Understanding “The Great Resignation” and Brands’ Own Role in Creating It

The news media has been rife this last year or so with stories of The Great Resignation—an unprecedented tidal wave of job market churn that has seen millions upon millions of employees quit their jobs. As with most topics related to employment and the economy, the finger-pointing over who and/or what’s behind this phenomenon has been incessant… and loud. No matter which lens the issue is viewed through, though, one fact is apparent to all: the phrase “I quit” has become one of the employee world’s loudest slogans.

Despite what all the debate over The Great Resignation might imply, though, there is in fact a hierarchy of causes and events that we can definitively track to what we’re seeing in the job market right now. What follows is a quick illustration (and examination) of the sequence of events that precipitated The Great Resignation, as well as what brands like yours might be able to do about it if you find that many of your employees are headed for the exit.

The Great Resignation’s Deep Roots

The first misconception about The Great Resignation that I’d like to dispel is the notion that the COVID-19 pandemic is directly responsible for its inception. This assumption is built almost exclusively on the close timing the two phenomena share, which, frankly, is correlative reasoning at best. Additionally, when the pundits pushing this idea actually care to delve deeper, they insist that the challenges and perspectives brought about by the pandemic caused many employees to reconsider their positions, hence the current job market churn.

The truth, however, is much more nuanced than that. As countless employee experience (EX) experts have been documenting for years now, many employees were feeling dissatisfied with their jobs or disconnected from their wider organization long before COVID-19 was even a term. Burnout, disengagement, and a lack of employee support have, unfortunately, been hallmarks at many organizations for many, many years. The pandemic, therefore, did not mark the beginning of the sentiments that culminated in The Great Resignation; it merely catalyzed employee sentiments that had already existed for a long time.

Culture, Infrastructure, and Operational Challenges

There’s more to the story of The Great Resignation than widespread employee dissatisfaction with their daily work or their disconnection from their employers’ brand purpose. In fact, much of the narrative is that many companies have insufficiently invested in employee support resources. Though you might expect that more brands would be proactive about countering declines in employee performance and tenure, the sheer and extraordinary amount of churn now being seen tells quite a different story. That story, unfortunately, is one of countless companies’ inability to provide even the most basic support and experience value for their most critical assets.

It’s pretty clear where this story is headed:  a combination of employee disconnection, perceived cultural toxicity, and burnout due to factors like lack of available support resources has directly impacted the job market. When the COVID-19 element was added to this set of challenges, with all of the disruption, stress and uncertainty it brought, it became a catalyst for The Great Resignation.  Many employees were already worn down from facing these issues, and their conclusion was to seek new roles not just outside of their current employer, but even beyond their own industry.

In other words, high percentages of employees, feeling they have only one life to live, said:  “I quit.”

A More Progressive Employee Experience Concept

Even if your brand isn’t one of the thousands of companies around the world currently scrambling to remedy its employee support investment problem, you’ve probably heard the phrase “employee engagement” get thrown around as a remedy to The Great Resignation. As the story around this approach goes, employee engagement espouses policy creation as the solution to employee disengagement and burnout. It’s built around discovering employee discontentment, reacting to it with new policy created within HR departments, and hopefully lowering costs all the while. 

However, while policy certainly has its place in any organization, employee engagement alone will leave any company falling woefully short of its retention goals. There’s a much higher strata of the employee world known as employee commitment that brands will need to reach not ‘just’ to survive The Great Resignation, but also to build fundamentally human connections with employees and thus achieve Experience Improvement (XI) for them.

Click here to read my full-length point of view document on employee commitment, and how it can help your brand achieve more foundational and transformative goals than what can be achieved with reactive policymaking.

Diagnosing And Improving Employee Connection To Company Culture

This article was originally posted on CustomerThink.com

Why Is There An Urgent Need For Companies To Do This Now?

Covid-influenced working conditions have contributed to employee disconnection from company culture, disaffection, and even emotional burnout, resulting in high prospective churn rates in many business sectors, i.e. “The Great Resignation”. Employee disconnection and discontinuity also have both an indirect and a direct impact on customer behavior. As viewed by many consulting organizations in their evaluations of this unfolding era of chronic talent shortages coupled with low unemployment rates, the conjoined, common themes of enterprise humanity and reframed purpose seem to be among the most attainable stakeholder prescriptives for dealing with the current employee landscape.

So, the state of organizational culture has tremendous and undeniable influence on employee behavior. In the famous words of Peter Drucker, “Culture eats strategy for breakfast.” Unfortunately, and rather irrespective of the beliefs of some corporate leaders and consultants, no amount of strategic corporate sophistication and modeling can work a company out of a toxic, unfocused purpose, and non-humanistic culture. It must come through disciplined leadership, investment, assessment, and change.

The challenges for many organizations, though, is that they have either minimally addressed or completely missed the impact of enterprise culture on the level of employee connectedness, contribution, and commitment.

Why Can’t Traditional Employee Engagement Research Target Company Culture For Improvement?

Classic engagement research, as practiced since the mid-1980’s, is very effective at identifying employee perceptions into the nature of their jobs, the relationship between employee and manager, employee and co-workers, and the line of sight between the employee performance and company performance. It also functions on the frequently disproved tactical assumption that ‘happy employees = happy customers”, and so is designed to only superficially address the relationship between deeper feelings and beliefs about enterprise culture and resultant employee behavior.

For organizations to recognize employee needs and wants within today’s rapidly changing landscape, there must first be a recognition that employees, as stakeholders and assets to the company, have many of the same behavioral and life stage issues as customers. And, just as customer behavior can range from high negativity/sabotage to high positivity/advocacy, so too can employee behavior. The goals for employees, then, are commitment and connected behavior, with advocacy as the highest state. 

