The Second Key to Creating a Great Customer-Inspired Experience: Engage the Entire Team on the Opportunity

Once you know what matters, the next step is to get everybody involved.

I have been speaking about this topic quite a bit lately, and one exercise I have is for participants to identify five recent projects or programs their company has developed to improve your customer experience. These could be new products, pricing changes, sales training programs – any new idea. Go ahead and do this, as well. Write down five new projects your company is implementing:

  1. ______________________________
  2. ______________________________
  3. ______________________________
  4. ______________________________
  5. ______________________________

Now that you have this list (you did do the exercise, didn’t you?), let’s look at your projects. Whether you work for a 50 or 50,000-person company, a good rule of thumb is that 90% of your company’s employees are individual contributors. So if your company is doing well at this key, 4-½ of these ideas should come from front-line employees. Brave readers: comment on how well you did!

Of the hundreds of attendees in my talks, how many had at least three ideas come from an individual contributor?

Four.

None came from a company of more than ten people. Only about half had even one idea come from a front-line employee.

We can do better. Companies pay consultants to tell them what to do, when they have dozens (or hundreds or thousands) of passionate employees who know far more about their customers. We need to do cast a wider net.

The Challenge of Using the Whole Team

Most organizations operate as if the small group in leadership knows more than the rest of the company combined. They would never articulate it that way, but look where their ideas come from. It’s no wonder that Applied Marketing Sciences estimates at 70% of all innovations fail because of bad ideas – we are generating our project concepts from the people who talk to customers the least!

As a corporate leader, it’s natural to rely on your own ideas and those of the people you see each day. It takes a special effort to involve those out-of-sight front-line employees. But the results are worth it.

To get started: Do you have a call center? Nobody talks to more customers on a daily basis than they do. Unfortunately, most call centers are housed in out-of-the-way locations with cheap labor – the exact opposite model companies use to locate their headquarters. This physical separation makes it easy to forget about these teams.

But your call center is a great resource to improve your customer experience. First, they help you discover what really matters for your customers (the First Key). At the same time, they learn how your existing customers work through their challenges, which is a great source for new development ideas.

I worked with a health insurance company to build an employer-facing website. We started by generating ideas internally before reaching out to our call center. Their involvement led to us completely changing our plans. They pointed out multiple missed opportunities, and suggested alternate language that resonated better with employers. Had we stuck with the traditional, corporate-based method of ideation, we would have missed opportunities to connect with our customers. As it was, this website exceeded expectations, even winning an award.

Engaging your entire team on developing your customer experience provides three primary benefits:

  1. You bring more brains into the process, generating more and better ideas.
  2. You can implement your ideas more quickly with more buy-in
  3. You can build and reinforce your employee engagement

You Bring More Brains into the Process

It’s a simple equation: more brains = more ideas. Involving employees outside of your typical circles also ensures more varied perspectives, preventing groupthink. This article shows a great example of how San Diego County developed two new laws based on front-line employee feedback. If a government agency can do it, certainly you can!

The downside is that involving more people takes longer than just holding a quick meeting. It is also uncomfortable, because enabled field employees will challenge your assumptions and bring you more unconventional thinking. While not all of their ideas will be good, simply inviting the field into the conversation leads to broader, more customer-based thinking. They live with the customers each day, and understand how they think.

Dunn Bros Coffee understands this. As recounted in this white paper, they wanted to create a new drink for the holidays. Their corporate staff was the wrong group to develop such a drink. Instead, they invited their baristas to create new drink recipes, inviting their customers to be a part of the judging process. And I guarantee that no corporate brainstorming session, consultant or focus group would ever come up with the winner – a Snickerdoodle Latte!

You Can Implement Your Ideas More Quickly With More Buy-In

Involving field employees significantly speeds your adoption. Involving the call center to develop the website mentioned above turned the participants into advocates. They rallied the team to promote the site, telling employers about this great new resource available. Rather than being simply another corporate initiative, this idea came from them, and they wanted to see it succeed.

In the Best Buy PC Experience project discussed in an earlier post, the field (even those not involved in designing the program) became radical supporters of the new design, because they knew it came from the stores.

Employees talk. They talk about everything you send their way. Involving your front-line employees in the development process makes it more likely that they will talk positively about your program, easing the way for a broader adoption.

You Can Build and Reinforce Employee Engagement

Management science also supports including your individual contributors in your customer experience design. Let’s look at Gallup’s Q12 – their twelve questions to measure engagement. Most of these can be impacted by involving your individual contributors, but two apply directly:

–          Q07. At work, my opinions seem to count.

–          Q12. This last year, I have had opportunities at work to learn and grow.

At work, my opinions seem to count

Notice the key word “seem.” We often think rationally – we used their ideas, why aren’t they happy? But this is an emotional driver. Simply using field ideas is insufficient – it needs to be recognized and obvious to all.

When field involvement is recognized, this number goes through the roof – even for those not directly involved. Make the input obvious and publicly recognize those who contribute ideas. You will enjoy a halo effect on all of your front-line staff.

In 2006, when Best Buy ruled, they drove ideation through their stores. Not only were employees’ ideas featured on their intranet, they brought the creators to corporate to share their ideas and influence corporate projects. This field-generated innovation not only drove growth, but also engaged employees. Unfortunately, it is no longer a focus, and the results show.

Q12. This last year, I have had opportunities at work to learn and grow

Inviting employees to create ideas stretches them and challenges them to think more broadly. This not only drives engagement, it also creates a pipeline of employees who can contribute more to your organization.

Keep in mind, however, that both of these items involve require higher levels of engagement. Involving a disengaged team will not see these benefits – that requires a specific, focused effort. The nature of engagement is that you need to take care of the lower-level items (represented by “Q01 I know what is expected of me at work” and “Q02 I have the materials and equipment I need to do my work right.”) before you can get all the benefits of involving your customer-facing staff in developing your customer experience. These questions serve to help us as we move to Key #3: Give Your Team a Process.

Involving your customer-facing staff is messy. It takes time, they think differently, and their ideas will be both good and bad. But taking the time and effort ensures broader thinking, smooths the way for adoption, and leads to more engaged employees. It is a virtuous cycle that can drive your business.

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