It started with tears—many of them. "This is all I know. I do not know any better," my client cried during a break in an intense planning session I was conducting. This general manager was overwhelmed by poor employee engagement results and a high level of customer dissatisfaction.
Addressing those issues was daunting. But the problem went deeper than just dealing with the issues. My client was frustrated by his lack of knowledge. He assumed a manager would know what to do. Welcome to the real problem—managers who discover that customer experience is not something they know how to do.
"You started your career in the early 1980s," I replied. "You were molded by your manager, who was your role model. Did he bother with customer experience or employee engagement? Did he share with you any best practices? Have you seen his or her performance in these areas?"
All executives are the product of the managers who molded them. Today's managers were molded by managers who learned their skills in a different time, economic and otherwise. They did not bother with customer experience or employee engagement. Twenty-five or 30 years ago, the customer was merely a subject to be acquired and milked for all his money. The employee was not regarded as an asset, but rather an expense. And management's concept of employee engagement was "follow the rules or get fired." No one spoke about employees as talent and customers as advocates and brand ambassadors.
Having his challenge and frustration put into this context brought an end to my client's tears. With this perspective, he recognized that his lack of knowledge was not his fault. He was simply not trained in the new way of management.
"Imagine a car from the 1980s, then compare it to a car in 2012," I challenged him. "How different is the 2012 car from the cars of the 1980s?" Today's cars are supercomputers that happen to drive. The amount of technology included in each car is so significant that many car dealerships offer special new owner clinics so drivers know what to do with their vehicles.
For example, one Long Island dealership now employs a technology concierge, modeled after the famous Genius Bar at the Apple Store.
Just as technology has advanced, so has employee engagement and customer experience. Many flawed processes have been fixed through Six Sigma efforts. But those efforts merely caught up to customers' expectations. They delivered on the promise but failed to inspire. Today, companies compete by creating customer excitement, not just delivering acceptable service and goods.
Increasing employee engagement and surpassing customer expectations can be achieved. Not all of the following solutions are simple, but they are common-sense actions that have the potential to make a noticeable difference in your organization.
- Inspire employees—don't just order them around.
- Explain "why," and not just "what" you need.
- Allow employees to reach the goal in their own way—one size doesn't fit all.
- Provide employees with a sense of personal fulfillment—paychecks alone don't do it.
- Coach employees to develop their skills.
- Develop a growth plan with each employee.
- Demonstrate personal interest in employees' lives.
- Dedicate time for monthly performance reviews.
To drive real change in customer experience transformation efforts, we need to create a management environment that does not threaten or intimidate executives (after all, they are human as well). Executives feel intense pressure to know everything and have the answer to every question. Dealing with new areas, such as customer experience and employee engagement, can shake their confidence and make them uncomfortable. We need to first excite them and give them the confidence that they can master these new skills and behaviors, and then they will go and evangelize them with gusto.
Helping them see the historical perspective of this evolution (and in the process, I guess, blame their own managers or mentors) will help many managers transform from an approach of helplessness and denial to real commitment and a sense of empowerment. When they discover that there is nothing wrong with them, they are more likely to embrace the challenge and learn new skills.
Lior Arussy is the president of Strativity Group, a global customer experience research and consulting firm. His latest book, Exceptionalize It, was published this year.