The foundation for attaining this goal is an understanding of cultural impact. More specifically, today organizations need to identify, and leverage, employee perceptions of culture relative to:

  1. Cohesion of functions and units/groups within the company
  2. Enterprise/functional/group customer and value focus
  3. Management/leadership effectiveness, integrity, and trust
  4. Influences on morale – diversity, inclusiveness, communication, latitude
  5. Support for personal career, growth, training, and work/life balance

Is There A Clear And Actionable Path To Company Culture Improvement?

The quick, and encouraging, answer is ‘Yes. There is’. This path, however, requires several things. First, senior leadership must have, or develop, an understanding of where the cultural challenges exist for employees. Next, the organization must be both disciplined in discovery and change and willing to make at least some investment. The financial and time investment comes through macro culture maturity assessment, targeted qualitative and quantitative employee research focused only on their connection, and commitment to, company culture, and development of communication, process, and other techniques for building and sustaining greater connection with and by employees. 

This path is not necessarily simple, and sometimes not easy, because cultural DNA is often strongly embedded, and change-resistant, within the enterprise. But, in the wise words of Yoda when confronted by Luke Skywalker’s reluctance to embrace new thinking: “You must unlearn what you have learned.”

Want to learn more about the power of employee experience (EX) and the benefits it brings to your bottomline? Read our eBook on understanding the power of employee engagement.

The Top 3 “Blended Experiences” Retail Consumers & Employees Expect This Year

In 2022, modern retailers will face many challenges as the industry continues to recover from the global pandemic. During the unpredictable lockdown, retail brands were forced to transform their in-person experiences to digital ones. And now, according to our most recent EX & CX Retail Trends research, both customers and employees expect a blended experience.

But what does the term “blended experience” really mean? Well, it’s essentially bringing the digital experience to the in-store experience. Hence, “blended”. Still not getting the gist of it? Then let’s take a look at three concrete examples we’ve discovered based on data our Strategic Insights Team collected from consumers and employees across North America. Here’s what people are truly expecting:

Blended Experience #1: Buy Online, Pick Up Instore

It’s no surprise that being able to buy products online is an expectation, but customers also want options on how to receive said product. During quarantine, retail stores often offered same-day home delivery, curbside pick up, and buy online, pick up in-store (BOPIS). The question is, which of these will last? 

For employees, curbside and delivery have proven expensive to operate and don’t drive sales like in-store traffic does (especially if retail employees are working commission).  Meanwhile, because delivery is no longer considered a free necessity, and because curbside pick-up times aren’t as flexible, customers are less impressed with these options. So, BOPIS is a compromise: customers get to easily buy products online and receive their items relatively quickly, while employees get to engage with customers in-store while avoiding the obstacles those pickup types present.

Blended Experience #2: Pick Up, Walk Out (Automatic Payment)

After a long two years, customers and employees are used to a contactless experience and find it convenient for reasons beyond COVID. Additionally, with grocery stores continuing to capitalize on self-checkout experiences and innovations like Amazon Go’s Just Walk Out technology, more customers are expecting the retail industry to follow suit. Simply removing checkout lines can save retail stores over $37.7 billion and allow customers to shop without the hindrance of wasting time waiting in line.

Blended Experience #3: Virtual Try-On

Augmented reality in retail blew up during the pandemic. And, with the many social media filters that younger customers use daily, it’s no wonder that virtual try-on capability has emerged as a top expectation. Of course, customers would rather not wait to change in a stall or travel all the way to a store, but the real kicker is that virtual try-on actually minimizes a lot of risk for them.

One of the greatest barriers for online retail experiences is the reality that customers can’t really try on what they buy. With a virtual feature like this, customers get a visual sense of how the items they’re eyeing could fit in their lives, without ever having to leave home. After a virtual try-on experience, customers are reassured that their purchases truly suit their desires, reducing the chance of returns.

The In-Store Experience of the Future

It’s clear that, when it comes to retail, customers want a blend of digital and in-person experiences, not just one or the other. Both types of experiences have their pros and cons, and it’s our job as experience professionals to deliver an integrated interaction that brings forth each of their valuable qualities. Hopefully, these examples can help your brand take a second look at the experience you’re currently providing customers and spark meaningful Experience Improvement (XI) this year.

But this dynamic doesn’t stop at just blended experiences. The retail world is being impacted by changes in feedback methods, the influence of social media, and the Gen Z perspective. There are many opportunities beyond blended experiences for retail stores to meet customer needs, which you can learn more about in our new eBook: EX & CX Trends: What Retail Brands Need to Know in 2022.

Three Elements that Create and Sustain Employee Engagement

Employee engagement has become a hotter topic than ever in the age of The Great Resignation. Millions of employees are quitting their jobs and heading elsewhere, leaving countless organizations scrambling to retain their remaining talent and/or evaluate why their workforce is in such flux. If your org is in that boat right now, we can help you keep sailing with a look at three elements that create and sustain employee engagement:

  1. Organizational Culture
  2. Customer-Focused Processes
  3. Ambassadorial Behavior

Element 1: Organizational Culture

One of the hard truths about The Great Resignation is that many departing employees feel that their former organizations lacked a supportive workplace culture. Contrary to popular belief, feelings like these existed long before the COVID-19 pandemic; that event, and the stress that came with it, simply added fuel to an existing fire. Culture is fundamental to an employee’s sense of purpose and belonging, so see whether that word is cropping up in feedback from current and former workers. If it is, you should take a hard look at why employees are feeling that way, ideally with the assistance of an experience platform that can isolate actionable insights from unstructured feedback.

