The Power of the Employee-Customer Encounter
Business Journal

The Power of the Employee-Customer Encounter

Fostering an emotional connection between employees and customers should be top priority for a company's leaders

The moment when an employee connects emotionally with a customer has profound implications for a company's productivity and profitability. Gallup Global Practice Leader Ed O'Boyle explains in this interview with Scott Robbin, senior content associate at Argyle Executive Forum.

I love when an organization actually removes a rule or requirement and we can watch employees have success because of it.

Scott Robbin: Can you give us an example of how a company can fundamentally change the way it analyzes business behavior and how that might translate into results?

Ed O'Boyle: A lot of organizations are doing customer loyalty feedback, and they're asking employees whether or not they like working for the company. However, as far as I know, no one other than Gallup is purposely putting those two metrics together and attempting to maximize potential with them. The greatest results come from organizations that decide to change the way the organization runs based on Gallup's HumanSigma engagement model, which emphasizes the importance of the employee-customer encounter.

When organizations fundamentally change the way they lead, the way their managers are held accountable, and the way their district managers hold their managers accountable, that's when we find the real magic. If a company's leadership team decides this is the way to push the organization and the way to win regarding earnings per share or other metrics, they rally the whole company and model the right kind of behavior themselves. When it's done correctly, those leaders enable district managers to start shaping the conversation with their managers regarding the changes. Those are defining moments for organizations.

For example, a bank in Southeast Asia embraced this concept because the market had fundamentally changed around it. It had to choose a differentiator, and it chose customer service as the way to define itself in the marketplace. Looking at strategic differentiators in the market, customer service would have been fifth or sixth on the list. The bank's leaders chose it as their focus area because it would be very different if they could deliver, but they also chose customer service because they believed their bigger and stronger competitors wouldn't be able to match it quickly. They built the whole company around the philosophy of maximizing HumanSigma.

Through their efforts, they realized the bank could drive more customers and more workforce groups into the highest quadrant of HumanSigma. As they started to accomplish this, the bank's market share, earnings per share, and financial stability started to improve. They saw an increase in the strength of their financial metrics, such as deposit ratios. They haven't become number one in the market yet, but they are a solid number three on all the things that really matter for banks in terms of their overall financial health.

How does employee behavior affect customer decision making and behavior?

O'Boyle: The connection between employee and customer has to be central to what every leader and every manager thinks about every single day. If they don't think about that connection, they will either miss maximizing the employee or miss an opportunity with their customers. We often find that organizations are disconnected on those things, and the issue is usually alignment.

We tell employees that their customers want certain things, such as fast and friendly service. We ask, "What is limiting you from being able to perform fast, friendly service every day?" It's usually something employees feel they are required to do that limits their service. An employee responds, "I am required to acknowledge them four times and then make sure my manager comes over and meets them, but the customer just wants fast, friendly service. It's the reason lines are out the door, because it takes forever to take care of a customer." So the question becomes, how can we eliminate unnecessary requirements without putting the organization at risk legally or financially? We need to eliminate barriers to taking care of customers.

Most people come to work every day to do the right thing. People get frustrated at work because there are so many policies and procedures that organizations put in place, initially with good intentions, that change over time to a scenario that's no longer productive. Eliminating those barriers makes it a lot easier for employees to satisfy the customer. We help organizations uncover those barriers and eliminate them. Often, a rule is in place because of something that went wrong 10 years ago on a particular account. Now that the organization has better technology and insight, we may be able to eliminate that rule.

It's effective to listen to people and their suggestions. I love when an organization actually removes a rule or requirement and we can watch employees have success because of it. It becomes organic change management from the ground up that gets everyone excited about doing what they were hired to do every single day.

How does technology affect how employees and customers interact and how customers behave?

O'Boyle: Regarding the topic of technology, customers increasingly want service at a faster pace. How do you accommodate your customers while dealing with the demands of changing technology? Technology creates on-demand access to your organization using tools and technologies 24/7. However, it also creates barriers to finding that emotional connection with customers.

We're studying the tasks that are emotional in nature that people do in their organizations. Can those emotional tasks be done electronically or digitally? How do you create emotional connections between you and your customers if you're using more digital delivery channels? Instead of a front-line associate engaging the customer, it could be someone who is running a chat or delivering technology that serves customers based on the ways they shop and purchase. It could be a tool that makes it easier for customers to give feedback or to obtain product descriptions. But it relates to HumanSigma because it's still a human being who sits there every day worrying about the customer and the customer's needs.

I worry that a lot of things we're doing with technology right now are for the good of technology and not for the good of the customer relationship. Organizations use technology because they can, but they may actually be reducing brand engagement because they're reducing the opportunity to interact with a customer. Again, it doesn't mean everything has to be delivered through a human being. However, every one of those touchpoints is important, whether the customer is online checking an order, checking a balance, following up on a shipment, or making a return. There are opportunities in every customer life cycle, and those touchpoints must be understood and managed in an emotive way, regardless of the digital versus non-digital technology aspects.

As our younger consumers get jobs and have more discretionary money, they will interact with organizations in a completely different way than older generations. For example, if my father had a problem with his bank, he would show up at the bank and ask for the branch manager. But my younger brother would probably text a toll-free number saying he has a problem, and he would be annoyed if he had to talk to someone about it. So organizations must understand the dynamics of those key touchpoints, identify "moments of truth" by segments, and challenge our technical people to create something that defines the brand but also maximizes engagement and the emotional connection.

This is the next chapter. I believe organizations are doing things because it's cool technology and not because it builds their brand. We're exploring that further through our data behind the scenes. The brilliant thing about working at Gallup is that we go out and study these trends and learn about them -- then we have a fact-based conversation about a hypothesis or an idea.

This article is adapted from one originally published in Argyle Journal. Reprinted with permission.

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