Ben WhitterBen WhitterJune 19, 2018
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13min262

Ben Whitter is known as Mr Employee Experience in business circles, and his role as a global Employee Experience (EX) leader brings him into contact with many companies keen to improve how they accommodate their most important resource – their staff.
He is also the CEO and Founder of the World Employee Experience Institute, which partnered the 2018 Employee Experience Awards. As part of his blog series for Customer Experience Magazine, Ben is touring the headquarters of awards finalists to uncover and highlight what makes them EX pioneers…

The quality of the Employee Experience is fundamental to the client experience.

It is a distinct competitive advantage that provides a massive opportunity in business, and no-one knows this more than the Group CEO of DRP Group, Dale Parmenter.

DRP, a creative agency with 250 employees and a turnover of £27.5 million, is light years ahead of where the company found itself a few years ago. Imagine having 60 percent of your business wiped out almost overnight. Well, that’s exactly what happened to DRP Group following 9/11.

That moment changed everything and the company was on the brink. This was a crisis on a scale that the management team had never faced before. The response was not too dissimilar to any other company in this position – they had to cut costs and find ways to remain in business.

One cost was an employee base that had grown significantly. The proposal that was taken to staff was to scale back employee numbers by nearly half and let people go.

However, at the get together, one employee presented a different idea. They were determined to move ahead and grow the business together. There was clearly a real and deep connection to the company.

This alternative idea was a collective pay cut across the business that would save jobs and ensure the firm weathered this storm. It was a profound moment for the CEO and proved to be a major catalyst that provided the foundation for the multi-award-winning company we see today.

During this crisis, the CEO directly experienced the full power of leading in a human-centred way, and the huge benefits that this unlocks for everyone. Employees became the solution and the business took this to heart. The business made transparency and trust the central pillars of a now award-winning approach that ensures people feel a part of something special every day.

The group, bonded by a renewed sense of togetherness, drew on their collective experiences to create new revenue streams which would bring them back stronger than ever before. Inevitably, with employees now at the centre of the business, morale and business results went through the roof.

It was a very special time at DRP and the CEO determined that they could never go back to the way it was. They absolutely needed to build an employee-centric company to lead, not just for the turnaround, but the future growth of the company.

Fast forward a few years, and I find myself standing in DRP’s reception surrounded by a gazillion industry awards.

The firm recently won Silver in the Learning and Development category of the UK Employee Experience Awards, and it’s easy to see why they have been successful.

What stands out from my visit and several hours talking with Dale is the journey the company went through and how that experience created a successful people-centric organisation.

Experience is woven into everything at DRP, and connecting this is the company’s mantra ‘Anything’s Possible’. This is the way people experience the business every day and through this lens experiences are crafted, created, and delivered for clients.

So much so that just a taste of the Employee Experience and the way this business operates is enough to convert 85 percent of the prospective clients that are invited to tour the company and ask questions directly to employees.

The company is now doing the same within the candidate experience and people who are interested in working for DRP can spend time at the HQ in the Midlands. This type of approach requires a significant level of trust and at DRP it is incredibly high – this may partially explain why there is a 92 percent staff retention rate.

The team is involved in every aspect of the business and this is a genuine example of growth by design. It is conscious, intentional, and aligned to drive business performance.

The sense that the founder sincerely cares about the people within the business is palpable. My high-energy conversation with Dale spilled out of the meeting room and we explored the company in-depth, from values to systems to people. As we walked around the offices and the storage and creation facilities, what became evident was that the CEO was in amongst the detail of the employee and client experience, and I mean details: the history, the background, the changes, the people, the stories, the anecdotes, the developments, and the achievements.

What also became clear was how little HR was involved in this. It may come as a surprise to learn, given the level of employee-centricity, that HR was resisted at every turn. Resisted by the CEO and for a very long-time.

He resisted the need to even form a function around human resources; it just did not sync well with the way they progress the company and community. What’s the point? Aside from compliance, administration, and regulation, why did he need the function? What value did it add?

These are big questions coming from the CEO of a successful company and should serve as a wake-up call to professionals busying themselves with low-value work. But if that is the case, how do they lead EX projects and deliver the work?

Well, that’s simple- as a team and based on an internal client brief. For example, for a senior project, if the CEO is the client then everything within the business is mobilised to deliver it. It is treated like a client engagement, which also serves to sharpen skills, process, and the overall experience, but the high standards delivered on the outside must also be evident on the inside of the business. This, I believe, sets EX organisations apart from the rest.

While others are squabbling over internal agendas and resources, organisations like DRP are delivering based on a strong and accountable mandate from the top. I have talked about the CEO as the ‘Chief Experience Officer’ many times before.

In these scenarios, colleagues from the Board are matched with key talent from marketing, internal communications, and other functions to develop, prototype, and bring into operation experiences that add significant value to client and Employee Experience.

Examples of this include the ‘build your own’ performance review experience, HERO awards, and internally designed and produced apps to connect colleagues.

It also includes the drip-feed on TV displays around the firm highlighting key news, progress, and other key experiences; one such experience is the annual Christmas party for employees and families. Harry Potter took over DRP last year in a themed winter wonderland. This £100,000 experience will live long in the memory and affects not just employees, but also families and clients.

