and Southwest Airlines. Southwest CEO Kelleher once said, “When you treat [employees] right, then they will treat your outside customers right. That has been a powerful competitive weapon for us.”

Ask Employees What the Problems Are

For internal and external customers alike, a stellar customer experience comes from the ability to understand and anticipate problems, providing solutions to proactively solve them. As a first order of business, you should ask your internal customers what ails them, and really listen. More than likely, your employees have trouble with the following:

Too Much Work, Too Few Resources

It’s not a surprise that most people feel more than a little overwhelmed these days. As the economy contracted, companies contracted their workforces. “Doing more with less” is the mantra of the current workplace. Add to that the dizzying pace of innovation and economic instability — no wonder that stress levels are extremely high. To help employees grapple with their workloads, allow them to flexibly connect with the resources they need to get their jobs done.

Outdated Communication Stifles

The industrial age complex has left us with a dizzying number of silos, and we’ve been flowing information inside these silos, with technology reinforcing them. Silos are a terribly inefficient way to exchange information, given how of quickly business is moving. To serve external customers, systems need to deliver critical and relevant business information to individuals, but not so much data to render the data streams useless. This brings me to my next point…

Too Much Data

Most of us are dealing with data deluge, and our attention spans are shrinking to accommodate. The social web has democratized access to and publishing of information, evolving the definition of a leader to information curator vs. disseminator. Organizations need to help employees turn data into information enabling “knowledge flows” vs. protecting “knowledge stocks”, in the words of John Hagel.

Dreadful User Experience

Enterprise systems can be frightful to use, and the very simple explanation is that they weren’t designed with the user in mind. A symptom of the cog-in-a-machine industrial age metaphor, business systems placed the user into the role of the operator of the machine, not the person around whom the experience is centered. But times have changed, and we expect more – the empowered customer has become the empowered employee. The proliferation of social tools in our personal lives has left us expecting more from our work apps: mobility, flexibility, pleasurable design, ease of use and seamless working with other apps.

Lack of Clarity

Let’s switch gears and talk about the softer side of customer experience. If culture is an accelerant of business, purpose and clarity are the foundation of culture. But are we all on the same page? Did you know that in most organizations with a mission statement, less than half of employees can recall the mission statement if asked? How do we expect employees to embody it, if they don’t know what it is? I attended Daniel Pink’s visionary keynote at Ultimate Connections Conference the other day and he stressed the importance of purpose as a motivator (salary will only get you so far). Help your employees answer “why?” for everything that they do, and clarify their stake in the future of the company.

Inferiority Complex

Transparency brought on by the social web is an amazing force; yet it can be destructive by spotlighting what’s right, as well as what’s wrong. If your customers’ experience is inferior to that provided by your competitors, expect mobility. Because empowered employees’ networks are highly portable and dependency on company resources is weakened, the empowered employee is more likely to jump ship to companies that provide the right customer experience.

 

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