Author: Ruth D’Alessandro
Subject Matter Expert: Laura Harding
Essential and frontline workers are the employees who deal directly with customers, clients, the public and other users of an organization’s goods and services. Their jobs are often considered to be vital for the community, and include healthcare workers, teachers, local and national government workers, grocery store employees, postal service workers and law enforcement officers.
We all recognize frontline employees: they are the shop floor staff who greet us when we walk into a store, the voices on the end of the phone when we ring a call center, and the people who step up to sort out a problem with goods or services we’ve bought. They’re often on their feet all day, and they never know whether their next customer is going to be nice or nasty.
These are the people who are squarely placed in the middle between the organization and the customer (or public), and they have to fulfill the wants and needs of both. This is a challenging position to be in.
And the world hasn’t been particularly kind to frontline and essential workers recently. The Covid-19 pandemic, the Great Resignation and the global recession has left organizations’ frontlines overworked, under-equipped, understaffed, and undervalued.
There’s a huge irony here: those employees who are expected to serve customers and the needs of the business are the least appreciated and understood. There’s a massive disconnect between the experience expected (on all sides) and the experience delivered, not forgetting that these employees probably make up the majority of your workforce.
Our 2023 Global EX Trends Report found that employees have been working at surge levels for years, and now they are pushing back, and reshaping the relationship they have with work to set healthy boundaries – except frontline workers, for whom little has changed.
Our most recent research found that frontline workers are struggling: with lack of recognition, appreciation, growth and development opportunities, and low satisfaction with financial rewards. They’re unhappy, and crying out for help. And these are the people your customers interact with first.
“If these issues go unchecked, and you have no idea it’s going on, it could turn into a burnout problem, a turnover problem, and customer experience problem,” says Dr Benjamin Granger, Head of EX Advisory Services and Chief Workplace Psychologist at Qualtrics.
This is why it’s essential to empower frontline workers and treasure them like gold dust. They are the vanguard of your workforce, the people who make your business a success. It’s imperative that you do everything you can to help them deliver the best experience for your customers, and enjoy a well-deserved excellent employee experience themselves.
How to empower your frontline employees
We recommend a three-pronged approach to empowering your frontline employees, treating them with the same consideration as you do all your other employees: You need to address:
- Strategy – specifically for your frontline workers
- Customer experience – enabling frontline workers to deliver world-class service
- Employee experience – to look after, and retain, your best frontline employees
If you don’t include the experience of frontline workers in your business strategy, you’re missing a trick. It’s essential that you give frontline employees:
A clear vision for success
Nobody will do their best if they can’t really see the point of what they’re doing. Make sure you communicate your organization’s goals, values, and expectations. It’s important that frontline staff understand how important their contribution is to business success.
Our research found that only 61% of frontline workers feel sufficiently recognized, and less than half (49%) saw any positive changes resulting from surveys. Clearly businesses need to do better.
Our 2023 Global EX Trends Report also found that more than a third (38%) of employees felt they were burnt out, and the top driver of burnout was ineffective processes and systems. Make sure your frontline employees get the best tech available, train them well to use it, and offer rapid IT support.
Responsibility with no control or authority is a recipe for frustration and poor experience. We found that only 53% of frontline workers felt able to challenge the traditional way of doing things to reach a better outcome for their customers, clients, or patients. Trust frontline teams to make decisions for themselves, deal with customer issues, problem solve, and innovate without waiting for higher-up-the-command-chain approval.
Listening to frontline workers as equal stakeholders in the business should be the backbone of your strategy. They are your ‘boots on the ground’. Regularly ask for feedback about their environment, processes, results, concerns, challenges, and experiences with customers and involve them in decisions. Act on their feedback promptly.
We also found that frontline workers feel they lack a voice to drive improvements within their business arena. As mentioned above, less than half (49%) saw any positive changes resulting from surveys, but it seems that the problem with survey follow-up is not so much inaction, but a lack of communication. Managers need to be a lot more intentional about communicating with frontline employees so they know they’re being heard, and equally, advocate for them to higher leadership to make sure their needs and wants are appreciated.
Many frontline workers are not getting their basic needs met, and are lagging behind non-frontline workers. Just:
- 50% are happy with their pay and benefits (11 points lower than non-frontline workers)
- 60% are satisfied with their career development (6 points lower than non-frontline workers)
- 61% feel sufficiently recognized (7 points lower than non-frontline workers)
Clearly there’s a disconnect between your frontline and backroom employees that needs addressing. Better remuneration, more opportunities for training and development and better recognition is needed.
2. Customer experience (CX)
Your frontline workers fall into the middle of two experiences. On the one hand, they are delivering a great experience to your customers, and on the other, they need to enjoy the best possible employee experience to make customers happy and coming back for more. It’s a known thing that engaged employees are 4.6 times more likely to be customer-centric compared with disengaged employees.
