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Engage and Enable Frontline Teams: Deliver Better CX

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Image: Brain light - Alamy Stock Photo
Earlier this month, I attended AskNicely's virtual Global Frontline Experience Summit. At this virtual event, Robert Galop, VP of marketing, AskNicely, explained why the standard customer experience model doesn't work for service businesses and frontline teams. Post-event, No Jitter caught up with Galop to gain additional insight on what does work for frontline teams and how they can meet customer expectations.
Responses have been edited for conciseness and clarity.
How does supporting the frontline team translate directly into a better experience for the customer?
RG: Over the past couple of years, the concept of an improving employee experience having a direct impact on [an improving] customer experience has been building momentum. Frontline workers are a core part of the overall customer experience. It only stands to reason that more engaged and more enabled frontline teams will be able to deliver a better customer experience.
Empowered frontline teams are better equipped to address customer needs. They have access to real-time data that allows them to react quicker to changes in customer demand, and with direct access to customer feedback, they can build on what’s working and improve what’s not working. We have seen the impact empowered frontline teams have on our customers’ business results, and it is also evident in the results of our recently-released 2022 State of Frontline Survey.
  • Companies that invest in their frontline teams get better ROI from their customer experience initiatives, like more than doubling customer satisfaction and a 41% improvement in revenue
Why doesn’t a standard customer experience model work for service businesses and frontline teams? What tools and processes must they implement to fix the problem?
RG: The standard customer experience model consists of collecting customer feedback, running complex analysis on the feedback, putting the analysis into reports, distributing reports to executives, identifying initiatives and improvements to make, and executing projects. And the standard customer experience model still has a fatal flaw: it takes time to process all of this data, create reports, and filter them out through the organization. Frontline teams, which have the most impact on customer experience, either receive data months after they need it or never receive it at all.
We’ve primarily seen two types of companies when it comes to customer experience:
  1. Companies that are following this model and not getting as much ROI from their customer experience initiatives as they should be
  2. Companies that aspire to follow this model, but don’t start because they can’t make the financial and people investment.
To be sure, there are companies that are getting fantastic results from the standard customer experience model, but we see many more companies that fall into one of the two categories above.
To your question about “how do we fix the problem,” one of the most immediate things you can do is reimagine how the feedback-analyze-report-change process works.
For companies focused on customer experience (which is just about every company these days), the key things to reimagine are who needs to see the feedback, how quickly you can get that feedback to the right people, and how you present that feedback.
Having worked with over 1,400 companies in the past seven years, AskNicely found that people who need to see feedback are those closest to the experience—usually the frontline team—and that the feedback is most impactful when it makes it to the frontline team every day.
In the case of frontline employees, the most meaningful and actionable data is provided in daily bite-sized recognition and coaching. At AskNicely, we are big advocates of making bite-sized incremental improvements that create big change over time.
You describe the company as connecting the dots between employee experience, customer experience, and revenue growth for service businesses. As more workplaces go hybrid, what’s one thing in the employee experience that companies must keep in mind to maintain the rest of the connections to the customer experience and revenue growth?
RG: We have seen across the board that some level of remote work is here to stay. As teams stay remote—either permanently or in hybrid—a big challenge for leaders is keeping lines of communication open and a shared sense of experience and community across the remote team members.
There’s no shortage of experts who have weighed in on the power of focusing on employee experience. You’re seeing more focus on this concept of employee experience and customer experience working in tandem to drive business results. We have seen in our own research that companies who invest in employee satisfaction programs see over 50% higher ROI from their employee efficiency and customer satisfaction investments.
And as we talk about the great resignation and how difficult it is to find and retain talent, it’s never been truer that employees are one of the biggest competitive differentiators for any company.
We have taken this to heart at AskNicely as we embrace a work culture based on shared experiences across our locations. From programs such as “Work from Anywhere,” where AskNicely employees receive an annual stipend for them to work from anywhere in the world, to periodically bringing our teams together in exciting offsite locations, to continually monitoring and adjusting to feedback on company culture.
What are two or three ways a company can empower their frontline teams to meet customers’ expectations?
RG: We have a process that we take customers through that begins with setting and publishing your service standards for your employees and customers to see. This process seems like such a small item, but it’s huge in that it serves as the foundation for everything else you do—what your customers can expect, what your employees need to do, and how you structure your customer experience. It may be surprising, but our 2022 State of Frontline Survey found that less than 20% of companies do this right.
Once companies have their service standard in place, the next step is to collect customer feedback - not just at the company level, but at the team and preferably at the individual worker level—and get this feedback to the frontline teams and employees daily. Again, here’s where the traditional customer experience model tends to fall apart, with companies spending too much and taking too long to identify and distribute the relevant feedback for their frontline teams.
In the spirit of keeping this to three things, the third step is to ensure you have a program in place to drive a better employee experience. That includes making sure they have the tools they need to be successful and making sure that you recognize the good work that employees do regularly. For us, this step begins with our product's recognition capabilities and continues with the two-way feedback capabilities that we provide to frontline employees and their leaders.
Blue-sky time: What is one feature you want to see in customer service software in the future—and why that particular feature?
RG: Simplicity. So many companies fall into the trap of measuring everything just because you can measure everything. Then they get stuck in analysis paralysis and end up doing very little with the data they are collecting. The 80/20 rule is so relevant to customer experience in that 80% of the benefit can be obtained from doing 20% of the work. We have focused heavily on that at AskNicely, helping companies identify the things that truly matter so that we can create the best possible outcome in the shortest amount of time.