Employee Connectedness: Damaging customer service quality?

Recently, there’s been considerable talk about the need for retailers to provide consumers with a better ‘customer service experience’ if they are to maintain a market share as internet retailing continues to grow. Inevitably, at the heart of this better experience is  employees who can deliver great customer service. It would seem the consensus is that too few of us experience employees who provide great customer service.

So why is it seemingly so difficult to get employees to deliver great customer service for their employer? Is it because –

a. Employees haven’t been trained sufficiently in customer service?

b. The systems and processes that should enable staff to deliver great customer service aren’t doing their job? Or

c. They have the knowledge but they don’t have the willingness to deliver great customer service for their employer?

I’m not sure about you, but in our experience it all comes down to willingness.

Training is important – absolutely. And I know I’ve experienced situations where customer service employees have been the victim of bad back-of-house systems and processes. But most of the bad experiences I’ve had are not a question of knowledge or system failure but rather an employee’s lack of willingness to deliver great customer service for their employer. If staff don’t have a willingness to deliver a great experience for customers, then all the training in the world and most brilliant of systems won’t guarantee they will deliver outstanding customer service.  So the question therefore is: What underpins willingness?

From our perspective at the heart of willingness is Employee Connectedness.

Therefore, if you’re a manager within an organisation it’s critical that your frontline customer service personnel can respond positively to these statements:

– Managers are interested in me

– People here know I can do good work

– I have at least two managers I can go to if I have a problem

– I am encouraged to suggest improvements to the organisation

If the responses aren’t positive then they are experiencing low Employee Connectedness and are unlikely to deliver customer service to the maximum of their ability. Sure, there’s always going to be employees who just aren’t right for the job (this is a question for the recruitment gurus out there). But for those with the ability, a lack of Employee Connectedness  smother their willingness.

If your staff aren’t responding positively to Employee Connectedness statements like the ones above, then how likely is it that they’ll want to:

  • deliver great customer service on behalf of your organisation?
  • improve what they do?
  • respond proactively to feedback  and not defensively?
  • work for you and not despite you?

Is your induction/recruitment strategy creating connectedness? How is your customer service training building connectedness? Do you managers have the ability to think their way to increasing connectedness?

Having a strategy to create Employee Connectedness amongst new and existing employees is crucial to maximising employee willingness to deliver great customer service. Stanford University recently released a study that showed 87% of success in business is based on connecting with people and only 13% on product knowledge. Customer service staff pass on to their customers their expereince as an employee. If staff are unhappy you sense this as a shopper and it erodes your experience. If customer service staff experience low Employee Connectedness, they will pass this on to the customers they should be trying to connect with.

Customer service employees will want to deliver great customer service for you and for your organisation when you create a productive and strong relationship with them that recognises them as more than just employees. This is when they will start to establish an emotional investment within their organisation. This is Employee Connectedness. They are, after all, people not robots.

Contact us to discuss how increasing Employee Connectedness can enhance your customer service levels.

Why do some employee surveys miss the mark?

“Are we going to be able to do anything as a result of this survey!?” “Don’t give me copious data from a survey and then ask for more employee time to identify actions!”

These were two things we heard often when we were working out how to turn our Employee Connectedness (EC) framework into a practical/pragmatic employee diagnostic. It’s also something that is highlighted in a recent blog I read which is worth a quick read. 

Unfortunately receiving the outcomes report from many employee surveys can be like receiving the score from a football game you didn’t watch – it tells you who won but gives no insight into the game itself. If your team lost, it doesn’t tell you how they played and what they could have done to improve.

I think many employee surveys are like this because of two main reasons –

1. They measure outcomes alone (the score at the end of the game). This typically comes in the form of an employee engagement measure (most likely comprised of employee commitment and motivation) and a measure of culture. Although useful, these provide little useful insight into the day-to-day employee experience and what useful insight is gained is normally diluted via it’s segregation into organisational silos e.g. learning and development, management, culture, leadership.

2. They gather opinions about ‘the organisation’ i.e. What employees think the organisation should do and how it should change. This is a difficult road to go down because ‘organisations’ (particularly big ones) are often very cumbersome and slow to change. This type of diagnostic also by default sets an expectation amongst staff that ‘the organisation’ will change as a result of their feedback. Such an expectation when unmet (and this is probably more often than not) is often the source of future skepticism toward ‘the organisation’

Don’t get me wrong, these two avenues of questioning have their place. It’s just that we look through a different lens known as Employee Connectedness. EC is about the health, strength and productivity of relationships between people. 

Where an org development person might look at an organisation in terms of the relationship between strategy/mission and people, a traditional HR person might look through a lens that focusses on policy, processes and recruitment and a lawyer looks purely through a legal lens, we look through a lens that is purely about the productivity, health and strength of relationships between people within an organisation.  Once we establish this picture the opportunities for improvement become greater, clearer and more creative. There will always be opportunities to respond!

