Want To Really Engage & Retain Your People? Re-Design Your Customer Visit Program.

Image Source: Unsplash by Michael Aleo

Most leaders think about employee engagement as a path to improving customer experiences. In addition, traditionally, customer contact is limited to executives, sales, and support groups–employees whose roles include responsibilities involving customer contact. This is usually a relatively tiny segment of your workforce.

What if we turn the traditional thinking around, to consider a different perspective? Now, we’re asking ourselves this question: What is the impact of customer interaction on employee engagement?

Did you know that personal encounters with customers have unique potential to transform the way an employee views his or her role? Recent studies report 74% of people who consider their jobs to be customer-facing find their jobs meaningful. If we turn the traditional thinking around, we bring about another perspective to consider: What is the impact of customer interaction on employee engagement?

People who find their work meaningful tend to be higher performers, more committed and less likely to leave.

Feeling connected to customers is a powerful source of employee happiness, motivation and retention. It’s recognized that employees who are shielded or prevented from encountering customers are often the ones whose roles can be most enriched through customer interaction. Imagine the impact of deepening and expanding a customer focus throughout the organization. What are the potential implications of providing this experience to your people company-wide?

It’s a big, bold commitment to drive this change. It may seem overwhelming and not doable at first. And, you may logically observe most jobs don’t require direct customer contact, so how could this work? But, if it could work, it could catalyze a dramatic improvement over time for your business’ bottom line. While delivering a superior customer experience, you will be creating a work experience for your people that provides an entirely new level of meaning in their work, meaning that often includes a more personal, emotional bond between the employee and the company.

Clearly, there will be some amount of change needed in roles, as well as training needs, at a minimum. Where would one begin?

Re-designing your Customer Visit Program may sensible, highly effective and doable place to start, and that could serve as a pilot project to expand employee inclusion.

Following are a few actions to consider in creating a pilot project to re-design your Customer Visit Program.

Image Source: Unsplash by Jon Tyson

Re-Thinking Your Customer Visit Program

As the pandemic continues its evolution, and increasing numbers of people return to work and business travel, it’s an optimum time to take a fresh look at your Customer Visit Program.

Customer visits provide windows of opportunity for participants to listen to customers and develop a better understanding of customer perspectives and needs.

Whether you’re using trade shows, user conferences, travel to customer sites, and/or travel by customers to your facilities, you have the opportunity to create or re-shape any or all of of these customer-facing opportunities.

As you think about this, ask yourself how you might:

  • Increase the number and range of employees who participate
  • Improve the sophistication of these visits
  • Select customers and employees to participate
  • Prepare people for new involvement in customer visits
  • Leverage this opportunity to bring employees into a mindset of teamwork across functions to meet customers’ needs vs. blaming others for issues
  • Creatively take employees on the journey customers take to work with your company, from start to finish
  • Develop goals, listening sessions, discussion guides, and agendas
  • Develop and deliver group training/preparation sessions and one-on-one coaching meetings
  • Conduct de-briefings and create actionable reports after visits are completed

In expanding your Visit program, some of the prime targets for participation might include employees who design your company’s products or services, information technology staff, inside sales and customer service people, technical support representatives, members of production, quality, and other manufacturing functions.

When a customer becomes visible as a person, employees are able to deepen their understanding of customers needs by seeing the customer’s point of view. This can create fuel desire to deliver your brand’s promises. Often, employees will more thoughtfully do their work, which enables them to generate ideas for change or improvement in work processes as well as to spot problems in time to prevent them from reaching the customer.

In addition, participation in customer visits and debriefings can result in employees gaining a better understanding about the company’s internal processes, specifications and policies. Expanding customer visit programs to include others not typically invited can bring about both superior customer experiences and engaged employees who feel greater purpose and pride in what they do.

Once you’ve launched your re-designed Customer Visit Program, consider going further by taking additional action to expand, enable and support customer focus in your organization.

Additional Steps

Image source: Unsplash by maxime-horlaville-CSWllKT9wPw-unsplash

You didn’t come this far to only get this far. Following are two additional actions to take to enrich the work experience and more closely tie key infrastructure elements to performance results to heightened focus on the customer.