Element 2: Customer-Focused Processes

Another element that’s key to employee satisfaction is the chance to make a difference for customers. What this means for organizations like yours is not just giving those chances to frontline employees, but also giving other departments that aren’t customer-facing a chance to see how their work contributes to making that difference. Sharing data in this way is also handy for making customer experiences more consistent, because it gives everyone in your organization the same holistic, 360-degree view of your customer to reference.

Element 3: Ambassadorial Behavior

Improving workplace culture and refining customer processes are involved and difficult tasks. However, it’s well worth brands’ time to invest in both not just for the sake of retention, but also for creating bold, human connections with your customers that transcend individual interactions. When employees feel meaningfully supported by their organizations and that they have a chance to make a difference in customers’ lives, they won’t ‘just’ stick around—they’ll feed that passion directly into customer relationships and help you maintain an audience with unwavering brand loyalty. In this way, ensuring your employees are happy creates a feedback loop that keeps your customers happy (and keeps them from seeking out your competitors).

A Closer Look

How else can greater employee engagement improve your workplace, your brand, and your experiences? Click here to read our full-length point of view document on employee advocacy. Inveterate employee experience (EX) expert Michael Lowenstein draws on decades of research to sketch out a clear, helpful perspective on how best to advocate for your employees and meaningfully improve experiences for everyone!

Using Holistic Listening to Retain Employees—and Customers

It’s popular to believe that COVID-19 created the unprecedented employee exodus we’ve all come to know as The Great Resignation. For months now, we’ve seen brands struggle to retain employees as millions of workers across virtually every sector of the economy and society leave their jobs, citing a similarly diverse range of reasons for leaving. These include, but are by no means limited to, insufficient pay, hazardous work environments, and having to put up with belligerent customers.

What’s at the Root of the Struggle with Employee Retention?

Though it’s natural to assume that the timing of this event means it’s strictly a product of COVID, the truth about the Great Resignation and employee disengagement in general is that the pandemic didn’t create either phenomenon; it simply exacerbated existing employee issues. Factors like low pay or dangerous work existed long before COVID, which means that the disease isn’t the root cause of The Great Resignation so much as it’s the straw that broke the camel’s back.

The other hard truth that feeds into The Great Resignation is that, frankly, a lot of companies are having trouble retaining their workers because they never understood or invested in improving the employee experience (EX). These brands thus lack the resources, infrastructure, and capabilities necessary to rescue at-risk employee relationships, acquire new talent, and deliver on customer expectations in a time of great turmoil. 

No matter where your organization falls on the EX maturity spectrum, one thing has become clear: improving employee engagement, retention, and acquisition requires a new, more holistic means of addressing employee behavior and commitment.

A Quick Note on Employee Burnout, Disengagement, and the Like

Before we get to those holistic means, though, I think it would be helpful to briefly touch on the difference between disengagement, disconnection, and another term I’m sure you’ve heard a lot recently: burnout. 

The terms are not interchangeable; disengagement and disconnection refer to an employee’s lack of interest and/or investment in their work and organization’s mission. Meanwhile, burnout denotes feeling overwhelmed and mentally unwell as a result of said work or mission. 

My goal with this piece is to help you anticipate and solve for disengagement before it leads to that burnout.

3 Elements of Holistic Employee Engagement

Element #1: Anticipate Changing Needs

The first element of thinking about employee engagement and commitment more holistically is being cognizant of how employee needs and systems will change tomorrow, not ‘just’ what they’re like today. This is particularly important to consider as Millennials’ and Gen Z-ers’ slice of the workforce continues to grow. One of the most important things these digital natives want is a chance for meaningful growth, and if they feel that your brand isn’t considering that or how their needs will change, they will quickly turn elsewhere to find it. With the rise of remote and hybrid work environments, respectively, employees have more options here than ever before.

Element #2: Readily Recognize Value

A second element that can affect employee engagement and commitment is whether or not they feel valued. It’s easy for employees who contribute to organization success to disengage if their contributions aren’t being recognized. In other words, if they feel underappreciated despite their commitment and day-to-day effort, they’ll become discontent and, ultimately, churn. 

There are a number of ways to solve for this problem, such as creating a closed-loop process by which employees can contribute their insights and ideas. These processes are well-honed at best-in-class organizations—some brands not only incentivize idea submissions, but also give employees a cut of the savings their ideas generate.

Element #3: Foster Meaningful Connections

Finally, with the significant workplace changes we’re seeing, creating meaningful connections amongst coworkers and teams has become a critical challenge for leaders. Building sustainable workplace camaraderie in an often-remote work environment, the kind that truly leads to high-performing teams, is easier said than done. 

But the same principles leading to healthy workplace relationships (communication, trust, vulnerability, empathy, kindness) must still exist and be built anew as team composition evolves. Brand leaders who can pull this off will have not only driven improved business outcomes like operational efficiency, but also have built a culture of high employee engagement, commitment, and retention.

Ensuring employees feel heard, understood, and connected are essential to your organization’s success, so the ability to ingest solicited, unsolicited, structured, and unstructured employee feedback is invaluable to finding actionable intelligence. This is especially important when you consider that employee perception of work is the next great diversity frontier. Sex, race, and gender identity are all highly important for organizations to consider, but I firmly believe that diversity in how we as employees  perceive an efficient, effective workplace should be considered in a similar context.