This is a team that is together and they are often found working on charity projects and experiences that impact society at large, which is another theme within EX organisations, as companies seek to become more sustainable and environmentally-friendly.

Investment is strong in career development and in the all-staff meetings to maintain and deepen to connection within the company. All staff can attend a two-day event and experience to take a pause in the year.

One evening is a meeting for the leadership community and deals with themes specific for that audience. The main elements of the overall experience include speed-dating with the board, client panels – where staff can ask candid questions to existing clients – four development workshops, and sessions where every board member can be asked any questions about the business…and then it’s party time!

It’s not all work – EX organisations are never afraid to treat people as adults and have fun, so a key element of the event is a staff party.

There is a lot more I could say about my visit to this company, about the specifics within the Employee Experience, and I may follow-up in the future on this, but I think the point of this story has been well and truly made already.

The role of the CEO and top team in creating progressive and employee/client-centric workplaces is critical because the quality of your Employee Experience is a direct reflection of your CEO and, quite frankly, I believe that ‘Anything’s Possible’ with a people-centric CEO.


Ian GoldingIan GoldingJune 8, 2018
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4min543

Customer Experience specialist Ian Golding, author of new book Customer What: The Honest and Practical Guide to Customer Experience, writes for Customer Experience Magazine, offering his expert insight to help businesses improve their CX offering. 

To ask Ian a question on how to boost the Customer Experience provided by YOUR business, please email your question to editor@cxm.world. The best questions will be featured in future instalments…

‘What are some simple techniques for brands to engage with customers that makes the interaction feel personal and not ‘cookie cutter?’

What a great question. Personalisation has been a hot topic for a number of years now – both in terms of digital and human interaction. Whilst it is possible for extremely clever techno genii to make it feel that apps, websites, and other digital gadgetry actually know who we are and what we want, it is far more difficult to enable consistently personal and personable human interactions.

The fundamental reason for this is that for an interaction to ‘feel personal’, then it is essential to enable the human on either side of the interaction to behave in a manner appropriate for the interaction. Every exchange with a customer is different. If we ‘tell’ employees to conduct these exchanges in a specific, scripted, cookie cutter manner, then the exchange will not feel personal. We would never dream of ordering customers to speak back to us in a scripted manner, so why should we expect the same from employees.

As a result, if brands want to engage with customers to make interactions feel personal, they MUST allow their employees to THINK and ACT in the interests of the customer – every time! Just this morning, I bought my breakfast at a Pret a Manger in London. I was greeted with a pretty standard “good morning” – I would not have expected more.

However, the server calculated my bill incorrectly, and undercharged me. When he realised his mistake, I offered to pay the balance with cash.

“No problem sir – it was my mistake, have that on us,” he said.

That made the entire exchange feel very personal. This is what Pret a Manger empower their people to do. This is what so many brands do not trust their people to do.

To make CX personal, brands must trust their employees to do the right thing for the customer.


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4min712

Customer Experience specialist Ian Golding, author of new book Customer What: The Honest and Practical Guide to Customer Experience, today begins a new feature in Customer Experience Magazine, in which he offers his expert insight to help businesses improve their CX offering.

To ask Ian a question on how to boost the Customer Experience provided by YOUR business, please email your question to editor@cxm.world. The best questions will be featured in future instalments…

“As the owner of an SME with limited resources, how can I keep up with the level of CX that today’s customers expect? What are some simple and cheap methods of providing it?”

Every organisation has a Customer Experience, and always has had. Size and scale of the company is irrelevant – it is as important to understand the basic fundamentals as a company of two people, as it is in a corporation of thirty thousand.

In principle, the smaller the company, the ‘easier’ it should be to have everyone in it working towards delivering an experience that meets (and sometimes exceeds) customer expectation. The key is to ensure you have absolute clarity and focus. Large organisations struggle with both of these things – yet so do smaller ones. To ensure that you have the clarity and focus needed, you should make certain you are able to answer the following questions at a minimum:

Do I know who my customers are?

Not just as an account number, but as real people. To do this, everyone in my company must understand what customers want from us, what their challenges are, and what they value most.

Do I know what my company should be doing for my customers?

What experience do you want them to have? The best way for a small company to answer this question is with three more questions! Inspired by the Golden Circle methodology created by Simon Sinek:

a) why does my company exist in the first place – what is its purpose?

b) how can I make the purpose a reality?

c) what products/services do my clients actually need?

Every employee MUST know the answers to these questions and be continually focused on delivering the experience you want your customers to have.

Does every employee know the role they play in delivering the experience you want your customers to have?

Ensuring they have clarity on this, coupled with giving them the ability to think and act in the interests of the customer, should enable your purpose to live and breathe.

Ensuring that your whole organisation understands these questions and knows the role they play, is not expensive to do. The secret is to keep it simple. Simplicity of the message combined with a never-ending commitment to delivering it, will be the difference between a truly customer-centric organisation and one that is not.

Start every day reminding your people of it – a five minute meeting is not difficult to do, but will suffice to make sure that your purpose is at the front and centre of everyone’s minds – every single working day.


