“Customer is king.” No one would dispute this statement in this day and age, busy hiring customer experience (CX) experts who help them harvest and retain customers. However, who are those customers?

Most businesses define them as “the ones who pay”. They are the end-customers or business partners such as financial brokers, advisers, franchisees etc... Yet are we not limiting ourselves with this definition? There is another crowd of customers who are similar to intermediaries and are key to bringing in end-customers and revenue but as they are not considered as an “external entity”, they are often omitted.

Who are they? They are the front-line employees - the bank tellers, the technicians, the mortgage managers, the consultants - who are the first point of engagement, directly responsible for bringing end-customers in the door and maintaining the relationship. Yet they are not considered as customers hence not given the same treatment they rightfully deserve.

I’d like to call them the forgotten customers.

The changing front-line employee landscape

“But they are employees and they are paid for their work!” I am hearing people screaming. You would be correct - if you are still living in the 90’s. The employment landscape has changed significantly, so much that simply “getting paid” is not the only part of the deal.

Traditionally, this work forces is made up of junior-intermediate staff who are expected to be told what to do, given specific tools - frequently cumbersome with a training manual as thick as a dictionary - and get paid for doing their 9-to-5 job. Today, the new generation expects something different. For them work should be simple and intuitive; they should have autonomy to contribute in their own way, using tools as easy as Snapchat or Instagram or maybe even their own tools; they want flexible working hours in the location of their choice.

Imagine these workers walking into their first role and the expectation gap between them and traditional management; dealing with company politics and convoluted processes; working with ancient technology older than their parents and stuck in a rigid working environment discouraging self-expression. It’s like putting a square peg in a round hole. High staff turnover is commonplace, no surprises there.

Ironically, this group of people are expected to be our first point-of-engagement, tasked with finding and retaining end-customers when they themselves are having trouble with their own organisations. Cue Liam Neeson’s voice over: “Good Luck”

Turning front-line employees into partners by treating them as customers

We need a better approach for the new generation. We need to make them feel welcome as a key partner in the success of the business; their contributions are valued and their feedback is taken seriously.

Yes, business should be treating their front-line employees like they are actual customers of the business, but how?

Nowadays, everyone talks about CX. The art of understanding your customers’ persona and their interactions with your products or services, translating that into use cases and UI wireframes, providing a thought structure to create solutions the customers love to use. Let’s apply similar thinking to our forgotten customer.

We call this Employee Experience (EX) which is similar to CX. You define the front-line employee’s persona and key use cases, and design an powered experience for their everyday job. The key differences for employees:

  1. They should be able to deal with flexibility, compared to your end-customers who want things simple. This translates to more allowed actions, more complex and smart UI designs, and more thinking about how to streamline business processes to strike a good balance between “flexible & complex” versus “strict & simple”.
  2. They will work in this EX design on a daily basis, compared to most end-customers who experience CX design sporadically or regularly at most. It is worth spending more time ensuring the employees’ user interface is robust, as opposed to the traditional thinking of "spending less because they are employees and they can workaround it with training".

All this sounds like a lot like hard work and it is.

However successfully execution of an EX design would mean much better front-line employee engagement leading to:

  • Employees feeling valued
  • A focus shift from following mundane processes to improving interactions with the end-customers;
  • A positive working atmosphere decreasing staff turnover;

Ultimately a well-equipped staff with a positive attitude directly translates to better customers experience. Better EX enables better CX.

How the Apple Store equip their staff to ensure the best customer experience

If you still need convincing then look at your local Apple Store.

Ok, sometimes the Apple Store is packed and it takes a long time to be served, that’s an issue of workforce scheduling. But most people would agree with me, once you have a staff's attention, you are amazed by how effectively they serve you:

  • Want to buy an iProduct? There’s no registers, you're served on the spot with their iPod Touches using custom hardware add-on and dedicated app;
  • Meeting with a genius? They use their iPads to check your iPhones’ conditions with a few clicks and can tell you things you didn’t know about your device usage patterns;

To provide a better CX in the Apple Stores, employees are equipped to help people on the spot. Those custom apps are a true benchmark of good EX allowing the user perform much more actions than the person they are serving, is a one-stop-shop and engineered to be used day-in-day-out.

If you get a chance, I highly recommend you take a sneak peek of the staff’s custom apps and hardware. 

“But Apple has a huge cash war chest, of course they can afford it!” I hear more screaming. Yes, not many business would have a huge wallet to pay for implementing EX with custom apps, hardware and integration like Apple.  However there are approaches that allow businesses to execute good EX. Hint: Reuse best practices and rely on robust and flexible platforms.

In the next article of this series, we’ll look at those specific approaches businesses can take to enable better front-line employee experience without going bankrupt.

Next steps

Jsun is the Architecture and Advisory Practice Lead at Tquila ANZ. He is a Programme Architect with over seven years of experience leading Salesforce.com and other cloud / on-premise technology implementations. He specialises in Financial Services and High-tech Industries' high risk innovation and integration projects, as well as technical architecture and development leadership across all industries. He is also a Certified Technical Architect, and he is running the CTA mentorship programme at Tquila ANZ.

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