Jo Boswell is Founder and Director of Sentio-B and one of CXM Top 25 CX Influencers. Having previously judged three times at the Awards hosted by Awards International and shared her experience at two previous CX awards, Jo was a Chair of Judges at the first ever live online awards event where she assessed the best initiatives from the region…

We have all been spending a lot more time on video conferencing calls over the last couple of months; and like many others I have been using the technology extensively for both business and social purposes. At the end of May, however, I found myself using the technology in an entirely different and unexpected setting:  judging the inaugural Customer Experience Awards for South East Europe, hosted by Awards International.

The event was originally due to take place in Belgrade; but in view of the widespread lockdown in response to the COVID-19 pandemic, the organisers had moved swiftly to adapt to the circumstances and reinvent it as a purely virtual one. As this was my 4th time judging, I was curious to see not only what the standard of entries would be like for the region, but also how the experience would translate from a physical one to online.

Given how little time the organisers had to rework the event, they did a fantastic job at staying one step ahead and ensuring that the judges had all the information and reassurance they needed to ensure the day would run smoothly. Following a final briefing for Chair judges the day before, I found myself sitting down at my desk early one Friday morning, with my husband firmly briefed to keep out of the study, meeting my fellow panel judges via video conference.

With 77 companies from 16 countries taking part, the day felt truly international. I was really impressed with the standard of the presentations, and particularly with how well the presenters established rapport with the judges, given how daunting it must be presenting in a foreign language over video conferencing technology.

The category I judged was ‘Employees at the Heart of Everything’. Much has been written about the link between employee experience and customer experience. In the current environment, when so many businesses are having to make dramatic shifts in the way they operate and serve their customers, it seems to me that engaged and empowered employees will be an even more vital ingredient for success in the coming weeks and months as organisations adapt their approach in the wake of the pandemic. More than ever brands need to demonstrate empathy and understanding to their customers; but that outcome will be hard to achieve unless employees feel valued, trusted, and respected by their employers, particularly in these uncertain and challenging times.

What stood out for me in the case studies presented was the efforts these companies were making to really tap into what is important for their employees, and find ways to improve the emotional connection with colleagues by deepening their understanding of all aspects of the employee experience.

The Gold Winner was E.ON Romania whose case study showcased the journey the company has been on to achieve greater employee engagement. Whilst the launch of an agile transformation programme two years ago has undoubtedly played a key role in engendering a sense of responsibility and accountability at all levels in the organisation, their approach included a number of other strands aimed at deepening understanding of what is important to employees, and putting action plans in place to improve the employee experience in the areas that mattered most. What particularly impressed me with their story was the ongoing stakeholder engagement that ensured full support from their senior management team, including a highly effective ‘reverse mentoring’ scheme that gave senior managers a much better understanding of the employee perspective. The benefits of their approach were clearly shown in some impressive employee engagement scores; but importantly they evidenced some tangible business benefits alongside this. It was a compelling story of simple concepts that had been intelligently applied, and consistently followed up.

For my part, the day did not run quite as smoothly as I would have liked – an uncooperative internet meant that I had a nail-biting 15 minutes trying to reconnect to the judging portal. Luckily, my fellow panel judges and the Awards International facilitator were able to cover for me, and we were soon back on track. Despite that slight glitch, I was nevertheless delighted to play my part in this double first event. Congratulations to the organisers and participants for embracing the changes necessitated by a global pandemic. I can now look forward to judging the UK Digital Experience Awards in a month’s time, confident that it will be similarly successful.

Jo will be judging for the 5th time at the upcoming UK Digital Experience Awards 2020.

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