Ben WhitterBen WhitterMay 14, 2018
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7min532

Ben Whitter is known as Mr Employee Experience in business circles, and his role as a global Employee Experience (EX) leader brings him into contact with many companies keen to improve how they accommodate their most important resource – their staff.
He is also the CEO and Founder of the World Employee Experience Institute, which is partnering the 2018 Employee Experience Awards. As part of an exciting new blog series exclusive to Customer Experience Magazine, Ben is touring the headquarters of awards finalists to uncover and highlight what makes them EX pioneers…

 

The weekend before I visited the IGNIS HQ in Fulham, the whole team were in New York for a team experience – a great example to begin with when describing the exceptional Employee Experience on offer within this ambitious marketing agency.

On arrival, I was offered a personalised welcome, a Virtual Reality presentation of IGNIS staff members’ award-winning work with clients, and popcorn!

IGNIS is an organisation that shares my own philosophy: experience is everything! This shines a bright light through their entire business strategy – from the way they work with clients to the way they intentionally develop the experience of work for their own staff.

Valuing values

As a growing company, the team recognised that a major factor to enable continued success was to double-down on the core values of the business whilst developing aligned experiences for their new and existing staff. It was this fusion of values and experiences that had a profound impact on the business.

Two measures that matter most to companies are profit and earnings. The EX at IGNIS has been cited as the key factor in a 17 percent rise in gross profit in 2017. The organisation has also won a number of prestigious creative and financial awards. EX has delivered incredible results, no question, but what were these experiences and how did IGNIS deliver what I’m calling ‘Growth by Design’?

The ‘IGN-itiative’ platform was developed to enhance and elevate the experience of work at the firm. The kick-off was the ‘Iglympics’, an unashamed “school sports day meets Bake-Off”, which was further developed to include their Ugandan charity partner, EaC, with the ‘Ign-athon’, a 10k annual fundraising run held alongside other cultural events.

The culmination is their bi-annual trip to Uganda to build a cattle-shed and teach in schools. I also enjoyed hearing about their ‘Virtual Fridays’ concept, which actually takes place on Thursday! This is a global digital meeting for colleagues around the world to share, create, and interact. Another example of this bond-building (and one that actually does take place on a Thursday) is their legendary ‘Thirsty Thursdays’ – a regular get-together of the team to have fun in different ways.

These events are consciously and thoughtfully designed to connect people with purpose, and to unlock the power of this community of colleagues and friends. They bring people together to work and learn together in an environment that cultivates trust and positive behaviours whilst amplifying and ensuring values are genuinely lived and breathed within the business.

Investing in ideas

The organisation also invests in ideas and has demonstrated some great examples of things they are taking a punt on by backing staff to create a new product or something of real value to their client base. This is powerful – not just listening to staff, but backing them with funds to get something off the ground. True EX organisations are not walking blindly into the future; they are constantly evolving, innovating, and co-creating with their staff.

A big buzzword within Employee Experience these days is alignment. This is something that stood out from the visit. IGNIS work very hard to ensure their experiences, on both the client and employee side, are connected and strongly aligned. This is a critical factor in EX approaches.

IGNIS has consciously cultivated a multi-disciplinary approach to work and a flat structure, which proactively stops a silo mentality from emerging. It is this that enables them to continue to operate with an entrepreneurial and creative flair.

Work hard – play hard

Work hard – play hard is mantra that often presents itself within successful teams, and IGNIS is proud to have built a company based on challenging work while having fun at the same time. In the very fabric of the organisation is a can-do attitude, both in the individual and the organisational sense. This is a team that overcomes challenges together and actively designs experiences to strengthen their bonds.

The company actively encourages a deep connection with the world around each person and encourages colleagues to ‘get out more’. The team is clear that seeing, experiencing, and expanding interactions with the world delivers great work and greater people.

Part of the EX is about reflecting and building on experiences, which is a compelling practice in and of itself, but connecting this to business and individual outcomes is often the part that organisations don’t do. Not IGNIS however – they get that the world, the business, and the employee are connected.


Ian GoldingIan GoldingMay 14, 2018
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12min511

Customer Experience professional consultant Ian Golding is well known to CXM readers thanks to his role as a Non-Executive Editor and a CX Masterclass leader, but his influence is expanding dramatically with the recent publication of his first book, Customer What? The Honest and Practical Guide to Customer Experience.

Now available to purchase from Amazon, this new work is set to become the bible for businesses keen to improve their CX offering, and the first port of call for Customer Experience professionals seeking to fine-tune their skills.

Customer Experience Magazine is proud to be publishing exclusive excerpts from the tome, beginning with an insight into why modern retailers are at a disadvantage to their historical counterparts when it comes to being able to provide a memorable experience for shoppers…

 

I have observed, and been part of, a tidal wave of focus on customer experience. It has always existed (although few realised it), and customers have always been willing to give feedback. But businesses have only recently started to recognise that doing the right thing by their customers, and actively managing the experience, might make sense.

A few years back, my family and I were honoured to take part in a BBC1 ‘living history’ programme called Turn Back Time: The Family. It was an experience like no other, and we were transported back in time to the turn of the 20th century to experience life as our ancestors lived it and understand how life for the family unit has changed over time.

Our experience started in 1914. Life in pre-war Britain felt much simpler than it is today. Although shopping by mail order had been invented, most shopping happened in person, in a physical shop, with real things in it! The overwhelming majority of people didn’t own a car, so most customers would shop locally with independent traders in the high street (remember them?). Payment was also pretty simple – cash or cheque, with no plastic in sight.

