Employee suggestions should be solicited and encouraged through a system with follow-ups.

By Peg Ayers

Not everyone wants brave employees in their contact center. Subservient employees are less trouble to manage. The status quo works for them. They never argue with management decisions. They keep their suggestions to themselves. In short, an unmotivated manager wants employees who don’t rock the boat. But what is the customer experience in this scenario? Customers are quoted policies without explanations; they are forced into the mold with every other customer, no exceptions allowed. Connections that could lead to customer satisfaction and perhaps increased sales are not made.

Each interaction is a transaction rather than an opportunity for growth.

Who hasn’t heard employees at stores or restaurants saying words to one another that amount to, “Nobody cares what I think”? I was in an airport recently, standing in the security line for about half an hour, watching a video run in a continuous loop that told us to put our suitcases directly on the belt and to take out only laptop computers, not tablets or phones. When it was my turn, I was told to put my suitcase in a bin, not on the belt. And when I left my tablet in my bag, I was called aside after walking through the metal detector and told my bag had to be run through again, because the tablet had to be separate. When I mentioned the video, the security person told me it didn’t say that. I had extra time on this trip, so I decided to pursue this as a piece of customer experience research. I went to the supervisor station (it took asking three employees to find out where it was) and spoke with the supervisors. They said everybody knew the video was wrong and had been for months, but nobody listened when they said it should be fixed. I was given a customer comment card, which I filled out—they felt a customer complaint had a better chance of being heard than their suggestions. I look forward to my next visit to this airport—I expect the same video will still be playing.

Some of these employees may have started out brave, but lack of results and respect had taught them to keep quiet.

Jeanne Bliss, known as the “Godmother of Customer Experience,” talks about Leadership Bravery, which honors the human at the end of each decision, keeps customers’ best interests in mind, and creates balanced relationships between employees, customers, and partners (customerbliss.com). Brave leaders, she says, choose to enable their employees to bring the best of themselves to work, and they ask those employees, “Are we improving customers’ lives?”

Employees of brave leaders are empowered to “extend grace,” and to make appropriate exceptions—to go beyond the policy manual.

Why does it require brave leaders to create brave employees? Because only brave leaders can allow themselves to be vulnerable enough to say they don’t have all the answers. Insecure leaders need to show they deserve their positions by always being right. They can’t admit others may have better information. The front-line employees know the most about the customers—they’re the ones dealing directly with them! But insecure leaders remain in their offices, studying spreadsheets and reports, never asking the questions whose answers could be worth more than any market research money can buy.

First level supervisors make or break brave employees.

In a recent Forbes article, Margie Warrell tells us, “…many cultural change initiatives fail as people realize that their direct supervisor acts in ways that undermine the vision from the top of the organization, reinforcing old behavioral norms that perpetuate fear and demotivate capable, passionate employees.” (forbes.com) If the C-Suite is passionate about encouraging brave employees, but the direct supervisors are not themselves brave, the front-line employees quickly learn that bravery is not the path to career success for them.

A brave workplace starts at the top and is celebrated throughout the organization.

Empowerment and trust must be combined with consistent training and knowledge systems in order to give people the freedom and confidence to provide a stellar customer experience. Employee suggestions should be solicited and encouraged through a system that ensures each suggestion is considered and appropriate follow-up provided, regardless of whether it is implemented. Accepted suggestions should be celebrated and credit for the suggestion given publicly.

Leading by example with integrity is critical.

If top leaders are paying lip service to the concept of leadership bravery while berating subordinates for mistakes, the message will be received loud and clear: “Forget that bravery stuff, we were only kidding.” Mistakes must be treated as learning opportunities.

How does your organization measure up? Are your employees brave enough to provide a stellar customer experience? Or are they just handling transactions and counting the minutes until the end of their shift? How can you tell? An outside team of trusted experts is often best to help you determine your current status and path forward. For help,

Please Contact ApexCX for all your customer experience needs.

(Jan 15, 2020)