/ workforce engagement

Do Your Employees Love Their Company

Customers will never love a company until the employees love it first. -- Simon Sinek

Today, employee engagement is at all-time lows.

  • 33% of employees today are β€˜engaged’
  • Of employees 18-24, only 26% are β€˜engaged’

At the same time, customer experience (CX) is evolving rapidly. Customers prefer caring, empathetic and engaged employees.

It's crucial for today's hiring managers to understand what to look for as well as upper management to see how implementing even the smallest changes and simplest tactics can help to propel a brand culture to one that embraces employees and sets them up for success.

We recently talked with Jim Tincher, a journey mapper and founder of Minneapolis-based, Heart of the Customer. Jim founded his company to help brands increase customer engagement. He has led customer engagement initiatives at Best Buy, Gallup, and UnitedHealth Group. His customer journey maps help customers understand customer loyalty. He's also an active member of the Customer Experience Professionals Association(CXPA), serving as one of their CX experts, and provides advice to members worldwide.

In the webinar (the complete transcript which is published below) outlined three key points:

  1. πŸ‘πŸΌ How to hire employees who care
  2. 😎 How to maintain employee engagement
  3. πŸ—Ί Learn what a journey map is -- and why it's pivotal to your process
  4. πŸ’‘ Learn tactics to change your brand to embrace and hire engaged frontline employees.

Corporations mentioned in this webinar include:

Advanced Auto Parts
Best Buy
Costco
Great Clips
Nordstrom
Sam's Club
Southwest Airlines
Zappos

Taylor Pipes: Let's jump right in to what I consider a really interesting topic: customer experience. It's an evolving space, Jim, so I was wondering if maybe you can tell me about what your thoughts are on how this space is changing these days.

Jim Tincher: Well, yeah, that's great. There's really ... well, there are multiple trends, but two that are really impacting is that, first of all, customers are changing expectations. We really find that with one company ups their game, everybody else has to go along with it. Amazon, for example, Zappos, these companies are really setting the stage and setting expectations for every industry. We'll work with people in a business-to-business environment, and still Amazon really sets the pace. That's first of all.

Second of all is that what we're currently seeing is a fantastic economy, but unless you're trying to hire people. It's become really hard to find those right people. That challenge, where as we look back 10 years ago, it was the opposite problem, that it was really easy to find people, now has become a real challenge. That really impacts your ability to offer a great customer experience.

Taylor Pipes: The key words that I'm hearing a lot right now are, customers prefer caring, relevance, empathy, in addition to the choice and speed that are being driven by the delivery model that's shaping the marketplace. But it seems to me that the important aspect is, companies need to understand that hiring employees who are human and have empathy is going to help the bottom line. Could you touch on that for a minute?

Jim Tincher: You bet. If we were to contrast even five, six years ago, a lot of those easy transactions were done by people. You had a question, you talked to somebody. Today, all of that's being automated, being outsourced through the ... Not outsourced, but I should say automated, with ... between chat bots, AI, all the range. What that means is that if a customer has an easy problem, they probably take care of it themselves, which means that when the people are involved, it's even more critical to get it right. You take somebody with that empathy, that warmness to listen to them.

The easiest thing possible is hire somebody with skills. I know it's not always easy, but relatively speaking, that's easy. That feels like the right thing to do, but the problem is that you can have all kinds of skills, but if you're not able to create a great experience for your customers, they really don't care about your skills. Where companies are starting to turn the corner is to realize the first thing they need to do is look for that empathy, that human connection. It's a lot easier to teach somebody the skills than it is to teach somebody how to care.

Taylor Pipes: I was on Facebook this past week and I saw a relatively high-profile person in tech, in the startup world in Silicon Valley. He's taking some time off and evaluating what he's doing. He said, "If I had the ideal job of what I would want to do today, it would be work in customer service." I thought that was fascinating, because there's a lot of conversations about where this world of work is going to take us. Are jobs going to be outsourced and replaced? I think that there's going to be a lot of opportunities for customer experience and customer support positions for a lot of people in the future.