As a father in 1914, I learned how important etiquette was. Manners and politeness were evident in all interactions – at home, at work, and as a customer.

Shops were very orderly places, staffed by smartly dressed shopkeepers standing behind tall counters. They knew most of their customers by name, and would pick, and wrap, products by hand while chatting to customers. Most of the Time the shopkeepers did not even have to ask what their customers wanted to buy – they knew already. There was not a great deal of variety in terms of the products on offer, but the shopkeeper knew each customer’s preferences, their family’s preferences, and their budget, and customers trusted them to help find just the right thing, just as they would trust their children’s head teacher or the family doctor.

Fast-forward 100 or so years. Today, customers do not just have two purchase channels to choose from. We have ten that I can think of – physical stores; the telephone; the web; mobile; live chat;SMS; mail order; TV; social; AI-assisted. I am sure I have forgotten one or two! Local availability is not a consideration either – we can buy anything and everything we want, in any way we want, from anywhere in the world. We can, in theory, live our lives without ever talking to anyone or setting foot outside our front door.

It is not at all uncommon to conduct an entire transaction without a human being involved, and even if one is, they are often just reading back a pre-written script. In shops, it is unlikely that anyone will know you personally. Trust isn’t the currency it used to be – it’s likely you are so well informed by technology that the people working in the shop won’t need to help you make your purchase. In fact, if you need help you are likely to turn to Google – you trust the wisdom of the crowd to tell you what others think about an item before you commit to buying it.

So, when was the best time to be a customer? The personal, simple experience of 1914 or the global, convenience-led experience of today?

I am not advocating that we literally turn back time – far from it. It is impossible to deny the remarkable ease and convenience afforded today’s consumer by the amazing connected world we are part of. However, the experience is less fulfilling somehow. It does not always feel good being a customer of the global corporations that distribute the products and services we buy. We create and share stories of organisations that fail to connect emotionally with us. Not only do they not know our names, but very few seem to understand us. Ironically, we’re looking for something we’ve lost: trust. And feeling known and understood and valued, a little like we used to feel in the food old days in 1914.

Is the customer always right?

Many will argue that today’s experience looks the way it does because consumers have demanded it, and will continue to demand more and more. Is that really true, though? The power consumers have today has definitely changed the relationship between business and customer.

“In the rush to chase convenience, efficiency, and lower costs, many businesses have unknowingly and gradually broken the bond of trust that existed between them and their customers.”

But some businesses have adapted to change better than others. These are the customer experience leaders. They offer all the benefits of today’s experience – choice, convenience, and speedy access at affordable prices – but they have done it without ever losing trust. They have consistently made it their mission to extend the personal, empathetic, emotional flavour of the sopping experience of 1914 to our modern day, connected experience.

Today, business leaders who have taken customers for granted in the past are reconsidering their strategy. Even Ryanair CEO, Michael O’Leary – infamous for his very public disdain for customers – claims to have had an epiphany, saying:

“If I had known being nicer to our customers was going to work so well I would have done it years ago.

A whole consulting industry has grown up around creating wonderful-looking customer journey maps. New roles are emerging with ‘customer experience’ in their job titles. Ten years ago, the CCO (or chief customer officer) did not exist. Today, increasing numbers of CCOs are appearing on the scene, alongside customer experience directors; heads of customer experience; customer experience transformists; customer experience futurologists; and VPs of customer success.

Now, more than ever, should be a wonderful time to be a customer

So why do I continue to be on the receiving end of inconsistent, uninspiring, and often substandard customer experiences? Why do I encounter more people who have no idea what customer experience is, than those who do?

Because organisational understanding of customer experience as a discipline is still in its fledgling state. Differentiating on customer experience requires you to embed customer in the psyche of your organisation and every individual who works within it. It is a long-term business strategy, not a quick fix. It requires strategic thinking, scientific measurement, and emotional intelligence. It is an organisation-wide collaborative effort, needing committed leadership and hardcore change management.

This is why group like the Customer Experience Professionals Association (CXPA), founded by Bruce Temkin and Jeanne Bliss, are so vital to the development of our industry. And why a new professional qualification has been created to recognise our complex and ever-evolving skill set.

At times, being a customer experience professional can be lonely and frustrating. Putting the needs of customers and employees at the forefront of everyone’s thinking requires a bucketload of inspiration, dedication, and perspiration. I have seen and heard it all, and believe me I have developed a very thick skin!

No matter what role you play in your organisation (regardless of whether you have customer experience in your job title or not!) you can drive this change. Never give up. Remind yourself every day that our businesses exist to serve customers, and without them we would not exist.

 


John TschohlJohn TschohlMay 8, 2018
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6min812

Creating highly engaged customers is forcing companies to provide their customers with a consistent experience whenever and wherever they need it….digitally.

Did you know that highly engaged customers buy 90 percent more frequently, spend 60 percent more per purchase, and have 3x the annual value (compared to the average customer)? That’s a huge revenue opportunity you could be taking advantage of by digitally transforming your business!

But, in order to deliver on a better customer experience, you first need to understand who this new kind of digital customer is and what they want. It’s clear that the customer is firmly in the driver’s seat.

Personalized customer experiences

Today’s consumer wants organizations to treat them as unique individuals, and know their personal preferences and purchase history.