I wonder what your org would look like through an Employee Connectedness lens?

Good Leadership Creates Employee Connectedness: Is it the focus of your leadership development strategy?

I once had a conversation with a manager from a global organisation about learning and development for new managers. He pulled out a manual that looked a million dollars and whacked it on the table. This was his organisation’s managerial training program – developed by Harvard! He wondered, however, whether his managers ever used it’s contents beyond the duration of ‘the course’ or if it had any impact on how they operated there after. I think the subtext of his contemplation was he doubted it did. In any case, he had no real tangible way of evaluating its impact.

Along similar lines, I recently spoke with an executive of a government department about the evaluation of his department’s leadership development programs (into which the department invested heavily). He said that while it was very hard to evaluate the benefit of such programs, intuitively they knew it was a good thing. “Intuitively a good thing”. Gee, no wonder some HR departments struggle to get funds with such a hard hitting business case!

Leadership development using our EC framework combines the above three elements with an action learning process

So how can Employee Connectedness (EC) help mount a business case for leadership development and measure its effectiveness? In our experience, a good leader is one who can create and increase EC. We just have to make EC the central framework for measuring and informing leadership effectiveness. From there we can translate EC increases into bottom line savings and employee outcome improvements (e.g. motivation, intention to stay).

Four Steps to combining Leadership Development + Employee Connectedness 

  1. Measure and quantify the relationship between EC and your organisation’s desired employee and business outcomes
  2. Put in place a pragmatic strategy to develop the skills, attitudes and abilities of leaders to increase EC (see diagram above) over at least a 12-month period
  3. Measure EC levels again
  4. Quantify EC improvements

It’s our belief that there should be a direct link between what gets measured through organisational diagnostics and the content of leadership development initiatives. Our EC framework can play both these roles.

The value of 1. off the shelf leadership programs; 2. the ‘cookie cutter’ approach to leadership development that has increased with the advent of generic government funded training; and 3. programs that are more about ‘the program’ than outcomes for individuals and their people practices, have to questioned.

I wonder how many organisations are contemplating the question of organisational value and impact when it comes to leadership development?


Learning and Development for increased Employee Connectedness

Over the past 10 years, we’ve had the good fortune to experience (both as participants and facilitators) a really broad range of learning and development.

As we’ve reflected, experimented, observed and witnessed outcomes of these experiences some key ingredients have emerged about the ‘how’ of effective learning and development spaces. We believe the most productive space for learning and development occurs when the facilitator/s –

  • Has a genuine respect and willingness to recognise the wisdom that already exists in the room
  • Knows how to (and is prepared to) create a genuine dialogue with participants – not a monologue
  • Encourages the understanding and use of simple tools that aren’t rocket science (the complexity or ‘wow’ of the tools are not in themselves outcomes or indicators of success)
  • Creates a space for participants to reflect, question and think their way to greater self-awareness

Although many may say  they do these things, in our experience, few really do.

Obviously, these ‘ingredients’ can’t always be used in their purist forms. However, it’s vital that they comprise a significant portion of the learning and development mix for employees within your organisation. Ideally, some of these ‘ingredients’ would comprise at least part of all training experiences. Do this well and you will not only get greater value from your training dollar but you will also reap the benefits of increased Employee Connectedness.

Why can we say that these ingredients promote EC? Three main reasons –

1. They facilitate the creation of relationships between people in organisations – a relationship cannot be created via learning and development that is nothing more than a monologue from the facilitator!

2. They communicate a sense of value to employees – you have something valid and useful to contribute!

3. When employees learn something about themselves at work (i.e. increased self-awareness), it says to them that their employer respects and values them as real woman and men and not just as employees.

A fourth reason is that some data we’ve been collecting says that learning environments with these ingredients increase EC. In a recent survey we asked employees from a variety of industries seven questions about their learning and development experiences. The main finding of interest was the strong correlation between EC and those who could positively answer the question “I have received training that has helped me understand myself better”.

So what does increased EC as a result of effective learning and development sound like in practice?

After completing some of our recent workshops that explored the relationship between self-awareness and role effectiveness (we naturally tried to use the ingredients in the best way possible) a participant made the following comment: “I’ve learnt so much about myself and for the first time feel like I’ve actually been trained as a real person…” Needless to say she was extremely grateful to her employer and returned to her role feeling more confident and informed about how she wanted to operate. Increased EC? Check!

There is great reward waiting for organisations who can give their employees an experience that prompts this kind of reflection and commentary.

In our opinion, learning and development must be delivered in a way that contributes to two outcomes:

1. The practical learning outcome (e.g. increased knowledge about customer service or the new software package etc).

2. An increase in EC.

A well timed, well considered learning experience with ‘the ingredients’ can transform an employee’s ability to deliver on their primary role and increase their Employee Connectedness level. It’s not just about the mere presence of programs.

