Be Aggressive on the Road to Customer, Employee Engagement



Brian Cantor
01/24/2013

Say what you mean, mean what you say.

For businesses aiming to successfully overcome challenges and adapt to changing markets, few cheesy adages carry more relevance.

Despite that relevance, it is a policy rarely taken seriously by organizational leaders. Few professionals miss an opportunity to put rhetorical weight behind a valuable business transformation, but even fewer affix money to their mouths when it comes to acting on those declarations.

Customer management is a particular victim of this unfortunate business reality. Customer-centricity is a concept too obvious and irrefutable to escape a business’ public mission statement, but it is also one complicated and challenging enough to discourage meaningful effort.

The tragedy of this situation, beyond exposing business leadership as "all talk and no walk," is that a commitment to customer-centricity is both readily verifiable and immensely consequential. Customers know what they experience, and knowledge that a brand "puts its audience first" is not enough to compensate for a middling customer service reality.

With the link between agent/employee engagement and the customer experience so obvious, it is unfortunate to see that workplace culture also gets the short end of the commitment stick. Just as a brand will talk up its customer-centricity but not necessarily back that rhetoric up with experiential execution, leadership loves praising its employment culture almost as much as it hates following through.

But with that connection between employee engagement, customer experience and business results so irrefutable, it is unclear why businesses do not sweat their inactivity to a greater degree. Yes, transforming the culture of a customer service function is hard work, but it is work that will produce a tangible reward.

At the 8th Call Center Summit, presenter David Chaulk provided clear case support for adopting an aggressive commitment to transformation. Rather than match a declaration of betterment with a few pizza parties and a Facebook page, Brand Developers Limited, Chaulk’s organization, took risks to prove it was about more than words.

As a result, business for the private entity is booming.

What does this aggressive activity entail?

It means listening to employee feedback and then providing them with incentives and cultural offerings that matter.

It means going beyond Starbucks cards and pats on the back. It means offering agents a 100% base salary increase if they hit "stretch targets" for telesales. It means allowing top-performing agents to customize their shifts in recognition of getting the job done.

It means going beyond the occasional pizza party and instead taking a legitimate interest in employee development. It means offering personal development courses, town hall meetings, corporate wikis and intranets, shadow opportunities, cross-departmental training opportunities and mentorships of significance.

The undertakings are aggressive, but their value is supported in theory and confirmed in practice. Workplaces that want to be better must also be committal.

And that commitment does not stop once the agents are happy. Important as it might be, agent happiness is ultimately a means to a customer-oriented end, and if the value of that end is not protected and preserved, the organization has not truly transformed.

Concern for the customer is a mindset that must exist in the most trying and challenging of times. Realms like social media offer many feel good "checkpoints" at which management can opt to exit without complication, but a truly-customer-centric organization would stay for the duration of the journey. And it would let the customers—not itself and its proclivity for mediocrity—determine when that journey has reached its legitimate conclusion.

A quality customer interaction likely includes numerous smiles and displays of manners, but it is not defined by them. It is defined by the lengths to which a business will go to achieve satisfaction when a smile cannot make everything okay.

In competitive markets, successful product development teams do not strive to match industry standards; they strive to redefine them. With customer experience serving as such a clear, high-impact opportunity for a competitive advantage, why would that same attitude not apply?

When thinking about your customer experience, ask not whether you are hitting "best practice" objectives and targets. Ask whether you are fighting to build customer relationships.

And make sure you are fighting with an aggressive resolve to be better than the competition and as big (or bigger) than your corporate rhetoric suggests.

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