According to Accenture, 75 percent of customers admit being more likely to buy from a company that:

  • Recognizes them by their name,
  • Knows their purchase history, and
  • Recommends products based on their past purchases.

This sounds like Amazon, one of the best retailers in the world and the best part is customers are happy for Amazon to use their data. Technology has empowered customers to get what they want, whenever they want, and how they want it. Again, Amazon is a “Master” at providing this service to every single customer.

Consumers now expect immediate response (speed) to customer service requests on social media and they would rather engage digitally as opposed to pick up the phone. They also expect the same response times on weekends as on weekdays. This need for instant gratification has forced organizations to remain accessible and on-demand, 24/7 with live people, no IVR and answer in one to two rings. Customers expect responses to be tailored to their needs and issues. They do not want to re-explain the issue.

Everything is now happening in real time, which is why those companies that can offer speed, personalization and accessibility to their customers will win out in the long-run.

Today’s consumers are not loyal to a single mode. They browse in-store, shop online, share feedback through mobile apps and ask questions for your support team on social media networks.

In today’s fast-moving, always connected and always on society, companies are forced to seriously consider implementing a digital transformation strategy, if they haven’t already.

Digital transformation offers organizations an opportunity to engage modern buyers, and deliver on their expectations of a seamless customer experience regardless of channel or place.

1) Customers Expect Immediate Response

Speed matters. How fast you get your product to a customer, how quickly you can accomplish a service task for a client. A three day turnaround on an email, or a long list of menu options on an automated phone system drives customers crazy.

2) Customers Will Figure It Out – With or Without You

It’s always better that they figure it out with you. Cutting-edge technology devised by Apple and Google has led consumers to expect a digital service experience that is clean, simple and user-friendly. No second chances to make a first impression in today’s world. And, if you want to know how to do-it-yourself, just look it up on Youtube and 9 times out of ten, it’s there with instructions. So much easier than reading manufacturer’s instructions.

3) Make Your Website Customer Service Friendly

Whatever you think about your website: it’s one of the main channels your customers will use to figure out how to solve a problem they have.  Do you see your website as a sales tool? Do you see it as an interactive version of your brand? Maybe you feel as though it’s one of those things that “you just have to have nowadays”. I promise you that your customers will search your site for information, even if it’s only to find a phone number to call you.

What are you waiting for? The digital disruption has revealed fantastic opportunities for higher levels of customer engagement. The time is now for customer service teams to take advantage of this and step up to the plate. Think like your customer and give them what they are looking for.

“Deliver first-rate digital experiences and watch your customer knock it out of the park for you.” – John Tschohl


Ben WhitterBen WhitterApril 30, 2018
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9min764

Ben Whitter is known as Mr Employee Experience in business circles, and his role as a global Employee Experience (EX) leader brings him into contact with many companies keen to improve how they accommodate their most important resource – their staff.
He is also the CEO and Founder of the World Employee Experience Institute, which is partnering the 2018 Employee Experience Awards. As part of an exciting new blog series exclusive to Customer Experience Magazine, Ben is touring the headquarters of awards finalists to uncover and highlight what makes them EX pioneers…

 

On my tour of companies which have been shortlisted as finalists in the 2018 UK Employee Experience Awards, my second destination was Startle, an innovative firm that “awakens consumer senses” by helping brands deliver unique experiences in their venues with background music and technology.

I had an inkling I would be very impressed from the get-go; the firm, with its 16 employees, enjoys a 100 percent staff retention rate. Startle is in the business of creating memorable consumer experiences, so it stood to reason that if I was to find a memorable employee experience anywhere, this would be it.

I wasn’t disappointed.

Employees taking ownership

Startle has thrown out the tatty old rule book on building a great company and the experience it should provide for employees. They have created their own rules through experience and innovation.

At the centre of this business model are the employees – or as Startle calls them, ‘owners’. Unlike other organisations which claim they want staff to feel like owners while giving them zero ownership, Startle, from the beginning, has operated a share ownership model. This means that the employees have a genuine stake in the business.

Startle is already committed to giving away 10 percent of the company in the next five years to its staff – that 100 percent employee retention figure might make more sense now, but everything else Startle does is equally as impressive. Given the fact that all employees are owners, there is total transparency with information. Every colleague receives a full data set on performance, including the financial side of things.

This is delivered in real-time performance updates and around a solid set of guarantees to their customer base. Everything is shared so that employees and team leaders can act on the data through candid and focused performance conversations.

A rewarding experience

Meanwhile, you won’t find a typical performance management process here – there is none! There are no formal reviews, as contribution is measured by peers.

Reward is determined by peers. Recognition is delivered by peers.

This is conducted through an anonymous and live voting experience. As all the targets are discussed and shared amongst the team, accountability for results is high. There is no hiding, but there is also no lack of support as the team pulls together to solve problems and develop even better experiences for their customers.

How could it be any other way when Startle’s big promise to its customers is the company’s much heralded Relentless Support™ 24/7?

The company is crystal clear on what matters most within the Customer Experience, and this filters through everything within the Employee Experience. Startle stands firm on three performance metrics: response time, satisfaction, and cost/efficiency.

Key objectives are agreed based on the metrics, and alignment is established with each team member. Alignment is key within the Employee Experience; many companies create some good things but fail to connect and align them to what matters most within the business. I get the impression this would never occur at Startle as the entire business model is dependent on it and every employee is invested in it.

