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Our People Are Our Future

A few years back, an agent asked me during a busy lunch shift if they could get a glass of water. Yes, you read that right - they asked me if they could go on “Not Ready” to get a drink.

I remember looking at them inquisitively like I didn’t believe what I was hearing. “Of course you can!”

The agent thanked me, grabbed a glass, and sat back down to take calls. They quenched their thirst, we made it through lunch, and all was well.

This simple, absurd moment in the day was a life-altering leadership moment for me. Had we, as a contact center leadership team, cultivated a culture of such intense hustle that agents felt they needed permission to partake in simple acts of self-care?

I didn’t sleep well that night. Lying awake, I turned to Google and searched for “how to measure and improve employee happiness.”

Looking Forward

The last decade brought many profound changes to the customer service and experience spaces. Artificial Intelligence (AI), chatbots, and many different forms of automation became practical and accessible to many of us, regardless of industry.

Some fear that the emergence and accessibility of these technologies pose a threat to the role of humans in the workplace, while others believe that humans will always be needed to help maximize the true potential of these virtual systems. I fall in the latter camp, and hold steady in the belief that the need for human connection will only increase as we deploy these technologies.

In fact, I would argue we need to value our employees even more in the age of AI. As I reflect on what I feel will be most important for leaders to focus on in this new decade, I always come back to my 2016 Google search. The question I asked that night pokes at a bigger one - how can leaders prioritize the employee experience (EX) throughout their business?

Pizza parties, birthday emails, and one-off celebrations for a job well done don’t cut it anymore. These kinds of efforts, while fun and important in certain contexts, do not equate to delivering a meaningful EX. While they have the advantage of being easy and cheap to execute, true experience initiatives require structure, discipline, and follow-through. What’s more, they require actively engaging the people you’re targeting to serve before implementing programming. They are rarely low-effort, “cheap”, or easy, and that’s a good thing.

Just like we strive to engage, communicate with, and survey our customers in creative ways, we should do the same for our people in this next decade. An organization’s people are a leader’s primary customer, after all. Similar to how we should treat customer feedback, we must close the loop with employee feedback, deliver actionable insights, and be transparent around where we’re not doing our best and how we will do better with our employees. Just like we are bringing the Voice of the Customer (VoC) to the forefront of our business strategy sessions, we must also bring the Voice of the Employee (VoE) along for the ride.

Emotional loyalty will drive a customer’s willingness to continue doing business with a company this decade, and I believe the same will be true for an employee’s willingness to keep working for one. Loyalty comes from an emotional response to an experience, so we’ll need to work together as leaders, advocates, and experts in this space to be more thoughtful and innovative around how we can operationalize hyper-personal experiences, especially for employees.

Take Action

Don’t wait for a “water”-shed moment like I experienced to start prioritizing the experience of your people at work. If you’re not sure how to get started, or if you want to take your efforts to the next level, here are a few initial recommendations:

  • Employee Journey Maps: Model customer journey mapping practices to design a better EX. Be sure to start from the moment an individual applies for a job with your company and carry your maps through an employee’s exit from your organization.
  • Consider Officevibe: This fun, free, and fantastic tool is great for automating the survey experience to capture valuable EX insights. Officevibe asks questions around manager and peer relationships, wellness, eNPS, and more.
  • Reevaluate Benefits Packages: Comprehensive insurance and 401k packages are table stakes, so go beyond the basics and think about other benefits you can provide. Options can include pet insurance, conference stipends, charitable giving matches, and subsidized health and wellness memberships. Understand what is important to your people and get creative!
  • Prioritize Learning and Development: Your employees are human beings who have their own set of individual interests, passions, and development goals. Create a culture of continuous learning by partnering with your workforce management team to build learning and development time into their days.

“Great customer experiences start with great employee experiences.”

You’ve likely heard variations of this sentiment before, and hopefully, you keep some version of the mantra top of mind this decade when planning your EX and CX strategies. Do right by your people and they’ll do right by your customers. Our people are our future, so champion them. Always.