Is your learning and development schedule increasing Employee Connectedness? Is it building strong and productive relationships between employees? 

Employer of Choice? It’s all in the EC inspired story

I have a great mate who runs a website http://www.vibevillage.com.au. In short, the site facilitates word-of-mouth marketing by linking new products to those individuals most likely to use them (who get the products for free and tell others about their experience via the website and social networks). The better the product, the more word-of-mouth spread by the recipients, the more products sold.

This principle of word-of-mouth marketing is just as powerful in the case of becoming an employer of choice.

This is particularly so with the prolific commentary that is shared amongst peer groups via Facebook, Twitter and blogs about the ups and downs of their day-to-day experience at work.

So what influences this story that’s being shared? We’d argue the level of Employee Connectedness (EC) an employee has.

A quick example: An organisation looks a million bucks – great graduate website, great employee website, leadership programs, quotes from the EO appear on written materials.  But someone who knows someone told you that they’re no good to work for. A friend of a friend had a bad experience working for this employer and from what you read between the lines it wasn’t a one off experience.

The insider story is always going to be a really powerful force in making a decision about who to work for. The result is that an employers ’employee narrative’ becomes a destructive force in their pursuit to attract the best talent possible. Word-of-mouth  promotion has a big impact at any time, but is even more influential in the current job market where young employees are only too able to exercise their freedom of choice when it comes to who they work for.

We recently gathered some data from young employees between the ages of 16 and 35 from a variety of industries. Two important things emerged regarding the link between EC and the ability of an org to attract and retain young talent. First, there was a statistically significant relationship between EC and a young employee’s intention to stay with their employer.

The second involved using our EC diagnostic to measure the relationship between EC levels and employee’s willingness to tell a positive story to friends and family about their employer (using a tool called the Net Promoter Score -NPS).

We found 28% of respondents were in the Detractors category – those who willingly tell a negative story about their employer. About 40% were in the Passives category – those who are ambivalent (neither positive or negative) about the story they tell about their employer. Lastly, about 30% of respondents fell in the Promoters category – those who willingly tell a positive story about their employer.

Most interestingly, we found that individuals self-reported levels of EC were strongly correlated with their NPS (.612 for those who are statistically minded!). With some more statistical work, we found that if the EC levels of the young employees in our data set were to increase by about 24%, statistically the following would occur –

  • The number of employees in the ‘Promoter’ category would increase by 39%
  • The number of Detractors would decrease by 16%

Becoming an employer of choice starts with ensuring existing staff are experiencing high levels of Employee Connectedness. Their positive stories will flow from the inside out – Facebook and Twitter will make sure of it!

Loneliness, Gen Y + Employee Connectedness: The trifecta of opportunity

There was an interesting article in The Age newspaper recently speaking about the social isolation or loneliness of so called Gen Y. Despite having significant social media connectedness, the article suggests younger people still experience a social loneliness. Wow what an opportunity for organisations who employ Gen Y!

Why? Because, employers find themselves in the position where if they can create meaningful/productive relationships with their young staff (relationships that if you take the lead of the article Gen Y aren’t currently getting) they can reap the benefits of increased Employee Connectedness. The benefits of increased Employee Connectedness (EC) can be massive and very influential. However, for an employer to take advantage of this opportunity they have to be smart enough to know that it takes more than a –

  1. One-size-fits all solution
  2. Snappy employee website and employer branding with a nice catch-phrase
  3. Blatant attempt to buy employee commitment

We recently heard about a hospital that, in an attempt to better retain graduate nurses, offered them part-time positions (a direct response to the Gen Y rhetoric of “they like flexibility”). This had no impact on turnover and only achieved one thing – higher staff costs! Why? Because there was no net Employee Connectedness gain (I would imagine such a move would actually decrease EC or at best delay it’s development). 

Employers who are willing to assess and view their organisations through an EC lens will soon start to see two things very clearly 1. The things/people that are eroding EC and, 2. The opportunities that exist unique to their organisation to increase it. 

When it comes to increasing EC we encourage organisations to think big, but act small. That is, think big about the degree to which you believe EC can be increased and the resultant improvement in turnover, motivation, employee word of mouth promotion of employer etc.  Think small about how you will increase it. Not everything has to equal a new program or another org structural change. EC is built in the micro of organisations. It might be that you re-design your learning and development slightly in order to increase EC. It might be that your induction processes are changed or your performance management processes are altered to promote EC more directly.

For those that employ ‘Gen Y’ and who are prepared to look through an Employee Connectedness lens, there is great improvement that awaits…

Welcome!

Hi and welcome to our very new blog!

Over the coming weeks we’ll be providing examples of our work, stories about what we see and hear about the impact of Employee Connectedness in organisations.

As we get ready feel free to visit our website to read some more about us.

We’ve got so many stories to share and hopefully many comments, questions, insights to get back through people following our work.