These metrics are the point of focus for the only corporate-style meeting the business has. This is a 90-minute meeting every week to cover issues, metrics, and progress. The meeting always starts and ends on time. The rest of the time the company operates in an informal way.

The business has grown by drawing on past experiences, learning lessons fast, strengthening accountability, and harnessing the full potential of the team by creating a happy and fulfilling workplace. If people are not happy, then collectively they fix it, which is a great lesson for any employer.

Awards achievers

Startle is also no stranger to winning awards – it picked up several UK Business Awards in 2017. Operating on employee-first principles, the company has cited its Employee Experience as the reason for its success.

Being a virtual company, the potential for digital communication channels is maximised, but they also get the whole team – which is dispersed around the world – together for special gatherings. For example, the whole team flew into Germany at Christmas for a shared experience. These elements are proving hugely beneficial in ensuring the connection between people at Startle remains strong and that trust in the team and each other is high.

One experience that emphasised team building was the staff kayaking the River Thames over five days – and 500 miles – to raise money for the British Heart Foundation.

As for work/life balance – forget it! I have always thought there was something misleading and sad about that concept. Companies like Startle and other progressive organisations are thinking much more in ‘life/life’ terms. We are much better off when we build around the ‘whole person’. This is evident at Startle, where colleagues have young families, so working flexibly, with real clarity and autonomy, are just a way of life.

If colleagues want to access training and development, and it is aligned to the growth of the company and individual, Startle will be in ‘yes’ mode. Any employee can raise a case for development. One colleague I spoke to did just that and Startle paid for a degree programme as an investment in the business and the individual.

A history of beards…

Startle uses apps to take the pulse of progress and enable employee input into key decisions at all levels. Informal one-on-ones are still available to provide feedback, coaching, and support. Usually occurring every two weeks, these sessions are also listening points to spot any themes or patterns, and to take action to respond to issues.

Every week there is the practice of a 10-minute talk. Employees take turns to talk about anything they wish to share with the team. Recent editions including big picture thinking, staying calm, and even a history of beards! The latter would have been my favourite!

With the backing of the CEO and top team for an employee and customer-centric business model, this is an example of growth by design. This team has purpose, momentum, and energy behind it.

From what I now know about Startle, I suspect that they will not only achieve their collective mission in the time they have set to achieve it, but they will also create a lot memorable experiences in the process, for employees and customers.


Ben WhitterBen WhitterApril 23, 2018
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10min755

Ben Whitter is known as Mr Employee Experience in business circles, and his role as a global Employee Experience (EX) leader brings him into contact with many companies keen to improve how they accommodate their most important resource – their staff.

He is also the CEO and Founder of the World Employee Experience Institute, which is partnering the 2018 Employee Experience Awards. As part of an exciting new blog series exclusive to Customer Experience Magazine, Ben is touring the headquarters of awards finalists to uncover and highlight what makes them EX pioneers. For his first blog, Ben paid a visit to the London base of high street fashion stalwarts River Island…

As ‘Mr Employee Experience’, I’m keen to get to know the EX practices of some of the best-known names in UK business today, and so I am undertaking visits to various HQs to get a feel for their methods.

‘Joy’ division

First on my hit-list was clothing giant River Island, which is this year celebrating its 30th anniversary of dressing the nation in the finest of fashion garb. Their mantra is “Spreading the Joy of Fashion”, and their success is evident – to be as stable as they are in today’s challenging retail sector is quite an achievement.

The company has ambitions to become a digital leader and has embarked on a digital transformation programme, investing heavily in the realm of online shopping. They have tripled the number of IT and digital roles and doubled the size of their innovation hub to attract the best talent. Meanwhile, the shifts within Customer Experience at River Island are now being mirrored in Employee Experience.

The company has over 12,500 employees and annual sales of over £930 million. It has reported an employee gender split of around 70:30 female, with 40 percent females in senior management roles, and a gender pay gap of 4.7 percent. In terms of perks, staff enjoy up to 50 percent off clothes, a subsidised on-site gym with various fitness classes, masseuse, restaurant, and celebrations at various points across the year.

River Island was listed among the Sunday Times Best Big Companies to Work For 2018, so it’s clear their EX approach is yielding remarkable results and recognition. A catalyst for this employee-centric focus was a change to the performance review process three years ago.

Fashionable feedback

The company binned the tired old annual performance review model and switched to regular feedback-based conversations to grow, develop, and support highly engaged performances from staff. No more tedious ratings and rankings!

Whilst having a framework, they don’t dictate when or how managers and their teams meet. Strategies such as this led them to consider the holistic ‘experience’ of work across the board. The wheels were set in motion to become an EX organisation, and that journey is continuing and evolving today.

The move to scrap performance reviews instilled a readiness to challenge the status quo and question other practices and long-held beliefs about how work should be. It was therefore no surprise when I learned that River Island is discussing a move to change the name of their HR department to ‘People Experience’. Human Resources is simply no longer a relevant term to describe what the team at River Island does.

The company as a whole has realised that long-gone are the days when the emphasis was on transactions alone. Like many other enlightened firms around the world, River Island is challenging what a HR department does, and how its members think and behave to enable success.

Welcome to the family!

