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Time to integrate Voice of the Customer and employee engagement surveys?

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16th Feb 2015
Editor HRZone
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Employee engagement has already emerged as one of the items high on the agenda of customer-centric businesses in 2015, and was a key theme at last week's inaugural Customer Experience Professionals Association (CXPA) event in the UK. 

With customer experience management increasingly turning its focus internal, it's unsurprising that the likes of leading CX analyst Bruce Temkin are calling 2015 "the year of the employee". 

With this in mind, Jamie Lawrence, editor of HRzone.co.uk, recently interviewed Paul Barnes, UK country manager at enterprise feedback management (EFM) company Questback, about how customer experience and employee engagement segue, and how the voice of the employee can be just as rewarding as customer feedback. 

JL. What's the impetus behind the recent movement towards connecting employee engagement with the customer experience?

PB. When asked to name their two top business priorities, CEOS consistently rank the customer experience and getting the best out of staff at the top of the list. Collecting and acting on feedback from customers and employees is key to driving improvement in these areas. This means that the majority of companies now have Voice of the Customer and Employee Engagement (EE) surveys in place.

Analysed in isolation they give some insight, but there is a growing realisation that integrating the two generates much deeper insight and significantly increase benefits. For example, it can help increase understanding of customer behaviour, link consumer satisfaction with specific employees and gain insight from staff that enhances customer feedback.  Ultimately it enables the organisation to make better decisions.

JL. Why do organisations derail and lose sight of the customer experience as the final end point of the organisational cycle?

PB. There are a number of reasons, principally misaligned incentives, technology issues and  siloed departmental view of different parts of the customer journey. Essentially they all boil down to not acting as a single, integrated business that makes the customer experience part of everyone’s job.

As we all know the relationship between customers and organisations has changed and consumers are much more demanding, and with social media, have outlets to share their thoughts about brands with the entire world. The balance of power has shifted and companies need to embrace this, and engage customers in an ongoing dialogue that actually drives decision making.  The pioneers are turning customers into fans and using them to input to business decisions in areas such as product development.

JL. Connecting employee engagement with customer experience needs to be an organisational-wide approach - how do you encourage this?

PB. It has to start at the top and entails a complete commitment from everyone involved. This means senior managers need to lead by example, outlining a vision and making it clear how everyone within the organisation can play their part.

It is a long-term process, but companies need to publicise their successes internally and show that it provides an opportunity for staff to be rewarded for customer-focused behaviour and attitudes – it isn’t something for employees to fear.

Our own QuestBack Enterprise Feedback Study of UK business found that companies that are integrating are seeing major benefits. 83% reported an improved customer experience and 75% felt it motivated employees. So it becomes a virtuous circle – more motivated employees then provide a better customer experience, which attracts and retains consumers. In turn, companies get a reputation as a great place to work and therefore attract and keep the best talent.

JL. To what extent does staff upskilling and training fit into the paradigm of improving customer experience through employee engagement?

PB. Engaged employees provide a better experience to customers, and by integrating CX and EE feedback you can identify who your most engaged employees are and analyse their behaviour and actions. This can be used as the basis of training programmes to spread best practice across the organisation, with your stars identified, rewarded and highlighted as role models.

On the flip side, integrating feedback can show who your least engaged employees are – and the impact they have on the customer experience. This highlights opportunities for training and upskilling to help these staff improve.

JL. What are the biggest practical obstacles companies face when connecting staff engagement with customer experience?

PB. There are two major obstacles – cultural and technical. Normally in an organisation employee engagement sits within the HR department, while customer experience is the responsibility of marketing or customer service. Often these teams have very little experience of working together and have traditionally had separate roles, cultures and working styles. Therefore they need to build a stronger, shared understanding of how working together can not only help the business achieve its aims, but also assist them in advancing the strategic roles of HR and CX within the organisation. I’ve seen a growing number of companies creating cross-departmental teams to connect customer and employee feedback – alternatively others are building a central insight function that spans all feedback.

The second obstacle is related to the first, and is that each department is likely to collect feedback in different ways, on different timescales and using different systems. It can be very hard to initially marry up an annual anonymous employee survey with activity-driven customer feedback provided at the end of a sales transaction. Nevertheless the technology platforms are now available that can centralise all feedback. This also provides HR with another benefit, by delivering a platform that makes it easier to move away from a single, annual EE survey to gathering more constant feedback from staff through an integrated, real-time approach.

JL. What internal problems typically spur firms into taking a closer look at how staff are impacting on customer satisfaction?

PB. Often, internal problems aren’t that visible, as the systems aren’t in place to link customer experience and employee engagement. That means that problems can be hard to track down in many cases. However factors such as high staff turnover, increasing customer churn or external loss of market share can pinpoint potential problems.

Unfortunately a lot of businesses still rely on annual staff surveys to uncover internal problems, which could mean waiting 12 months to get feedback from staff. This is simply too long in today’s business world and provides another reason for integrating CX and EE feedback systems and ensuring you are regularly polling staff for their views.

JL. How can feedback from customers be best integrated into this approach?

PB. It can be integrated in two main ways. Firstly, you can relate customer satisfaction back to the individual employee who delivered the service, enabling you to identify motivated employees. It is then possible to make customer satisfaction a measurable part of every employee’s objectives and put in place training to help bridge any performance gaps.

Moving away from day-to-day operations, bringing together customer and employee feedback delivers insight that is vital for business planning. For example, retailers invest millions in creating and rolling out new store formats. Measuring their success and fine tuning layouts is therefore critical. But too often, customer feedback takes months to collect and employee insight is only provided via the next annual engagement survey. Using a unified platform to collect feedback from both groups, on the first day that store one is open, provides invaluable information that can be used to proactively fine tune future openings rather than having to wait for customer research to catch up with reality.

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