Why Employees Are The Secret to a Great Customer Experience Program in 2016 by Mike Maughan, head of global insights at Qualtrics

When it comes to creating an organization that is obsessed with customer success, we often start in the wrong place. We start by focusing solely on the customer.

That may seem logical. But what we sometimes forget is that most of the time executives aren’t the ones interacting with customers. A truly successful customer experience program has to start by focusing on the employees that will implement it. After all, it’s the front line employees that are the biggest factor in determining what the customer experience will be. 2016 will be the year that smart customer experience departments start to focus on their employees as much as on their customers.

Happy employees mean happy customers

A successful customer experience begins with engaged employees.That means creating a culture of customer obsession where you incentivize employees to go out of their way to deliver the best possible customer experience. By doing so, you’ll create happy customers and perpetuate a customer-focused culture.

At Qualtrics, we recently began recognizing “customer obsessed” employees at company-wide meetings. These top employees are also rewarded with a t-shirt and a digital badge that is displayed on their intranet profile. This allows us to both recognize these employees publicly and further ingrain customer obsession into the organization as these stories are told and celebrated.

The key is finding an incentive that will resonate with and motivate your employees to be morecustomerobsessed. It might be bonuses, swag or recognition at high-profile meetings. Whatever you choose, make sure it’s a perk your employees value and something that has the ability to permeate your overall culture.

Keeping a finger on the pulse of employee satisfaction

It’s hard to keep employees happy without being able to assess how they’re feeling at any given time. Treat employees like you would your customers by consistently gauging their engagementthrough pulse surveys—so named because they allow you to keep a consistent pulse on what’s happening within your organization. Performing annual reviews and gathering periodic feedback is the sign of a dying organization. Instead,use an integrated, online-based survey software tool (like my company’s), to easily implement and analyze pulse surveys about a variety of topics. It will allow you to iterate quickly, tackle problems in real time and apply positive lessons throughout the organization.

Disengaged employees are firing your customers. They provide a negative experience, which drives people away. Pulse surveys allow you to monitor and correct problems before they spread. They’ll allow you to mobilize your employees to deliver an exceptional customer experience and will help your employees know you care. Be sure to give your workforce the opportunity to deliver feedback to the very top, and then be transparent with the company about the feedback you receive. Without employee feedback channels you’ll struggle to identify and fix any employee issues that might stand in the way of serving your customers.

Empowering employees to take action

Focusing on employee experience as a part of customer experience lets your employees know that they are an integral part of company success and that they’re engagement is key to customer happiness. Empowering your employees to create great customer experiences is the key to building and sustaining a customer-focused business. And in the end, it leads to major strides in brand loyalty and retention.

During CXWeek, a conference devoted to bringing together the best brands and thought leaders in customer experience, Ritz-Carlton’s COO Bob Kharazmi shared an example of empowering employees to deliver fantastic customer experience. Recently, a Ritz-Carlton pool attendant overheard a guest with physical restrictions tell her husband, “I wish we could have a romantic dinner at the beach.” That pool attendant knew that it would be impossible for the guest to get to the beach with her wheelchair so he contacted the engineering department and together they built a wooden pathway from the pool to the beach so that her wheelchair wouldn’t sink in the sand. He then contacted the kitchen crew and had them set up a table on the beach so the couple could have a romantic dinner that evening. When the hotel notified the couple about what had been done, they were floored. They hadn’t told any of the hotel staff about the woman’s hope to visit the beach, but when an employee overheard it and recognized an opportunity, he was empowered to make something happen.

This is a perfect example of a company that has successfully empowered its employees to take action and make decisions when opportunities arise to provide an unforgettable customer experience. You can similarly empower your employees by removing unnecessary barriers that might block them from putting the customer first. Implementing immediate and meaningful ways for your employees to use their discretion to deliver better customer service without having to get approval from managers is perhaps the most immediate way to improve your customers’ experience.

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