Meanwhile, during my time at River Island HQ, it became clear that the firm is a ‘family’ business. As a privately-owned business, the Lewis family, of which there are three members on the board, including the CEO, Ben Lewis, have built one of the UK’s most successful high street brands.

The notion of family cropped up repeatedly during my conversations with staff. The company will experiment with ideas, hone them, and test them thoroughly before making any changes that affect the River Island family. The concept of family as a way to view and experience the workplace does not work for all organisations, but for some, it is the most effective way to develop and grow.

Keeping Employees App-y

Not for River Island knee-jerk reactions based on the latest fad or gimmick! Every move matters. Yes, there are times where disrupting practices will be necessary, but even then, employees are helping to lead the way. Co-creation internally has emerged as the primary approach to developing new experiences, and methods of doing this include use of the firm’s internal app, RIVA (River Island Virtual Academy. Internally designed and produced, one new feature within the app enables colleagues across to the business to share knowledge and skills with each other on any topic or theme. Developing internal digital capability is a trend within EX-savvy firms – companies are building from within and cementing relationships within their business.

As my visit continued, I was shown ever-more impressive attitudes to EX. A small but significant example was the team organising an ice cream van to visit in the warmer summer months. It’s a simple move, but the positive impact this will have will be dramatic.

Bigger initiatives include River Island investing in programmes that provide targeted support to staff both inside and outside of the workplace. A fine example is workshops designed on a range of wellbeing topics alongside digital content.

Community caring

This year, River Island has been added to the Government’s apprenticeship training provider register. As experts in retail, the company felt it was best placed to develop this programme – including all of its learning modules – in-house. As part of the experience, apprentices will also be able to use their new skills to support one of River Island’s charity partners, The British Red Cross, through placements at the charity’s shops. This is indicative of an EX organisation – creating experiences that relate to the brand’s identity and purpose, whilst also unlocking positive outcomes for the wider community.

Another trend in EX-focussed organisations is the development of a ‘mentoring and coaching’ community. Managers are developing the skills of coaches, which can then be utilised to full effect in performance conversations. River Island has seen an uplift in scores from their employee engagement survey (up to seven percent across several metrics) based on the quality of managers in this regard and the quality of the performance and feedback conversations that have taken place.

PRIDE in their work

Finally, I must applaud the firm on their very own PRIDE (People at River Island Delivering Excellence) Awards! Colleagues can recognise each other at any point for making a difference and delivering excellence within their work. This fantastic scheme has sent a real buzz through the business as they celebrate together.

All-in-all, it’s clear that River Island is at the vanguard of EX, just as it leads the way in high street style each and every season.


Tore HaggrenTore HaggrenApril 20, 2018
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9min1069

The link between creating a positive Customer Experience and an engaged workforce is widely accepted, so why do we find it hard to build motivated teams that are passionate about the companies they work for and ready to go the extra mile for their customers?

The answer often lies in how employees feel about their employers, whether the company culture creates a sense of well-being and opportunity in the workplace, and ultimately how happy employees are in their jobs.

There are of course many reasons why employees may be unhappy and thus disengaged, but something that often underpins many of these reasons is a sense of not being listened to; either when an issue occurs or after the event, by a direct line manager, the executive team, or the HR department. If employees don’t get – or don’t feel that they get – the chance to speak up and be heard, it’s highly unlikely that they will be motivated to make the effort. They are more likely to be dissatisfied and move on, costing the company in lost productivity and higher recruitment costs.

The challenge is therefore how to distinguish between a Monday morning gripe in the office kitchen and a concrete problem with a line manager or a business process that a quick chat over a coffee can’t begin to address.

A 2014 Gallup study found that the main cause of employee unhappiness is down to bad management, but the question is how much of that is likely to be because of a failure to listen, translate, or understand what is being said ‘in code’ around the water cooler into an issue that needs to be acted upon.

We’ve examined seven signs that employees are unhappy and how a Voice of the Employee (VoE) programme could help organisations to ‘listen’ and ‘act’ on what every employee is saying on a regular basis so that they are not only happy to be at work but engaged in the entire process.

“I’m retiring in two years. What’s the point in trying?”: Employees that can’t be bothered to challenge the status quo, even though they have the skills and experience to offer real insight into business improvements, are often demotivated by managers that are not willing to learn from those at the frontline.

  • Encourage and ask for ideas, using short ‘pulse’ surveys to initiate conversations at key moments in the employee lifecycle (three-month review, after training, etc.) but also seek feedback when new products and services are introduced, for example. This doesn’t just mean deploying a big annual employee survey. They have their uses but companies who really want to engage their teams need to develop a much more agile approach to listening to employees.

“No one else is complaining”: Team members that don’t see any role for themselves in the Customer Experience process, or feel straight jacketed by rules and regulations, are less likely to think outside of the box.

  • Enable employees to provide anonymous feedback at first so they feel safe and can learn to trust the process. Also be prepared to enhance your listening skills by leveraging unsolicited, reactive approaches such as online comment boxes and using social media sites such Glassdoor to capture information.

“I’m not going to wake the sleeping dragon”: This is a clear example of an employee that is asleep on the job, coasting, with no intention of putting any more effort into the work than is required.

  • Encourage people to rock the boat and make it clear that all ideas are good ideas, even if it’s not ‘good news’. Employees that are encouraged to use their skills to resolve customer issues ‘on the spot’ – and more importantly are given permission to come ‘off script’ to deliver solutions without fear of being criticised – are much more likely to achieve higher job satisfaction.

