• February 1, 2012
  • By Lior Arussy, founder and president, Strativity Group

Technology Isn't Everything

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The race to delight customers is on. Companies continue to pursue this goal, hoping to differentiate themselves from the competition. In today's economic environment, however, the mandate is to do so with a fast return on investment. As we work with clients, they demonstrate their commitment to invest in customer experience, but when we drill down deeper, we discover that they are most inclined to invest in technology. Technology is important. But on its own, it is insufficient.

Having the tools to collect voice of customer data or provide multichannel solutions is fundamental to customer experience success. They take longer than single-channel tools to implement and capture a return on investment. But even when you capture the ROI, there's another key element to help you complete your customer experience strategy: employee engagement.

Several years ago, I worked with a client who had 184 CRM systems and customer databases due to multiple acquisitions. Serving the customer was a nightmare. Yet, 12 months later, this client had increased customer satisfaction by 20 percent without addressing this core IT issue (they were in the process of consolidation). How? Employee engagement.

The customer experience is a combination of tools and attitudes. Companies are very fond of investing in tools that improve response rates, availability of products, customer profiles, and different channels with which to connect. Yet very few take the time to invest in attitudes. Without authentic employees ready and willing to engage, no technology tool will be enough to delight customers.

Investing in employee training and engagement is critical to the creation of customer experience strategies. Yet many organizations are reluctant to make the investment. "Can we make it Web based?" they will ask. "Can we do it in less than an hour?" "How about focusing on the manager training only?" My answer is always the same. "It took you years, if not decades, to create this cultural problem. What makes you think it will go away in a thirty-minute Webcast?"

Employees develop their behavior and performance over years. A company's DNA is formed through a multitude of experiences. Uprooting those old behaviors and planting new ones takes time. While many companies will innovate their logo or IT infrastructure, the real innovation is in employee performance. If you manage to engage employees and persuade them to innovate their performance, they will in return innovate everything else.

When we work with clients who understand this link and are not jumping to technology shortcuts, they experience amazing results. An employee who attends a well-designed education program that inspires her to delight customers can start doing it the next day. The ROI on the training is immediate.

"I can't afford taking my people off the floor" is often the common pushback. My response: "Okay. Let them practice on real customers."

Employee engagement is a critical, yet often neglected, component of customer experience strategies. There is no substitute to providing employees with information, practice, and inspiration to keep their performance sharp and ready to serve.

Ritz Carlton Hotels invests 250 hours of training annually in their employees. The results are clear. How many hours did you invest in your employee engagement in the last 12 months?

Lior Arussy is the president of Strativity Group, a global customer experience research and consulting firm. He is the author of five books, including Customer Experience Strategy—The Complete Guide From Innovation to Execution. Follow Lior on Twitter @LiorStrativity.

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