Jim Tincher: Yeah, that's not going away. Some people seem to think you can automate everything. Even Amazon, and Amazon's view really is that service is created when there's a failure in the platform, as opposed to other companies, like say Zappos, who Amazon owns, where service is an integral part of the experience. But even there, they have a real need for human people to help when problems go wrong. That's what we're really seeing, is that it's even harder now in those roles and more critical, because by the time a customer reaches you, they've typically gone through all those easy pieces, and now they really need your best.

Taylor Pipes: By that token, the various measurements I've seen, even though it's a very competitive workspace right now for hiring, employee engagement seems to be at really, really lows. The stats I'm seeing vary. 33% of employees today consider to be engaged. Of those, the youngest component, the youngest cohort, 18 to 24, only 26% of those are engaged employees. I'm curious to see, how can a company get around these negative stats and, number one, bring in employees, and number two, keep those on the front lines engaged?

Jim Tincher: Well, we really see that a lot of the problems with engagement is in a more command-control approach. The easiest thing when you're sitting in a corporate boardroom is to say, "We just need our people to follow the processes." But again, all the pieces that can be automated largely have been, which means you need to then empower your employees to fill the gaps. That's where a lot of companies have problems, is that it means losing a little bit of control, hiring the right people with the attitude and the skills, but then giving up that control to them to do what's right for your customers. That's where a lot of programs have fallen down, is that they just have a hard time letting ... You know, they'll want to hire somebody who has initiative, but then they want to automate what they do, so take away that initiative. It really takes, first of all, setting up a framework where you can empower your employees to make the right difference for your customers.

Taylor Pipes: I think it's also key to understand why employees are changing their jobs and what they're looking for. In the United States, the surveys that I've seen, 35% of employees have changed a job in the last three years. It's a very dynamic and fluid space. 91% are planning to do so. I think one of the things is, they're obviously looking for a lot of things. Some people need to take on more jobs and more responsibilities to make money, to pay bills and student loans. Compensation and job location's a big part. But also, some employees are swayed heavily by their social relationships with potential coworkers, and identifying companies whose mission inspires them. I was wondering if you could talk about that, because that is a fascinating point to me. People want to work for companies that are transparent and want to do good. I think that's an interesting point.

Jim Tincher: Well, yeah. I'm Generation X, and older Generation X. Growing for me, the corporate mantra was, it's all about shareholder value. We must return value to the shareholders. That's not flying today. It's really, yes, the organization needs to make money. Even a nonprofit, where I was talking with a nonprofit hospital last week, if they don't make enough money to pay the lights, they can't service patients. That still really matters, but it's that mission in a critical part. If you focus on the mission, well, that's what's going to get you what you need to do.

I love a Peter Drucker quote. For those that are not familiar with Peter Drucker, he's a real guru. One of the earliest real business management philosophers. He said that the "purpose of a business is to create and keep a customer." That's something that a lot of companies got away from. It's not to make the shareholders rich, it's to really help your customers, and then your employee is a critical part of that. That's where you need to really tie in what you're doing towards a bigger mission.

We're seeing a lot of companies doing a better job of that, but still most aren't. They still focus on that rational part. It's easy as a leader to get caught up, because your boss never calls you into the room and saying, "Are we doing a good enough job for the environment? Are we doing enough to make the world a better place?" Your boss never asks you that question, but your employees want to know that. And so it takes getting out of that day-to-day about making sure you hit your numbers and the budgets right, and start realizing, well, why are we here? What are we trying to do?

What we're really seeing with the Millennials is that they're driving that conversation, because if all you're talking about is shareholder value or hitting the numbers, they can do that anywhere. Why should they work for you? Back when I was starting out in the workforce, nobody had to say, "Why should Jim work for us?" They said, "Do you want a job or not?" But today, there's much more fluidity, and so companies have to earn their employees' respect and their willingness to work there every single day.