A Better Tomorrow

Considering employee needs, making employees feel valued, creating sustainable camaraderie, and appreciating workplace diversity are all vital to engaging employees holistically, not just to preventing disengagement. Creating and sustaining a workplace environment built on these four pillars is no small task, but it’s what brands will need to achieve if they want to create meaningful experiences for their employees. 

Do that, and your employees will return the favor in the form of greater passion and, ultimately, a greater investment in your customers’ experiences, creating greater success for your organization.

Elves Rule: Employees ‘Make’ The Customer Experience, and Should Be Recognized for It

This article was originally published on CustomerThink

Santa Claus (with the help of Mrs. Claus) gets much of the credit for spreading Yule joy; but, isn’t it really the elves who are most responsible? Several years ago, business consultant Matthew T. Grant interviewed me for his blog site (http://www.matthewtgrant.com) and the subject was how, through their employees, companies can move beyond satisfaction to create real customer loyalty behavior. Years later, much of what we discussed still rings true, like a silver carol bell. Here is some of what was covered.

  • Positive customer experience with employees at your company has a far greater impact on loyalty than does satisfaction with a product or service. Indeed, studies have shown that 70 percent of customer behavior is driven not by product quality or efficiency of delivery or advertising, but instead by interactions with your people.
  • You cannot create, or sustain, customer loyalty behavior without committed employees. More than commitment to the company or the brand, more than commitment to productivity or innovation or even the organization itself, we are talking about commitment to the customer. The key is to focus on developing and supporting employees so that they, in turn, focus on the customer. Ideally, you want every employee to be not just a brand champion, but an advocate for the value provided by the organization.
  • Employee advocacy is a framework for linking employee commitment to business results by emphasizing the need for the entire organization to create unique, value-add customer experiences. Optimizing customer experience, then, is everybody’s job.
  • The focus on customer experience, inherent to employee advocacy, reflects the core concept of ‘value’. Value has two components: a rational, functional side and an emotionally-based, relationship side. Most companies focus on optimizing the functional side through quality management and process improvement.
  • Functional elements of value can be important when it comes to meeting customers’ basic expectations, but they often aren’t particularly differentiating and they don’t drive long-term customer trust and customer loyalty behavior. The latter are more frequently engendered by the emotional connection with the company, which in turn is fostered by the attitudes and actions of employees toward the customers.
  • While “loyalty” is generally a term associated with marketing, organizational behavior and employee development are not. Accordingly, the impetus for change usually comes from outside marketing. The move toward commitment and advocacy is generally driven, and championed, by senior executives, though, of course, they can’t do it alone. A traditionally successful partnership will consist of senior leadership working in concert with operations, market research and human resources.
  • Market research provides the employee advocacy data and the insights. The biggest impact this has rests in demonstrating the difference between internal perception of value and external perception. Service managers and representatives, salespeople, and other employees are often out of sync with customers in terms of perceived value of services, products, and features.
  • One way to uncover just how in-sync or out of sync employees are is to ‘mirror’ customer surveys. For example, ask representatives from the organization to answer questions posed to customers as they believe the customers themselves would answer them. Conducting this kind of research will quickly uncover the gaps in perception and help highlight the need for change.
  • For their part, HR can help institutionalize and formalize employee advocacy, and can help cascade this out to the rest of the organization. You want and need their help, but you also need to make sure that you are building in redundancies and diagnostics so that they feel comfortable.
  • Senior management needs to get everyone marching behind the banner of ‘optimizing the customer experience.’ They need to state and restate this again and again. Before they do that, of course, they have to accept that organizational focus and stakeholder centricity are issues of concern. And that can be a real challenge.

Who in the organization doesn’t own the relationship with the customer, either directly or indirectly? Recalling the work of W. Edwards Deming, he believed that everyone in the organization is “either serving the customer or supporting someone who does.” This means that the ideal of commitment and advocacy needs to permeate the entire enterprise.

Unfortunately, this is rarely the case. Instead, many companies find that about 10 percent of their staff exhibit advocate qualities, 15 percent may be actively sabotaging the customer relationship and experience, and the remaining 75 percent are neither saboteurs nor advocates, but could, potentially, move in one direction or the other. What is needed is the kind of research and analysis which will find out where there is overlap between the advocating and committed elite and the rank and file. What is dragging them down toward negativism, and what are they already doing that just needs to be encouraged?

The real question is this: Do you want everyone to be like the advocates and is the enterprise willing to do what it takes to get them there? We can take a lesson from Santa and his corps of elves, the advocates of a joyous Christmas.

Employee Advocates: Their Role as Committed Company Assets, Active Communicators, and Key Contributors to Stakeholder Value

This article was originally published on CustomerThink.

Whenever the subject of employee satisfaction and engagement arises, it is often difficult to differentiate between them. Just as customer satisfaction doesn’t equate to loyalty behavior, if you believe that “a satisfied employee IS an engaged employee”, it’s likely that you can’t articulate a distinction.

A satisfied employee can pretty much be described as one who is relatively happy or more than complacent about their day-to-day job experience: the work, pay, benefits, possibilities for growth, promotions and possibly more – – like training, work environment, and reward and recognition. These employees start their work day, they perform their job at acceptable levels, and they go home (or, are already at home due to traditional workplace restrictions resulting from the pandemic). Although satisfied employees are generally supportive of the business and what it represents, they likely won’t go beyond doing the basics of their job descriptions.

Rules of Engagement

An engaged employee, to follow the accepted range of definitions by HR professionals and consultants, is a fit for his/her role, is aligned with the goals of the organization, and is a productive individual. These employees have some potential to impact the customer experience; and there is documented, often incidental, evidence of correlation between the two. However, today more is needed of employees: Namely, proven direct causation, the specific defined linkage, and intersection, of employee thinking and behavior to customer brand/company loyalty and advocacy in the marketplace.

