The role of frontline employees in customer experience
The influence of your frontline employees on customer experience can’t be understated. They’re the representatives of your brand – and the first point of human contact for your company.
They’re also the bastions of knowledge for your products and services. They can explain processes and features and help sell new solutions to customers. They can resolve problems and convince customers that your brand is better than your competitors’.
Why frontline customer service experience is so important
Customer satisfaction can be swiftly impacted by a negative experience with your frontline staff, or rapidly improved by a positive encounter with a helpful employee.
We’ve found that customers who have had a bad experience that was rapidly solved are more likely to buy again, even more than customers who never had a problem in the first place. This means your frontline employees are highly influential in creating a great customer experience.
The opinion of your frontline customer service can quickly become the opinion of your brand, making your frontline employees vital to your public image.
Hiring the right people
Great frontline customer service experiences start with the right people representing your company.
When hiring, you should aim to welcome people onto your team who are brand ambassadors and who care about the interactions your customers will have.
Hiring isn’t about just finding someone who has the right experience – it’s also about finding employees with:
- A great first impression: The first impression of your brand is important – how do your potential frontline employees seem on their first interaction with you? That can be a good indicator of how they’ll appear to customers.
- Soft skills: A welcoming personality and an aptitude for resolving issues with a pleasant demeanor are vital for a great frontline customer experience. Soft skills are almost more important than hard skills when it comes to treating customers well.
- A dedication to customer advocacy: Your frontline employees aren’t just the representative of your brand – they also represent customers and their needs. Potential employees that show dedication to customer advocacy will help not only help your customers, but your brand as well.
Ensuring your hiring process is thorough but fair and following through on promises made at the beginning can help to encourage the right employees to work with you.
The best way of understanding how your frontline staff is performing and where they need to improve is to gather feedback. Closing gaps in customer perception and getting the full view of why interactions are successful or not is the best way to improve your customer experience.
Get feedback on staff performance from your customers
These metrics can show you how your customers:
- Feel about their interactions with your frontline employees
- Had their questions resolved
- Changed their mind about their experience
- Prefer to interact with your brand
- Feel about continuing their business with you
All of the above can be greatly influenced by how your frontline employees handle their interactions with customers. Seeing in customers’ own words how they felt about their experience will give you clarity on where internal performance can be improved.
Enable your staff to give feedback on your customers
Often, coaching can focus on how to improve your frontline employees’ ability to assuage customers, but sometimes customers are the problem.
Allow your staff to provide you with feedback quickly with solutions such as QA reconsideration tools. This helps them to flag difficult interactions and get assistance, allowing you to get a better picture of how interactions are being handled. It also means your employees are being judged on the factors they can control, which is fairer on them.
You can also use internal pulse surveys to get rapid feedback on questions of your choice, such as “How successful would you consider your last customer interaction?”. These surveys can also help your employees to flag potential issues with products and services based on their interactions with customers. These insights are vital for the growth and development of great CX.
Judging performance on the right criteria
Though operational metrics such as average handling time are useful for judging staff efficiency, they can’t be the be-all and end-all of how you judge performance.
When they’re judged on operational metrics, agents can sacrifice customer experience in their efforts to achieve higher internal ratings. They might rely on temporary solutions or find ways of “gaming” the system to achieve internal team goals, rather than creating great CX.
This is why experiential data is also important for judging frontline employees’ performance. Experiential data encompasses metrics such as:
- Breadth of knowledge
- Staff attitude
- Ability to actively listen
- How engaged agents are with their role
Scoring highly in these metrics indicates that frontline staff will be able to tackle novel problems, rather than just what they’ve been taught to deal with. They’ll also be better able to advocate for the brand and the customer’s requirements.
Creating targets for performance based on these criteria encourages sensitivity to customer needs and the ability to see where nuance is needed. Solving a customer problem – even if it takes more time than usual – is more important than meeting time quotas for the success of the business.
Incentivizing your employees can help boost morale, reduce absenteeism, increase motivation and encourage staff to engage more with your brand.
However, incentives shouldn’t just be generic. If you’re judging performance on criteria that are both experiential and operational, your incentives should reflect these values.
It’s often worthwhile asking your frontline employees what would motivate them. The answers might be surprising – or be completely counter to your original plan for incentives.
Incentives you might try are:
- Monetary. You might reward your employees monetarily through bonuses, profit shares, raises, or commission payouts – making sure that you’re rewarding them based on the right criteria.
- Recognition. Lifting employees up in the eyes of their colleagues for values such as their listening ability or their engagement will help to reinforce the right criteria for great customer care.
- Experiences. Your employees might benefit from some of the services you offer – or other experiences that can help them become better at their job while also being fun. Team days out can be a great reward that also builds team cohesion and morale.
- Career development: Your employees might be looking to improve their career prospects – and offering them career development opportunities is a mutually beneficial reward for great work.
Coaching frontline employees
If customers are finding that your frontline employees make it harder to make their purchase or resolve an issue, that can have a knock-on effect for your customer satisfaction and likelihood of repurchase.
Coaching agents for better performance is key to providing an experience customers will love – and it’ll help your employees to feel more confident in providing a great service.
In tandem with taking a more humanistic approach to evaluating your staff, providing coaching opportunities will show your employees you’re a receptive employer invested in their future.
Why investing in coaching is worthwhile
There are several reasons why money spent on coaching your employees gives you a return on investment.
- Employees are more engaged. Engaged employees are happier and more effective at their work.
- Employees become more autonomous. Rather than micromanaging inefficient agents, employees are able to make judgement calls and resolve problems by themselves.
- Employees are more agile. With the backing of great training, staff members are better able to face new challenges they’ve not had before, and know how best to handle them while representing your brand.
- Your reputation as an employer improves. By giving employees the perk of coaching, you’re helping to build your reputation as an employer who cares about your staff’s progression.
- You gain a competitive edge. When hiring new employees, your appeal increases over your competition because you offer more than just a job – you’re offering investment in their career, too.
How to improve frontline CX
Realize operational metrics aren’t everything
Often, a frontline team’s success is weighted towards operational metrics, such as ticket resolution. This can lead to a culture of teams only striving to meet these goals, rather than focusing on what’s best for the customer. Efficiency is always important – but you need to make sure your team knows that customer service quality is more important than quantity.
Use the right tools
Using technology that allows for quick optimization of the services you’re providing your customers can help frontline teams to fix issues and deliver excellent customer experience. Technological solutions can also flag if problems are in or out of your team’s control, and give you an authentic picture of your customer experience.
Keep your team in the loop
Make sure insights you gather about your customers are passed on to your employees on the frontline to help them to tailor the experience they provide. It’s no good for frontline staff to keep providing services that aren’t what customers are looking for – help them to do their best.
Keep teams agile
With room for flexibility, businesses are able to pivot quickly when customer needs change. Allow your staff to provide you with on-the-ground insights about your customers and flag issues, as well as take steps to change direction in terms of servicing new needs. This will help your team to share useful information and change strategy when needed.
Ensure your frontline staff have a great experience
The Qualtrics XM Institute found that engaged employees are 4.6 times more likely to be customer-centric when compared to disengaged employees, making them a vital part of the customer experience.
Not only that, but customers increasingly care about how companies treat their employees, and retaining staff is greatly helped by providing agents with a good work environment. Improving the agent experience can help you to find a balance between pushing your staff to fulfill customer needs and taking care of their needs for mutual benefit.