waiting at a food stall
We must use digital to connect employees with customers PHOTO: Clem Onojeghuo

Organizations obsessed with cost reductions are like gardeners obsessed with weeding. They weed and weed and weed until everything becomes a weed and the garden is bare.

Current customers and employees are seen as costs by most organizations. They need to be weeded and weeded, pulled out as costs at every opportunity. 

So digital is wielded as the ultimate weeding machine. Let’s close the physical stores. Let’s automate the phone systems. Watch the costs drop.

Two things happen. Firstly, employees lose even more touch with customers and with why they work. There is nothing more powerful and motivating than feeling that your work has had a positive impact on another human being. Secondly, customers lose human touch with the organization.

Francesca Gino, writing for Harvard Business Review, reports on studies that show:

  • Fundraisers who were attempting to secure scholarship donations felt more motivated when they had contact with scholarship recipients
  • Lifeguards were more vigilant after reading stories about people whose lives have been saved by lifeguards
  • Cooks see those who will be eating their food feel more motivated and work harder.

Digital can be a wall or a window. As a wall, it can separate the organization from its customers. As a window, it can deliver tremendous insights into customer behavior.

However, even if it is used as a window, if the employees looking through the window do not see how what they do is impacting customers, then the insights will be poor or worse — focused on exploiting customers.

We must use digital to connect employees with customers. Content is the currency of digital. We must show all the content writers how their content is helping or hindering, simplifying or making more complex, illuminating or mystifying.

How do we do this? By organizing around the customer. By focusing on what they do. By understanding and measuring the tasks they need to complete with the organization. We don’t measure the content itself. We measure the task that the content is designed to support. We focus not just on the cooking, but more importantly on the eating.

The employee is a digital cook. When they see a satisfied customer who has just consumed their content, that is hugely motivating. 

I was in a room once with a bunch of people responsible for writing policy and standards information for a large intranet. Six months previously, we had measured the performance of related employee tasks. Task A performed poorly, with a 35 percent success rate. We made a series of recommendations to improve Task A. Two people were responsible for this task and they worked really hard to implement the improvements. 

When we measured again, the task success had jumped to 75 percent. When we presented the results there was a spontaneous round of applause from the 30 or so people in the room. The two employees looked so happy and one of them came up to me afterwards and said that it was the first time she truly felt her work had value and worth.

Create an empathy bridge between those who produce and those who consume and wonderful things will happen. Everybody will win: the customer, the employee, the organization.