In part because of today’s greater emphasis on the emotionally-based components of customer experience and customer value delivery, and how this must be an enterprise cultural priority, employees have become center stage in optimizing customer behavior. Company goals now include building a corps of employees who perform at proactive, customer-centric levels beyond engagement and satisfaction. These “employee advocates” have three key and core behavioral traits:

  • Commitment to the company: Commitment to, and being positive about, the company (through personal satisfaction, fulfillment, and an expression of pride), and to being a contributing, loyal, and fully aligned, member of the culture
  • Commitment to the product/service value proposition: Commitment to, and alignment with, the mission and goals of the company, as expressed through perceived excellence (benefits and solutions) provided by the employer’s products and/or services
  • Commitment to the customers: Commitment to understanding customer needs, and to performing in a manner which provides customers with optimal experiences and relationships, as well as delivering the highest level of product and/or service value

Additionally, and not unimportantly, these employees are often vocal, social supporters of their employer and the value its products and services, and fellow employees, represent to stakeholders. In other words, similar to the behavior of vocally loyal customers, they are advocates.

The Missing Link

In looking at the progression from satisfaction to engagement to advocacy, we have examined research conducted over the past three decades. What we have observed are studies that examined some contributing factors of employee experience and value, such as reward and recognition, job fit, career opportunities, work environment, and departmental and management relationships. But the critical component often totally missing, or lightly addressed, from all of this material is the definitive linkage and commitment to customers.

Employee advocacy identifies new categories and key drivers of employee subconscious emotional and rational commitment, while it is also linked with the emotional and rational aspects of customer commitment.

When offering results of research on employee satisfaction and engagement, companies will often emphasize things like brand image and social media activity as part of employee training and responsibility. These are certainly important; but, just because employees have a solid understanding of the brand does not mean they will deliver on the product or service promise the enterprise has made to customers.

Tony Hsieh, the late founder and CEO of Zappos, said: “The brand is just a lagging indicator of the company’s culture.” He hit the mark with that statement. Brand image needs to be complemented and supported by a culture and set of processes dedicated to both employee and customer experience. That brand promise has to be delivered for customers every time they interact with the company. Contribution to customer experience also needs to be fully, and strategically, baked into the organizational DNA and into every employee’s job description.

The Path to EX Maturity

Consider how frequently your customers interact with your employees, either directly or indirectly. Whether it is through a computer screen in a customer service chat, on the telephone, or in person, every employee, whether customer-facing or not, should be an enthusiastic and committed representative for the brand. If employee satisfaction and employee engagement are not designed to meet this critical objective of the customer experience, almost inevitably there will be a sub-optimal downstream result with regard to customer behavior.

In any group of employees, irrespective of whether it’s a service department, technical and operational division, or a branch office, there will be differing levels of commitment to the employer’s brand and the company itself, its value proposition, and its customers. If employees are negative to the point of undermining, and even sabotaging, customer experience value, they will actively work against business goals and outcomes. However, if employees are advocates, and whether they interact with customers directly, indirectly, or even not at all, they will better service and support customers.

For companies to create and sustain higher levels of employee advocacy, it’s also essential that the employee experience be given as much emphasis as the customer experience. If employee commitment and advocacy are to flourish, there must be value, and a sense of shared purpose, for the employee as well as the company and customer – in the form of recognition, reward (financial and training), and career opportunities. Combined with advanced analytics and other employee-related data, the advocacy concept can lead and enable any organization to be more stakeholder-centric and dynamic.

This is a clear path to EX maturity. Where is your company on the maturity spectrum?

You Ask, We Tell: How Do I Increase Survey Response Rates? Should I Shorten My Survey?

I’ve been looking back over my 20+ years of various research consulting roles and during that time, I’ve continuously fielded questions from clients and others within the industry. In this blog, I’m going to focus on one question that continues to come up in conversations with CX practitioners and data analysts and my answer may surprise you.

How Do I Increase Survey Response Rates? Should I Shorten My Survey? 

My first instinct when asked this question is to ask, “are you really interested in only increasing your survey response rate, or are you interested in getting more responses?” Those are two different things. Survey response rates are the percentage of responses you receive from the survey invitations you send out. Responses are the absolute number of responses you receive, regardless of response rates. In many cases, you can actually increase the number of responses you receive while decreasing survey response rates by sending out more invitations.

In most cases survey response rates matter little in terms of your sample providing representation of a population. What’s most important is the absolute number of responses you have. For example, if I’m trying to represent the United States population of approximately 325 million people, I only need a little over 1000 respondents for a confidence level of +/- 3 percentage points. It doesn’t matter if those 1000 respondents are acquired from sending a survey invitation to 5000 people (20% response rate) or 100,000 people (1% response rate). 

The only caveat here is that a lower survey response rate may be an indicator that some sort of response bias is occurring: certain types of people may be responding more in comparison to other types. If that’s the case, it doesn’t matter how many responses you have. Your sample will still not represent the population. If you fear response bias, you should do a response bias study, but that’s a topic for another blog post.

Usually, when I point out to clients that they should be more interested in increasing the absolute number of responses they receive rather than just increasing survey response rates, they agree. 