Taylor Pipes: We're kind of touching a little bit on a topic we're going to talk about in a few minutes, which is about corporate culture, but I want to talk for a minute about ... You know, engagement's an important part of the process, but what are some tactics you would recommend for companies to start to basically build a customer experience program for their frontline employees? Are there specific tactics they can do right now, today, to do that?

Jim Tincher: Well, I like to quote my friend and client, Darin Byrne of Wolters Kluwer. I put this up in my blog post a couple weeks ago on this same topic, which I think is how we found each other.

Taylor Pipes: Yeah.

Jim Tincher: He really brought together five steps to help bridge that gap and bring the two together. The goal he was putting forth was to build a better customer experience, but through engaging your employees around that. The first thing is to understand where your employees are. That's a survey ... Now, again, for a large organization, you want to do surveys to get that broad feedback. If you're a frontline manager, then the survey's probably a cup of coffee, or sitting down with your different employees and getting that feedback. But first of all, find out what their concerns are. What's happening with them? That's where you need to start.

From there then is, based on that feedback, put together your guiding principles. Again, tying it back to, here's why we're here, here's what we're trying to accomplish. Document that, this is why we're here, these are our guiding principles, and use them.

Third then, get everybody talking about your customers, and so the employees see the link, whether that's ... He uses an internal ... I think Yammer, an internal platform. But get people talking about customers, so that it makes it easier for them not just to hear the link, but to actually articulate the link between what they do and why it's better for customers, and to tie those two. While again he's focusing on the customers, it's tying back to the employees and why it's important for everybody here.

Then as he's in customer experience, a lot of times customer experience people are focused entirely on customers. Obviously, it's in their title. It's good to focus on customers. But he takes some of that money and he invests it on the employee experience, putting together employee events, again, helping them to see that what they do really matters. That can be really difficult. If you're, for example, a retailer, yes, you talk to customers all the time if you're a retail employee. But it's up to the leadership to tie that to a larger mission, a larger message, how you're helping not just that customer you're talking to now, but you're helping a larger universe of customers.

Then lastly, when you have those employees who are doing a great job, set up an employee peer-to-peer recognition. As a leader, it's easy to focus on certain people that you see, but some of the most important customer interactions are ones you don't often see. It's an employee who did a late-night rush to a customer who needed something for a party, or somebody who's able to work through all those broken systems to get what your customers needed on time. Instead of the leadership handing down the award on high, engage your employees to nominate each other. That's what can really help keep this going.

Taylor Pipes: On that note, I'd like to shift gears a little bit and talk about corporate culture. You mentioned a really fantastic quote from Simon Sinek. "Customers will never love a company until the employees love it first." Again, this is all part and parcel to the topic we just talked about.

Jim Tincher: Oh, yeah.

Taylor Pipes: With that, do more engaged employees create a superior customer experience, or do companies who focus on improved customer experience have better employee outcomes? Is that linkage there clear?

Jim Tincher: There's definitely a linkage. It's hard to say, because the two influence each other so strongly, which direction it comes. But typically, when you focus on employee experience, your employees are able to do a better job for your customers and create more engaged customers, more loyal customers. On the other hand, when you have more engaged customers that are happy with you, it's a lot easier to be an employee. You don't have people upset with you, arguing with you. We've all been in those conversations.

But generally, and as a blogger, we always like to have these artificial debates about, do you start with the customer first, do you start with the employee first? Well, you don't start with one or the other. But if you focus all of your efforts just on the customer side, well, who's creating the experience? It's your employees. And so you really need to spend some time and take what you're learning about customers and apply it internally as well.