Broadly speaking, the best way to support your frontline customer service representatives to deliver world class service and customer satisfaction is a combination of:
- Effective training
- Clear expectations of the job
- Frequent manager feedback
- Intelligent, reliable technology
The best customer service platforms will deliver all these things and empower your frontline workers.
Customer facing teams
Your customer-facing teams need to have the necessary insights to deliver great service – and it’s up to you to make sure that they have that information and support.
Great support starts with technology such as Frontline Feedback that lets frontline employees submit, vote and comment on ideas and feedback related to customer experience. This technology is even better when it can manage large volumes of feedback using categories and tags to organize it into themes.
And of course, feedback is nothing if there’s no action as a result of it. Technology needs to keep employees and project owners up to date on the latest actions related to their feedback.
Contact center teams
Not all your frontline workforce will be on the shop floor; many will be answering queries in a contact center, and the pressure is on them to respond in the right ways every time, and keep every customer happy. Customers like talking to your people:
Contact centre experience software is used to listen to customers, and identify areas where they can improve the customer experience. Many organizations use programs that bring together all their customer service channels including traditional phone calls and SMS with digital channels like chatbots, FAQs, and social media.
Agents can see every channel and every interaction in one place, and can deliver a better experience because they’re aware of the context and history of every customer, regardless of what channels they’ve used.
Contact center agents thrive when they know they’re doing a good job, with coaching support when they don’t feel they know all the answers.
Artificial intelligence in customer service
Some of our recent research found that employees welcome AI as their assistant, but not as their manager.
Artificial intelligence (AI) can now do most of the heavy lifting to make the customer service agent’s life a little bit easier. It can automate all those time-consuming manual tasks, freeing them up to fix more customer issues, deliver information just when they need it, and constantly listen to customers to understand what they want.
Our agent productivity software is AI-powered to make the job of your contact center frontline agents easier.
Which brings us on to…
3. Employee experience (EX)
Image credit: https://azafinance.com/people-or-revenue/
We’ve all heard that quote from Sir Richard Branson, and our own Dr Benjamin Granger says, “Some of the most important drivers of EX for frontline workers – such as having the tools and resources to do the job and feeling psychologically safe – might seem small, but it’s oftentimes the non-obvious aspects that drive customer experience metrics.”
In short, you need to ensure that you put as much effort into creating a stellar employee experience for your frontline workers that you do creating a stellar customer experience. So how can you do that?
Empower managers to empower teams
Managers are critical to the frontline employee experience. After all, they are the people who know their team, and how they work. Frontline managers are in the best position to support their people and help them adapt to new tools and ways of working.
When 75% of people who leave their jobs do so because of their manager, and it costs an organization 6 to 9 months of an employee’s salary to replace them, it’s time to look at the role of managers, and enable them to be the heroes and heroines of your employee experience rather than the villains.
Our Manager Assist gives managers everything they need to increase employee productivity and engagement, and minimize unwanted attrition. Manager Assist analyzes employee feedback from engagement pulse surveys, and what employees are saying on public channels, with conversational analytics.
By asking each frontline worker what’s standing in the way of doing their job well and what you can do, as their manager, to help, you’ll enable employees with the right processes to help them meet customers’ needs effectively. This will help drive engagement – especially for your frontline workers.
Know how your employees feel at every stage of their experience
You need to understand the whole employee journey to be able to identify where there are experience gaps and areas of weakness that need addressing with extra training and development. They may well coincide with gaps and weaknesses in the customer experience, because, as we know, good EX leads to good CX, and conversely, bad EX leads to bad CX.
When organizations know what employees are struggling with, and where, they can take action to alleviate those struggles. And frontline workers are struggling more than most just now.
Employee Journey Analytics brings all of your feedback together to uncover how each moment in an employee’s journey — from onboarding to technology experiences and everything in between — impacts one another. You’ll be able to pinpoint the precise experiences that have the biggest influence on key metrics like frontline worker engagement and retention.
Unlock employee growth
As we mentioned above, effective training is essential for frontline workers to be able to do their jobs effectively, and engage with the experience.
When we encourage frontline employees’ development so that they contribute to the business and know their value, that is, in effect, empowering them.
This is where 360 development really comes into its own. It makes sure that every single member of your organization has the opportunity to receive performance (and developmental) feedback from their supervisor, manager and a set number of peers. This 360-degree approach to professional development and experience closes talent gaps, increases organizational performance and brings teams closer together so they feel they belong.
360 feedback analyzes every stage of the employee journey, including the shared feedback, to devise effective action plans that bring out the best in your frontline people and the whole business.
Join up all your EX, CX and BX dots
Your employee, customer and brand experiences (BX) impact one another. Key employee experience metrics, such as manager support, career development, and recognition, have a direct, significant impact on customer experience.
Using technology such as Cross XM, you’ll be able to connect your CX, EX and BX programs, enabling you to identify which employee experiences have the most impact on the customer experience.
With these insights, leaders can focus on initiatives that will drive the most value for frontline employees, and support them to do the great job they’ve always done – and get recognized for it.