Begin By Increasing the Number of Outgoing Survey Invitations 

You should begin your efforts to increase responses by deciding if it makes sense to send out more survey invitations. Below, I’ve identified three specific things you can do: 

  1. Consider Doing a Census: Some CX programs still engage in sampling instead of sending survey invitations to all eligible customers. If your program is sampling, consider doing a census. This will both increase the number of responses you receive and give you the opportunity to identify and rescue more at-risk customers.
  1. Scrutinize Your Contact Data: Are a significant portion of your records getting removed because contact information is either missing or wrong? If you obtain customer contact information from business units, such as stores, hotels, dealerships, etc., it’s important to look at sample quality at the unit level. It’s also helpful to examine the amount of sample records received from business units compared to their number of transactions. Units with low samples in proportion to their transactions probably need to focus on better ways to obtain customer contact information.
  1. Invite All Customer Segments: Are you missing some segments of your customer population? Not obtaining contact information for specific customer segments often has to do with information system issues. For instance, in the earlier days of automotive CX research most companies only surveyed warranty-service customers. They didn’t survey customers that went to a dealership and paid for the repair/service themselves (customer-pay events). The reason was simply a system issue. Companies didn’t receive those transaction records from their dealerships. Now, most automotive companies have remedied that issue and they survey both warranty and customer-pay service customers.

Next, Revise Your Survey Invitation

The next step is to look at your survey invitation process and the survey invitation itself. You should look for two general things. First, is there anything that might prohibit customers from receiving the invitation?

  • Are You Triggering Spam Filters? Sending out too many invitations in too short a time frame can trigger spam filters. Sending out too many invitations with invalid email addresses can also trigger spam filters or even get your project’s IP address black-listed by internet service providers. Therefore, make sure to check to see if email addresses are correctly formatted. If you’re really worried about the quality of your contact information, there are services available to pre-identify valid email addresses. 
  • Are You Sending Survey Invitations to the Wrong Customers? Outdated databases can cause you to send surveys to people that are no longer customers. Obviously, these people probably won’t respond to your survey, thus reducing response rates.
  • Are Your Customers Receiving the Invitations but Never Seeing Them: Most email domains use algorithms to sort emails into various folders such as Primary/Inbox, Promotions, and Spam. Keywords in your subject lines and invitation text can affect where your invitations go. Do some testing of your invitations to make sure they end up in the Primary/Inbox folder for the biggest email domains. Also, you need to repeat your tests periodically because sorting algorithms can change unexpectedly. An invitation that goes to the Primary/Inbox folder today will not necessarily go there next week or next year.

Second, is the invitation compelling enough that a customer or prospect will open it and take action?

  • Is the Subject Line of the Email Engaging to the Customer? The subject line is the first thing the customer sees. If it’s not engaging, the customer won’t open the invitation email. It’s helpful to test various versions of the invitation with different subject lines to determine which yields the highest open rates.
  • Does the Invitation Display Well on a Smartphone? Over half of InMoment’s survey respondents are now completing their surveys on smartphones. Make sure your invitation (and the survey itself) displays well on smaller devices. You should also check to see how well your invitation and survey display in all major browsers.
  • Do You Include a Realistic Time Estimate for How Long the Survey Will Take To Complete? This is especially important for shorter surveys, so that potential respondents know there will be only a small time commitment. It’s also a good idea for longer surveys because respondents will know what time commitment they’re getting into and they’ll be less likely to abandon the survey. If you are reluctant to tell the customer how long the survey will take to complete, your survey is probably too long.
  • Is the Response Option Visible? When a customer opens the invitation, is the link or button to respond to the survey visible (front and center) without having to scroll down? Remember, this should be the case on a smartphone as well as on a tablet or computer.
  • Is There a Call to Action? Your invitation should ask customers to respond and tell them why responding is important and what you’ll be doing with the information that will make their world and interaction with your product or service better. 
  • Are You Using Incentives to Increase Your Response Rate? Using incentives is complex and can be a bit tricky. But it’s always worth seeing if it is something that might work for you and your company. If you’re interested in testing it out, learn more about using incentives here.

Last but Not Least, Look at Revising the Survey Itself

Revising the survey itself may help increase responses. However, remember that revising the survey will only increase responses by reducing the number of people who abandon the survey after starting it. Typically, that number is quite small (about 5% for most CX surveys), so reducing abandonment probably won’t lead to a meaningful increase in the absolute number of responses. That being said, some of the things you should look for, in addition to the possibility that your survey is too long, are:

  • Is Your Survey Simple and Easy to Use? You should keep your survey focused on the topic it is intended to measure and avoid “nice to know questions.” In addition, avoid mixing response scales as much as possible, as this can lead to confusion for the respondent.
  • Does Your Survey Look Engaging? Your CX survey represents your brand. It should have the same voice and look and feel you use throughout all customer touch points-physical location, mobile app, website etc.
  • Is the Language in Your Survey Easy for Customers To Understand? Don’t use industry jargon. That turns off respondents and can lead to confusion. Be your brand, upfront with your requests, and transparent.
  • Does Your Survey Follow a Logical Flow to Walk the Customer Through the Experience Being Measured? This not only helps in reducing abandonment, but also helps customers recall the event accurately so they can give more thorough feedback.

When you want to increase the number of responses you receive, you should look beyond increasing your survey response rate and shortening your survey. There are much more effective ways to increase the number of responses that are often overlooked. 

Remember that we’re here with the latest tips and tricks to help you figure out the best way to listen to your customers (via surveys or other feedback channels like social media, websites, apps, reviews etc.), understand customer behaviors and wants and needs, and act upon what customers are saying to create better experiences and ultimately drive business success.