Taylor Pipes: This is a pretty loaded question, a pretty big question, but I believe a lot of people on our call today work closely with the executives. They may not be on the front lines or may not be working on the front lines as much, although these topics definitely apply to them. But we're talking about great cultural shifts here. We're talking about legacy companies and legacy industries. Do you have any interesting stories or feedback about how they can approach their management or their executives to start to effect change at the frontline level that can move that brand to where other companies are going with that sort of thing?

Jim Tincher: Well, first of all, it's to try to break down the dichotomy between front line and executives. Now, clearly there will be a difference. You need executives. Somebody's got to be at the top. You need people out servicing customers. But you know, I spend a lot of time at Best Buy, for example, and the CEO would be out there serving customers. The CEO, if they have time to be out there serving customers, certainly you do as well. Amazon, the executives not just listen in on phone calls, they take the phone calls. They actually firsthand listen to that, and that really makes a huge difference.

That's where we spend a lot of time trying to talk with our clients, is how do you get your executives to understand firsthand what it's really like to be a customer? They tell me that, "I don't have time for that." I ask them, "Well, okay, if, for example, Rhoda Olsen, who is the CEO of Great Clips, a multi-billion-dollar firm, she would go out and visit I think 250 salons a year in person. If she's the CEO of a multi-billion-dollar company and she finds time to go out there and visit in person, certainly you can." It's to really help the executives understand what it's like day to day, get them there, and then secondly then create a feedback mechanism so that they can hearing straight from the front lines about what needs to be done.

We work in a space, voice of the customer. Related to that is called 'voce,' if you like being French, but voice of the customer through employees. That's another important thing to have on the side, is what's your mechanism for bringing back the employee feedback, who have the most hands-on direct contact with your customers? Those are areas I'd really start focusing on. First of all, get the executives out there firsthand, and then second of all, get a feedback channel so the employees can give that feedback directly.

Taylor Pipes: Those are great points. Especially if you're in the retail industry, for example, a lot of our customers are, you just really have to get out there, get into the role, and talk to these people. I don't care what industry you're in, whether you're a startup or you're a manufacturing company, working on the front lines and hearing from those people is going to start to help you tell better stories and lead better initiatives into all of your channels there. I think that's a very great point.

We talk about companies that do really good at customer-centric focuses, like Costco and Zappos and Southwest Airlines. Nordstrom obviously comes to mind. But before our conversation, you mentioned the top companies for customer service and experience, and I'd love you to tell us more about what those are and why.

Jim Tincher: Sure. When I'm working with retailers, I'll often ask, "What is the best retailer in terms of customer experience?" The answer that usually comes is Nordstrom. It's almost one of the first ones they list. Nordstroms is good, no question about it. If we were asking about customer service, Nordstrom pretty much wins. But when we talk about customer experience, that's a little bit different.

Customer experience is made up of three things.

  1. Effectiveness. Can you get the job done?
  2. Ease. How easy is it for you?
  3. And, emotion. How does it make you feel?

What we find is that two of the top retailers are actually, and the order flips every year, but Sam's Club and Costco. Now again, when you think about customer service, they won't come to mind, because they're not staffed for customer service. But they build a process to make it easier there, and then have their employees come in when needed. One of the other things that they do as well is, they pay more than other retailers, so they're able to bring in that great talent and enable them to engage customers. It's a really wonderful continuum they've built. What we really see is a clear connection between customer engagement and employee engagement.

Screen-Shot-2018-08-27-at-12.22.31-PM

Jim Tincher: Up on my blog, I had that graph that shows a very clear upward line between the two, and we saw ... This is from a few years ago. Advance Auto Parts, of all, was actually at the top of the two. You might not think of that as a really sexy company, but they have done a great job of engaging employees and customers who understand what their brand is and are able to make a big difference.

Taylor Pipes: We will include a link to an image of that in the follow-up transcript that we'll be publishing about Wednesday of this week. On that note, I do want to leave ... As we talk into our last point, I'd want to leave you with a Shep Hyken quote. He says, "There is a definite link between corporate culture and customer experience. What's happening on the inside is absolutely felt by the customer." I think that about sums up how important that topic is right there. You are a journey mapper, Jim.

