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How To Build A Customer-Centric Culture: A Guide To Improving Employee Engagement

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Matt Wujciak

employee engagement

“Hiring [front-line employees] is a strategy. Build a culture where [agents] are engaged in the brand as opposed to minimum wage employees showing up fluffing and folding. I think that’s the hardest part.” Carl Smit (former Navy Seal Lieutenant, Verizon, Under Armour, and Apple VP) told me in a recent conversation.

Engagement = Productivity

Our research conducted for an upcoming special report on employee engagement has found that higher levels of engagement tend to predict a quantifiable range of positive outcomes, such as improved office culture, individual performance, and synergistic communication, having a direct effect on CSAT scores. At the other end of the spectrum, lower engagement has been linked to negative outcomes, including increased turnover, absenteeism and stress, and reduced profitability.

While many organizations are attempting to change their culture from the inside out in order to increase employee/agent engagement or boost employee productivity, they’re wondering why they feel as if it’s too late. It’s because, for many, it is. 

Why? It starts in the hiring process. 

Census data shows, for example, that the majority of people who took a new job last year (especially in the contact center), weren’t searching for one: a recruiter (with a primarily commission-based salary) came and got them. Companies seek to fill their recruiting funnel with as many candidates as possible, especially “passive candidates,” who aren’t looking to move. 

Often employers even advertise jobs that don’t exist or are misleading, hoping to find people who might be useful later on or in a different context.

Rethinking your hiring approach

Jeanne Bliss, a CCW advisory board member, regular contributor, best-selling author, and former leader of CX at Microsoft (the list goes on), is widely renowned for her predictions and lessons to not only build quality customer experiences, but strategic initiatives embedded into a business’ core values. 

Read More: How The WSJ Designed Their Customer Experience Strategy

Jeanne, along with many other CX leaders, as well as HR analysts, preach the importance of the correlation between employee engagement and performance, having a direct effect on the quality of services customers are experiencing. 

“Enabling employees to rise and be part of the purpose of the business. We need to hire people with the values of the company, give employees information about the customer standing in front of them, and trust them to make the call in the moment – to elevate the customer, the business and their purpose. We need to try to remove the rules that bind and diminish people's spirit and send customers packing.” – Jeanne Bliss, CEO, Customer Bliss, as seen in Forbes

The most important way to do that is rethinking the modern hiring system that is causing low engagement levels in your company culture.

According to an HBR study written by Peter Cappelli (Professor of Management at UPENN’s Wharton School and Director of Wharton's Center for Human Resources), “The recruiting and hiring function has been eviscerated. Many U.S. companies—about 40%, according to research by Korn Ferry—have outsourced much if not all of the hiring process to 'recruitment process outsourcers,’ which in turn often use subcontractors, typically in India and the Philippines. The subcontractors scour LinkedIn [Indeed] and social media to find potential candidates. They sometimes contact them directly to see whether they can be persuaded to apply for a position and negotiate the salary they’re willing to accept.

“(The recruiters get incentive pay if they negotiate the amount down.) To hire programmers, for example, these subcontractors can scan websites that programmers might visit, trace their “digital exhaust” from cookies and other user-tracking measures to identify who they are, and then examine their curricula vitae.”

This concept of generating an optimal number of potential employee leads is even more relevant in the contact center, an industry notorious for high turnover rates, stagnant employee engagement, and generally speaking, poor office culture. 

Read More: A 3 Step Approach To Higher Employee Engagement Within The Contact Center

When organizations rethink their hiring strategy, rather than filling quotas, gathering large quanities of low quality candidates, or trading potential skill for lower salaries (i.e. minimum wage employees who show up fluffing and folding, as Smit describes), we’re able to direct our attention towards employee qualities (such as the right personality traits) that fit into our organization’s DNA. 

"Empowering the front line"

As a result, employees and front-line agents with the right values and traits are more engaged and better equipped to handle problems, decreasing average handle times or re-direction of customer inquiries. In other words, when we focus on the scientifically proven personality traits for successful front-line employees (such as proactivity, conscientiousness, empathy, and extroversion, as seen in my recent article), we psychologically equip employees to handle problems themselves rather than redirecting them. 

Jeanne’s first book that gained traction in the CX realm, Chief Customer Officer: Getting Past Lip Service to Passionate Action sheds light on a number of critical topics, one being a concept that Deloitte commonly refers to as “empowering the front line,” in order to create synergistic employee performance.

“Empower the front line. Our clients understand that many decisions, whether they are queries or complaints from customers, require immediate consideration in order to be resolved promptly. Removing the need to escalate decision making and empowering the frontline to make decisions will serve to improve the spectator experience at the point issues arise.” – as seen in Deloitte's Customer- centricity Embedding it into your organisation’s DNA. 

Susanna Hadley, Senior Manager, Program Management Ops, T-Mobile recently told me that, coincidentally, empathy is one of the most valued traits that they look for in their hiring process. (Previously working in the HR department), Hadley has observed and contributed to the development of a company culture that was recently awarded Glassdoor Best Places to Work for the second consecutive year in a row.

Empathy, being one of the single greatest quality traits in successful customer/client facing employees, allows employees to be the customer for a brief moment, understanding how they feel, in order to alleviate their needs and "feel empowered."

Read More: The Pyschology Behind Personalized Customer Experience

With roughly 1.3 trillion lost as a direct result of low employee engagement each year, it’s time to start rethinking the biggest problem in corporate culture. And it starts in the hiring process, identifying and valuing potential employees with the right mindsets and coachable skills as a priority. 

For an in-depth analysis featuring insights from our analysts team and contributors mentioned above, stay tuned for our special report on increasing employee engagement and other need to know topics and trends in customer experience.