Spread Customer Focus Across the Organization

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Providing training for your non-customer-facing employees fosters collaboration and connection. By working more closely together, crossing departmental and shift lines, many people will feel compelled to go the extra step. They will change the way they view and approach their roles. They will love being part of your organization.

Customers will never love a company until the employees love it first.” — Simon Sinek

Consider the following 5 actions as you set out to prepare your people for new involvement with customers:

  1. Build a line-of-sight between each employee and team that enables them to have a clear understanding of how they contribute to the customers’ experience as they do their work each day.
  2. Design interactive, hands-on training and development activities that enable employees to use discussions and teamwork to identify answers and solutions for themselves.
  3. Increase opportunities for cross-functional and cross-shift teamwork and collaboration.
  4. Work with managers to identify ways they can provide coaching and training to develop and empower employees to deliver superior customer experiences in their current roles
  5. Increase customer related communication across the organization to effectively share success stories, solutions to customer problems, employee suggestions implemented, and other information to better connect employees with the customer.

While this is not an all-inclusive list, these ideas may help you to generate insights and plan actions to add a special dimension to the employee experience, one that will likely cascade so as to create great customer experiences as well.

Align Performance Measures and Rewards

As you heighten the focus of your people on building better and better customer experiences, you may find your company’s purpose and/or strategy needs to be more customer focused.

Metrics, incentives and rewards will also need to align tightly with and support prioritization of customer satisfaction, of delivering the brand’s promises or value proposition — versus other metrics that are used by senior management to manage the business.

Focusing employees specifically on a critical few measures that monitor success in terms of customer satisfaction or customer experience, where they have clear impact as they do their jobs, will simplify selection of metrics and communication about performance on a continuous basis.

When organizations use a variety of metrics from leading to lagging indicators, it’s effective for business leaders and for certain groups. People in different roles and levels of leadership may be accountable for metrics that aren’t as relevant to others.

If your purpose, strategy, and differentiation/value proposition focus on customer experience, it’s important to avoid using metrics that don’t relate to or support customer experience as the top priority; conflicting or unaligned metrics often result in conflicts, disagreements and difficulty in decision-making. Conflicting metrics make it difficult or even impossible for employees to determine what matters most, day in and day out.

Carefully designed metrics can be unifiers of people. When people have a shared purpose, they are aligned as to what matters most.

It is not only purpose, strategy, differentiation and metrics that need to be focused on the customer. Incentives and rewards also must align. A good example is Adobe’s short term incentive program, which connects every employee to the customer. The payout is based on success measures such as customer retention as well as the company’s revenue performance.

What’s Next

Expanding employee participation in your Customer Visit Program clearly provides potential benefits to customers, employees and the organization. Providing this opportunity is a clear demonstration of your respect for your people and exemplifies their value as partners with leadership. In proving their credibility with you, you improve your credibility with them. At a time when hiring and employee retention are so critical, so competitive and so challenging, focusing your people on the customer may be the ultimate strategy for all stakeholders.

Taking additional steps to provide your people with visibility and personal involvement in interactions with customers, on a day-to-day basis, opens the door to greater job satisfaction while providing customers with continuously better experiences with your business.

Marrying the company purpose, strategy, differentiation, metrics, incentives and rewards can dramatically help clarify the company’s message and reinforce a shared goal that applies to all employees across functions and geographies. A common goal enables decision making and problem solving to become easier, less a source of conflict between groups, and therefore becomes more collaborative.

We welcome comments and opinions, so please share your thinking on this and on our newsletter.

Sources/Recommended Reading

“Customer Visits Building a Better Market Focus, Second Edition,” by Edward F. McQuarrie, copyright 1998 by Sage Publications

“Maslow on Management,” by Abraham H. Maslow, Foreword by Warren Bennis, copyright 1998 by Ann R. Kaplan, published by John Wiley & Sons, Inc.

“Four Ways to Build a Customer-Centric Culture,” by Mike Houghton, Forbes Councils Member, Forbes Magazine, August 29, 2019

“6 Ways to Build a Customer-Centric Culture,” by Denise Lee Yohn, Harvard Business Review, October 2, 2018

“How to Inspire Engage and Equip Your Employees to Care About Your Customers 10 Things to Build Into Your CX Training,” by Blue Beyond Consulting

“Report: How a customer centric culture ties to happier employees,” Blog, Survey Monkey.com

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