Jim Tincher: Yes.

Taylor Pipes: Can you explain to us ... This is a relatively new concept, I think, in customer service. Customer mapping is something I'm familiar with in content strategy circles, but I'm wondering if you could talk a little bit about what journey mapping is, and how important it is for companies to think about.

Jim Tincher: You bet, thanks. A journey map is a visual representation of your customer's or employee's journey. In fact, something that caught me by surprise is, we're seeing a lot more demand for measuring and mapping that internal journey than we have historically. I think it's about 12% of our business this year. We don't market around it, but companies are starting to see that, if I want to create that better outside experience, I need to understand what it's like internally.

Jim Tincher: What a journey map does is, it's based on talking to customers. I know, revolutionary. So getting out there and talking to customers, and we do that with our clients as well, and then putting together a visual representation of the highs and lows of that journey, all with an eye towards driving change. We find that what works really well for that process is, if you're mapping the customer journey, you need to include both your senior executives and your frontline employees, middle management as well, and get the representatives of the entire organization together to really understand what that's like.

Jim Tincher: Last week I was working with a hospital system, and we brought in I think 40 people. They include the heads of the practice lines. It included people who are directly serving patients. That's when you can start driving change, because you have that representation, both the people who know customers firsthand and those who know your strategy, and then they can link them together.

Taylor Pipes: You talk about moments of truth. Tell me more about that.

Jim Tincher: Not every point in a journey matters the most, or matters the same, I should say. There's always certain points that stand out more so. To your point earlier, they usually involve a person. It's usually somebody who's able to make that connection and to create either delight or disappointment. Often what we find, the disappointing moments are usually caused, though, not when there's an employee, but when there's no employee when there should be. Those moments of delight, while not universally, pretty close, it's an engaged employee who stepped forward to help the customer accomplish what they're trying to do. If that's in healthcare, they give them a plan, they make them feel cared for, and they know that that employee is there to guide them. In retail, it's when somebody's really overwhelmed and an employee steps forward and says, "Here, let me help you with that. Let me explain how this works in everyday language."

Jim Tincher: Those moments of truth are those rare moments when you can make a lasting difference in your customers' or employees' lives. They typically come in a moment of transition, whether that's from going from shopping to buying, or entering the store. In healthcare, it's when they're first setting up their appointment or when they're leaving. A moment of transition is usually an opportunity to make a difference in your customers' lives.

Taylor Pipes: I think it's an absolutely brilliant and fantastic tool that can help people really navigate this really, on the outside, a very complicated funnel from front line all the way to the executives, and all the important interaction points between, that help a business understand where its challenges are lying in. I think it's a really interesting tool.

Jim Tincher: We have a lot of fun with it, and it really helps align everybody, to get on the same page regarding, this is what it's like to be our customers.

Taylor Pipes: We've got a few questions. If you have any questions, feel free to submit them. You should be able to type your question in directly. We've gotten a few already. I'm going to turn the tables here and ask you a few questions before we wrap up today's webinar.

Jim Tincher: All right.

Taylor Pipes: How long does the employee to customer journey process take place, and how does an organization gather that information and what do they do with it? That's a big question, and I think an important one.

Jim Tincher: It is, it is. I've done 45-minute webinars just on that. But quickly, the process of doing a journey map typically takes about three to four months by the time you really get out there, engage first internally, let's get everybody on the same page, and then go out and talk to customers. Now, how we talk to customers varies. The main thing is, it needs to be as your customers are actually going through it.

Jim Tincher: I was talking to somebody online in some chat, and they were saying, "If you really want to understand the purchase of eyeglasses, you need to do it in the store." Well, yes, but. Because the decision about making eyeglasses is probably made in the bathroom, as somebody's looking in the mirror and saying, "This is not working for me," and they're thinking about what they want. I'm not saying you need to visit your customers' bathrooms as such, but their homes, and start that conversation there, and then follow them. Are they looking online first? Are they going straight to the store? You really need to include that whole journey.