“There’s no point in telling management what’s needed”: Even more damning, employees that feel that no one is listening, feel disempowered, or are demotivated, are less likely to flag issues that need resolving, or to suggest ideas that could improve efficiency, productivity, or the Customer Experience.

  • Tell employees what you’ve heard so they can see that it is worth sharing ideas and act upon them as soon as possible. Employees that are provided with an opportunity to make a difference are more motivated and provide better Customer Experiences, which helps retain customers and spreads positive word of mouth.

“My manager just wants the job done”: Sadly, managers that don’t value or seek feedback and simply take a ‘tick box’ approach to the execution of daily tasks get exactly what they ask for – employees that stop thinking about how to do things better.

  • Use a third party or separate department to encourage honest feedback, but also be prepared to offer best practice ‘toolkits’ that provide employees with the autonomy to challenge conventional thinking.

“It was my idea but as usual I didn’t get any credit for it”: Managers that take all the glory for themselves and don’t reward individuals that do go the extra mile run the risk of reducing innovation, but also eliminate any feelings of loyalty or emotional ties to the company.

  • Build in reward and recognition to the feedback programme but also provide employees with a platform to share their experiences and knowledge with others. Harnessing storytelling as a learning opportunity not only passes on individual success to the team, creating an opportunity for viral change, but enables employees to be applauded for their efforts by their peers.

“They just want me to come up with ideas for free, in my own time”: If there is no incentive to be creative during normal working hours, resentment about lack of recognition can cause innovation to stagnate.

  • Make it worth their while – gamify or incentivise the feedback process, but above all ensure that processes are in place to encourage continuous participation, sharing real feedback from real people about real experiences, across the entire organisation.

If you are prepared to read the signs, the link between happiness and employee engagement can undoubtedly deliver both job satisfaction and a great Customer Experience. As Richard Branson says:

“Clients do not come first. Employees come first. If you take care of your employees, they will take care of the clients.”

Improved listening skills and a willingness to act on what employees say is therefore a win-win for everyone.


Lara PlaxtonLara PlaxtonApril 9, 2018
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6min772

With the 2018 UK Employee Experience Awards just around the corner, FDM is proud to be a partner and hear all the amazing stories about how companies are adding real value through EX.

In a series of blogs, we have shared our thoughts on aspects such as enhancing recruitment through gamification, correlating employee and customer feedback, and focusing on employee advocacy over retention. In this final blog, we want to highlight what should be at the core of Employee Experience – good design.

To create great Employee Experience, it must be designed for the ‘user’. Good design drives the desired emotional responses and behaviours of the users. From an organisational perspective, we want our employees to have enjoyable, engaging, and memorable experiences which are unique to our brand, culture, purpose, and values. This doesn’t just happen; it must be designed if it is to have the desired effect. Design is more than just ‘having a plan’; as Robert L. Peters says: “Design creates culture, culture shapes values, and values determine the future.”

There are various phases to go through when designing experiences and here we highlight the key stages:

Explore

Mapping out the Employee Experience is an important first step to acknowledge all the key touchpoints throughout their journey. This starts from before someone even applies for a job until long after an employee has left an organisation. Understanding how people feel at these touchpoints will highlight the pain points and issues that may arise, as well as the positive interactions that strengthen the relationship.

Collaborate

No one department should be responsible alone for designing experiences. Taking a systems thinking approach will allow a broad view of how the Employee Experience impacts the Customer Experience and other stakeholders. If it is only viewed from one perspective, then it will be limited in its effectiveness. People from around the business should get involved in the whole design process.

Ideate

Diverse thinking is crucial when it comes to idea creation. Having people from across your organisation at all different levels and stages within their journey, contribute to this creative stage will allow for true innovation to come through. Hackathons are a great way at this point to build an environment that inspires people to think outside of their normal everyday context.

Test

Before anything is actually implemented, ideas should be tested out on sample groups or individuals to measure how people feel through the redesigned experiences. Do they meet the desired responses you’d hoped for or do they perhaps create a whole new experience you hadn’t anticipated? Testing gives you an opportunity to make any adjustments to the design so that it meets requirements.

Implement

Deciding how to implement changes to experiences is as important as making the actual changes. Should a phased approach be taken? How will it be communicated? Will there be training required if new tools are being introduced? How easily can you measure the value for both the user and the organisation?

Evaluate

This is really a continual process, not just at one point in time. To be able to collate effective data and feedback, you need to have a strategy to gaining useful information so it can guide how to design for the future. User needs will be ever-changing and will be different for each individual or group. It can be helpful to develop personas and try to personalise experiences so the responses achieved are desirable for all.

Iterate

The whole design process is cyclical. Once you have evaluated your implementation, then you can go back and tweak the touchpoints as and when required so you are continually honing the emotions and behaviours that reflect the company’s values and culture. As you implement new iterations, you will start to gain a greater knowledge of your people and how you can connect with them in the most effective way.

The UK Employee Experience Awards are a great opportunity to hear other’s stories and learn from them. They celebrate the best in class for a whole range of areas within Employee Experience. Perhaps it will generate some ideas that could be applied to your own context to exemplify who you are as a brand and how it makes your people feel.




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