Want to learn more about how you can boost your customer experience survey response rate? Check out these InMoment Assets to learn more:

Thinking About Employee & Customer Journey Mapping? 3 Reasons to Dive In

There are a lot of elements to building a successful customer experience (CX) or employee experience (EX) program, but one of the most fundamental is employee and customer journey mapping. Journey mapping allows organizations to better understand the interactions and relationships that various audiences share with you, which allows you to create Experience Improvement (XI). Here are three quick reasons why journey mapping is essential:

  1. Optimizing Program Investment
  2. Expanding Your Program
  3. Figuring Out What Comes Next

Reason 1: Optimizing Program Investment

Understanding which touchpoints your audience uses and why they may or may not be functioning well is key to optimizing program investment. You can use employee and customer journey mapping to identify those touchpoints, listen in, and gather quantifiable data that proves your program’s success. The end result of this element is being able to go back to the boardroom with hard numbers, which goes a long way toward getting more funding for your program’s next cycle!

Reason 2: Expanding Your Program

When you map your journeys, you get a much better idea of which stakeholders need to be involved in your experience world. Employee and customer journey mapping is therefore a great way to rope new departments and teams into your program. This process also gives your entire organization a holistic, 360-degree view of your audience, which gives everyone a chance to work off of the same profile and create a more united brand mission.

Reason 3: Figuring Out What Comes Next

Sometimes, it’s good to stop and take stock of your CX program. If you’re not sure what the next stage of that program looks like, journey mapping can help tell you. This process gives everyone a full view of the customer or employee journey, which means that you can deduce what needs to come next in order to meaningfully improve your experiences.

With all of that in mind, how can organizations like yours start or refurbish the employee or customer journey mapping process? Click here to read Stacy Bolger’s full-length point of view on journey mapping. She’ll take you through more reasons you should journey map if you aren’t already, and some best practices on how to get started in the most beneficial way for you, your customers, and your employees!

Five Steps to a Successful, Anonymous Employee Experience Program

People are power when it comes to business. And taking the time to understand employee thoughts, feelings, and feedback can be a game changer. After all, your employees are the ones keeping the wheel running. And if they don’t feel supported in their goals, employees are three times more likely to be job hunting. A successful employee experience (EX) program, then, must be at the top of your priority chain—and a successful EX program is one that allows employees to remain anonymous.

Anonymity in your EX program primarily means ensuring that when employees are asked for feedback in any given manner, their identities are completely secure. Hence the phrase: anonymous employee experience/feedback. It’s extremely pivotal then that EX programs ensure employees feel safe and confident giving feedback so that the business can take action on that feedback and produce substantial outcomes as a result. However, reaching this gold standard status is no easy feat. So here’s a five step framework to lead you towards success:

  1. Design for Success
  2. Listen to Employees
  3. Understand the Data
  4. Transform the Company
  5. Realize Better Employee Experiences

Step #1: Design for Success

What does designing for success mean, exactly? Well, consider the work of a clothing designer. When they begin a new design, it’s often unique to a specific collection with a specific purpose. The same should go for your EX program. Every company is different, so designing for success actually means designing with your organization’s specific culture, feedback history, and technical capabilities in mind. And all of these aspects play into the level of employee anonymity needed to accrue genuine responses. Just remember that what will work for one business won’t necessarily work in the same way for another.

Step #2: Listen to Employees

Employee anonymity is non-negotiable. How can you get actionable, accurate feedback from employees if they’re afraid that if they use their voice, it will end in backlash? If you make it clear to the employees you’re surveying that their identities will be protected, you’re more likely to receive high quality feedback. And when employees feel comfortable giving feedback, you can focus more on deciding which listening channels are best to access critical intelligence.

Step #3: Understand the Data

Every six to twelve months, we recommend looking at the drivers of engagement, retention, and churn to see the change within your company. For example, noticing recurring themes for why employees are leaving can tell you about systemic organizational issues you may be having. Analyzing this data consistently helps you understand and eventually address what’s obviously not working in your program. And the crucial key to accessing data like that lies in assuring that employee respondents are unidentifiable. Which could mean hiding personal background information or using text analytics to avoid identifying someone through the way they write (in the case of a language barrier).

Step #4: Transform the Company

Before you take action, make sure that you’re transparent with your employees about your intentions. To address employee feedback effectively, you need to set clear expectations for how that feedback will contribute to transforming the company. Explaining that the information will be reported anonymously, what the information will be used for, and how exactly you plan on addressing their concerns allows for an honest conversation. If you speak and act truthfully first, employees are more likely to reciprocate.

Step #5: Realize Better Anonymous Employee Experiences

At last, it’s time to reflect on the benchmarks you set and act on the areas of opportunity for your program. Here are a few questions to lead you in the right direction toward EX program ROI:

  • How many employees are churning now compared to when the program launched? 
  • Are employees happier at work compared to program launch? 
  • And would more employees recommend working for your company (eNPS)? 

Based on how you answer, it’s time to move forward on realizing greater experiences for employees by prioritizing the security and benefits that come with employee anonymity.

The journey to an EX utopia is neverending, but returning again to this five step guide can help you reinvent your program closer and closer to that ideal. And if you’re interested in a more in depth guide to crafting the ultimate anonymous EX program, take a look at our white paper Just How Anonymous Is Your Employee Experience Program?

5 Ways to Get CX Buy-In from Frontline Employees

Frontline employees are constantly tasked with metrics—handle time, occupancy, attendance, and, of course, customer experience (CX). However, all of this focus on metrics can prevent our frontline teams from realizing the wealth of value they can bring to a CX program. 

So How Can You Engage Your Frontline Employees in CX Programs?