Jim Tincher: When we worked in the grocery segment, we started in people's homes and then followed them into the stores and came back. That could be where you're literally following them as a person. There's great technology that we use so that you can do it worldwide without having to be everywhere. But you really want to follow the customers on their terms, and that's where a lot of companies do it wrong. You want to do it the convenient way. Just sit inside the store. The store is important, but there's a context around it. You need to begin where the customer thinks you begin.

Taylor Pipes: What are some easy ways to make sure employees are engaged at all levels of the organization? Have you seen any examples that you really particularly like?

Jim Tincher: I'm going to challenge one word. If it was easy, we wouldn't be having to have this webinar. Going back to Darin's comments, there are best practices. It's starting with that measurement. What I've seen done badly is when you reward a manager for having high engagement scores. I visited a store once and they had a bunch of balloons with fives on them. Well, what's this all about? Well, our employee survey's coming up, and we want to make sure they give us bad scores. Okay, bad, bad, bad idea. What works far better is, you reward your managers based on not the employee engagement scores, but a different question. Has your manager taken action based off last year's scores? Because that's hard to game with a five on a balloon, and it's really more about driving action. That's where we see a difference. Not managing managers based on their employees' engagement, but on, what are they doing about it? That applies to any level of the organization.

Taylor Pipes: Interesting. Yeah, I'm curious if you have any other thoughts on the measurement side, because ... Are there typical ways that employees are using measurement as a gauge to how their programs are working, or are there measurements they should be thinking about?

Jim Tincher: Well, you really want to line up customer and employee measurements. You can often see that the stores with the best employee engagement also have the best customer engagement, which then should tie into financials. Best Buy, back in the 2000s, they found that for every .1 they could move up their scores in a store, from, for example, 3.7 to 3.8, it was $100 thousand in profit.

Taylor Pipes: Wow.

Jim Tincher: That shows the power of employee engagement. You need to be able to measure that so that you can then manage its improvement.

Taylor Pipes: Got it. All right, we've got one last question here. You said earlier that customers want choices, but they don't necessarily want to choose. Could you touch on that a little bit more?

Jim Tincher: Yeah. That's one of our big sayings there. Your customers want to know they have selection. But let's say, for example ... Again, I'm a former Best Buy guy. You go to Best Buy, you want a home theater system. You literally could probably have 250 choices, if not more. By the time you bring in your receiver, your speakers, your TV, your home theater, it's actually probably more on the lines of multiple thousands. Your customers don't want to just see, "Here's your one choice. Take it or leave it." They want to know they have those thousands of choices. That doesn't mean they want to work through all of them.

Jim Tincher: They want an employee to be able to close that gap, to be able to say, "Based one what I've heard, you and your needs, you're in a studio apartment, you're in a big old conference room, you're whatever you are, these are the right products for you." And maybe still give them a few options, like, "Here's the best if you want a 60-inch, and here's what you ... a 49-inch TV." Give them a little bit of choices, but it's your job as a company, and specifically through your employees, to filter out all those options you have to bring in the right one for your customers.

Taylor Pipes: Got it. Well, I'd like to take a time to thank everyone for attending. We all know you have busy schedules, but we always love taking some time out of our days to talk about customer experience and customer service. It's a fascinating topic. It's one we care about. It's one that Jim cares about. He's a journey mapper and founder of Minneapolis-based Heart of the Customer. You can find Jim at heartofthecustomer.com. You can find us at branchmessenger.com and shiftonomics.com. Jim, thank you very much for taking the time to chat with us. I really appreciate it. Have a great day.

Jim Tincher: Thank you.

Taylor Pipes

Taylor Pipes

I write stories about people that interact with technology that solves human problems. I love exploring and finding compelling stories at the intersection of technology and the future of work.

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