Your employee feedback might be just the thing your customers want
Frontline employees often know your customers best. And their ideas can lead to breakthrough moments – just ask Sony, Microsoft, and 3M who’ve all seen major breakthroughs in the past thanks to employee feedback. Find out how listening to employees could be the difference in delivering world-class customer experiences at your organization.
Let’s face it, the first place most of us look when it comes to customer experience is the customers themselves. But sometimes, employee feedback could just be the answer to finding your next breakthrough.
In fact there are plenty of examples of ‘intrapreneurship’ where frontline staff’s ideas have led to major product and customer breakthroughs.
Here are 3 of our favorites:
1. Sony PlayStation
Stand up Ken Kutaragi, a junior staff member at Sony who is credited with inventing the Sony PlayStation.
Frustrated by the pace of his daughter’s Nintendo, Ken began tinkering in his spare time with the machine and decided that the answer to a more powerful machine was to improve the product to have an independent sound card.
His bosses didn’t initially agree, but when Sony CEO saw what he’d been working on, he agreed the company should go into games consoles. Over 500 million console sales later, we can safely say Ken’s breakthrough paid off for his employer.
2. Post-it notes
Okay, not as high tech as a PlayStation, but Post-it notes would never have happened without employee feedback.
In 1980, one of 3M’s scientists had developed an adhesive that wasn’t as rock solid as traditional versions. But, he struggled to find a use for it.
That is until his colleague Art Frey had a problem of his own - his bookmarks kept falling out. And so the post-it note was born.
3. Microsoft Outlook
Our very own CXO Julie Larson Green tells the story of how Microsoft Outlook was created — by the company’s Excel team.
When the Excel team visited customers’ offices to gather feedback on the product, they got lots of feedback - ‘I wish it did this’, ‘I wish that worked a little better’ etc.
But most fascinating was something her team noticed that wasn’t talked about. There were sticky notes everywhere with deadlines, reminders, and workflow processes on them. It showed the team an unarticulated need around communications and scheduling, triggering the development of Outlook.
“It wasn’t until we visited their offices, went to where they were and where they were working and saw the environment that we could truly understand the gaps we had in the experience,” says Julie.
Why is the voice of the employee so valuable for customer experience?
Why would you collect feedback from your employees about customers if you’re already getting feedback directly from those same customers? Put simply, it’s because staff will tell you things that customers cannot.
For one thing, they have a level of product knowledge that far exceeds the typical customer, so they’ll be able to assess customer brand and product awareness from an informed standpoint. This can help you identify actions that you need to take in marketing and promoting your offering.
Staff also know things about customer behavior that customers don’t. A customer will tell you what they think and feel about your brand and what their intentions are or were. A staff member will tell you which actions that same customer actually took, observed from an objective point of view.
Breakthrough insights can come from anywhere
Think about your own experiences as a customer. When you last interacted with a company, who did you speak to?
Was it the marketing department?
The customer experience team?
Or the product design team even?
Probably not. Your primary interaction is almost always with frontline staff either in a store, over the phone or online.
So ask yourself, who knows your needs best?
It’s a simple analogy, and yes there are many caveats – after all, if your CX program is working well, the teams in the head office should hear the voice of every customer, across every channel.
But, however well you’re listening to customers, there’s no escaping the fact that employees are a rich source of feedback and insights which the vast majority of companies are leaving untapped. Consider setting up an always-on employee suggestion box with our free survey template.
Take an outside-in approach to customer feedback
Traditional customer feedback is almost entirely focused on a company’s HQ, in so far as that’s typically where customer surveys or feedback programs are designed.
It’s an outside-in approach to hearing the voice of your customers. And it’s a vital part of any program.
But new advances in technology have given us a richer view of what customers think, with the ability to pull feedback in from sources beyond traditional surveys such as social media, online chat or even phone conversations.
So we’re certainly heading in the right direction.
The next step however is to activate your employees to help close experience gaps. It’s particularly valuable when you have remote teams, physical stores or customer service centers where the people who engage with customers are not the people at HQ.
This outside-in approach puts your employees at the heart of your customer experience.
It gives a voice to shop assistants who can see that having the cash register at the front of the store is creating lines and preventing people from entering the store.
Their fix? Move the registers to the back to encourage customers to explore the whole store.
Or the car mechanics who hear first hand from customers that it’s incredibly frustrating when they aren’t given an exact time of arrival and miss their appointment slot.