There are a myriad of ways that I have operationalized during my time as a practitioner. And, additionally, I have also been able to see how many of our InMoment clients engage their employees in their CX programs. 

For my post today, I’ve compiled a list of my top five methods for gaining CX buy-in from frontline employees. So without further ado, let’s get going!

Top Five Methods for Frontline Employee CX Buy-In

  1. Broadcast the Value of Customer Experience
  2. Create Recognition Opportunities
  3. Show Employees How They Make a Difference
  4. Include Customer Experience in Frontline Training
  5. Use Customer Experience to Solve Specific Issues

Method #1: Broadcast the Value of Customer Experience

It is vitally important that the frontline teams (really the entire company) understand the importance of customer experience and, if practical, the primary CX metric that everyone is measuring. Having a theme or tagline that is shared everywhere is recommended. One of the health care companies I work with has a “Members First ” tagline that is used all around the company but especially in the contact center. All the representatives have been trained as to what their target metric, Net Promoter Score (NPS), is and why it is important.

Method #2: Create Recognition Opportunities

Create frequent opportunities to appreciate the frontline effort. “WOW” alerts, reader board messages (if we are ever in offices again), notes from site leaders when a positive comment is received from a customer …. It all goes a long way to instill a culture where excellent customer experience is celebrated.

Method #3: Show Employees How They Make a Difference

Leverage the frontline employees for continuous improvement initiatives. When I was a practitioner, I did employee roundtables and I Y-Jacked with frontline employees. I used those opportunities to validate what I was seeing in survey data. I actively solicited feedback and ideas on how to reduce customer friction directly from the source—the agents. I found that even if I could show just a small change as a result of my own or my team’s face-to-face interactions, the frontline teams became more bought into our CX program.

Method #4: Include Customer Experience in Frontline Training

Make customer experience a module in frontline training. Even if it is only a few minutes, show the trainees the survey text, share the “beacon” metric, and tell them why we emphasize customer experience. Explain how we learn from our customers what works well and what we can improve and truly stress how important they are to the process. Doing this in training introduces customer experience before they ever take a call or interact with customers.

Method #5: Use Customer Experience to Solve Specific Issues

Leverage very specific interactions for employee feedback with regard to customer experience. Many of our clients use our Resolve tool for case management. Part of our Resolve process is to capture employee feedback about the escalation interaction as part of the case closure process. We specifically ask them to help identify the root cause of the case and their suggestions to eliminate similar cases in the future. This creates a defined opportunity for the frontline reps to have a voice in how customers are served.

At the End of the Day…

Our frontline employees are the face of the company. If we get them bought into the program, they are the best advocates and ambassadors for customer experience. Celebrating them and asking for their opinions and insights are the best ways to get them—and keep them—engaged.

Want to learn more about how to engage your employees in the customer experience? Check out this eBook, “Better CX Begins with Employees”

COVID Changed Workplaces. Here’s How Yours Must Adapt

COVID-19 may finally be receding from many parts of the world, but the changes the pandemic left behind aren’t going away anytime soon. The workplace, for example, changed virtually overnight, as many employees suddenly found themselves working from home and under strict lockdown. This shift in the Post-COVID workplace created a number of paradigm changes that a lot of organizations are still trying to catch up to.

If your brand is one of those organizations, we have you covered! What follows is a brief discussion about the post-COVID workplace. We’ll set the stage by going a bit more in-depth on those changes we mentioned earlier, and end by leaving you a few ideas on how your brand, workplace, and culture can adapt!

The Work-from-Home Paradigm Shift

For a lot of people, starting to work from home wasn’t as simple as setting up a laptop in the living room. Concurrent school closures meant that many employees had to balance homeschooling their kids with work responsibilities in real time. Childcare wasn’t the only home responsibility to blend into work, either—errands, laundry, and the like came together with work to create a previously unthinkable new paradigm. Couple that with waiting for lockdowns to end, and you have what one of our thought leaders fittingly calls “time soup,” a home reality in which everything is stirred together.

Working from home brought about some macro-level changes, too. It’s more difficult for employees to create connections when they’re physically separated, and this poses new challenges for brands that want to create cohesive cultures. Every company that wants to succeed needs a good workplace culture, so the question must be asked: how can brands like yours navigate this new work-life balance and this new culture landscape to find success and Experience Improvement (XI)? Don’t worry; we have a few ideas on that!

How to Adapt

The first key to adapting to the post-COVID workplace isn’t just to accept that working from home is the new normal—it’s figuring out how to make that new normal work for your organization. Think about the work factors unique to your organization—office footprint, nature of work, local COVID restrictions, and your employees’ current setups—without being afraid to try new things. Leaders at the messaging service Slack have said they want to take this time to question everything they thought they knew about the workplace… and that’s a great attitude! Challenge long-held assumptions as you establish what the new normal looks like for you.

Additionally, always be on the lookout for ways to create human connectivity at a time where physical contact is still a relative rarity. Your teams have already probably had Zoom happy hours and the like for the last 18 years, but don’t stop there! Get teams who don’t usually interact with each other into the same chat if you can. Connecting people whose paths don’t normally cross helps create that workplace culture that is so important to brand success. It also gives you a chance to sync different teams’ perceptions of your customer, which is vital for consistent experiences.

The overarching theme here is that adapting to this new workplace the right way isn’t ‘just’ good for employees; it can help you meaningfully transform your workplace culture and positively impact customer experiences, too! To learn more, click here to read the full-length point of view on this subject by our CHRO, Wendy Rand, who can show you more on how to not just adapt to this new normal, but thrive in it.

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