Their fix? Live arrival time notifications and the option to reschedule appointments in your app.
Or the delivery driver who sees that when customers leave instructions to leave their package in a safe place, they can get through their deliveries much faster and reduce the number of late packages.
Their fix? Send customers a text the morning of their delivery to ask if they want the parcel delivered to a safe place. Simple.
Giving employees tools to improve CX is good for the employee experience too
Putting employees at the heart of the customer experience is not an entirely new approach – It’s more than just the customer experience, people love being heard
The customer is undoubtedly the winner when you empower your employees to be able to provide feedback and use their experience to help close the gaps.
It’s a winner for employee experience too.
We know from countless academic studies as well as the thousands of employee experience programs run on the Experience Management Platform™ that one of the key drivers of engagement and productivity is the customer outcome.
When people feel they’re making a difference, and that their feedback is acted upon, they’re much more likely to be engaged at work.
So it’s a win-win. Your customers are happy because you’re closing the experience gap. And your employees are happy because they’re making a tangible difference to customers.
What to ask in a feedback survey for frontline staff
If you’re collecting staff insights on customer experience using a survey, here are a few useful questions to ask.
What do customers tell you over and over again?
This question will help you identify the pain points or key strengths of your customer experience. If there’s something about your location that pleases or frustrates a large volume of customers, to the point where they’re telling staff about it, there are huge potential gains to be made. Maybe you’ll fix a problem and dramatically improve the experience for the customer. Or maybe you’ll become aware of a benefit you can then promote and maximize.
If you could change one thing about our products and services, what would it be?
With this question, you’re looking for consistency across feedback from many different staff members. Most staff will have a personal opinion on what should change, and that’s useful to know, but on its own it doesn’t add up to an actionable insight. However, if multiple staff tell you the same thing, such as “simplify the process of signing up for a loyalty card” or “reduce the number of tiers in the subscription service”, you know you’re dealing with a pain-point that affects many customers and staff and demands immediate attention.
What would help you do your job better?
Leaving the wording of this question open allows your frontline staff to identify in their own words what resources would help them to help the customer. It may be a process or tool, such as faster stock lookup or better integration with a contact center, or it may be relationship-driven, such as more hands-on management support or a refresher training course.
What one thing would make life easier for our customers?
This question gets right to the heart of what CX is all about – solving customer problems and delivering a better all-round experience. Whether it’s through customer service, product design, locations that deliver on customer needs and desires, digital integration or something else entirely. Leave the format of this question open so your staff have the maximum freedom to express their answers.
How to include frontline staff in your customer experience strategy
The staff who meet and talk to your customers play a huge role in executing your CX strategy. So why not loop them into the planning stages too?
Feedback about what’s happening on the shop floor can be hugely instructive, but you don’t need to stop there. As well as gathering feedback from frontline staff about how things are working at your locations, you can bring in their knowledge at the drafting stages of your strategy by sharing your plans with them.
Just as you’d obtain buy-in from executive and C-suite levels at the planning stage, you can benefit from getting frontline staff on board at an early stage. They’ll have the opportunity to give you their steer on your approach, and they’ll also be more engaged with your strategy when it’s put into practice since they’ve played a part in developing it. It’s a relatively simple move, but one that can deliver a huge return on investment in terms of the quality of your CX.
Again, a survey is an excellent way to present your ideas in a digestible, familiar format and gather feedback without taking up too much time and energy from frontline staff.
Your survey design could include questions such as:
- "Our proposed strategy is built around three pillars – speed, value and product range. Which of these do you feel is most relevant to the majority of our customers?"
- “Our research suggests that speed, value and product range are the most important things to our customers. What else should be included and why?”
Put your employees at the heart of your CX program with Frontline Feedback
We’ve just launched a new, scalable way to get feedback from your employees to help deliver rich insights to your customer experience program - Frontline Feedback.
Brands like AT&T, New York Life Insurance and Alliance Healthcare are already using it to identify and prioritize employee insights and CX improvements.
It not only gives employees a way to provide feedback, but also play an active role in telling the team back at HQ what matters most. People can upvote and comment on ideas and stay up-to-date with notifications.
Back at HQ, you can see trending themes and organize the feedback with tags and categories to keep track of it all.
And because it’s on the Experience Management Platform™ you can follow the best suggestions all the way through the development process, with action-planning tools that make sure their insights drive real action.
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