Why IT Departments Should Treat Users Like Customers

Customer experience (CX) is one of THE hottest trends in business right now. With competitors seemingly on every street corner, consumers have countless shopping choices. As a result, companies are scrambling on a daily basis to stand out from the crowd by delivering memorable end-to-end experiences.

Ultra-modern locations, interactive experiences, innovative web store fronts, price matching, expedited shipping, perks and incentive programs are just a few of typical enticements. Nevertheless, the most overlooked success factor is building a great employee experience through employee engagement and collaboration. It couldn’t be put more simply than this:

"Take good care of your employees, and they’ll take good care of your customers, and the customers will come back. "

J.W. Marriott

All too often, companies fail to understand that driving exceptional customer experience entails far more than just outlining a “customer comes first vision” and setting employee expectations. When you think about it, it’s the responsibility of employees to create these customer experience programs, to implement these programs, to carry them out globally and to provide a consistent face-to-face experience with the customers. As leaders, our primary responsibility to provide our employees the tools they need to succeed!

We are going to focus, in particular, on the critical role that IT support, employee engagement and collaboration tools play in delivering a cohesive customer experience strategy.

More than 77% of IT decision-makers believe it’s “very or extremely important” for corporate IT to resemble consumer experiences.          

Companies are more complex than ever, and today’s leaders are challenged to:

  • Control wage costs but retain top talent for mission-critical roles.
  • Outsource and offshore to stay competitive but maintain the same level of ownership mentality and service levels.
  • Optimize real estate, consolidate locations and simultaneously build more of a modern, collaborative workplace experience.
  • Communicate effectively as a CEO and ensure that the vision and strategy permeates all levels, but also empowers employees to take risks and innovate.
  • Reduce IT costs and optimize spend on cutting-edge, transformative tools.
  • Create an employee work experience that delivers legendary customer experience!

Your Employees Should Come First

Creating a supportive and effective workplace environment is not about providing espresso machines or ping-pong tables. Nor is it purely about pay raises (though that’s always nice). It’s about tapping into employees' strong emotional need to be heard, to feel valued and to contribute in a meaningful way. It's possible to create a truly collaborative work culture, break down silos and bridge the continental divide by tapping into that strong emotional need and by providing employees with the technology and tools that facilitate a frictionless, customer journey.

Senior Leaders Set The Example

Company communications are far more effective when they highlight employee success stories, encourage cross-functional partnerships and give credit where credit is due. Providing tangible examples that align to the company vision is an excellent way to underscore the point.  

Attracting, supporting, empowering and retaining top talent can be a company's #1 advantage over its closest competitor. Costco pays well above market rates for their store managers, and the results certainly show. Companies that succeed have employees that are highly skilled, curious, questioning, fearless, motivated and even a bit eccentric. They don’t want to wait for management to solve their problems. Giving employees significant input into how we support our external customers is a huge,untapped opportunity.

"It doesn’t make sense to hire smart people and tell them what to do; we hire smart people so they can tell us what to do."

Steve Jobs

Certainly, management reserves the right to set the tone, over-arching message and business priorities. Nevertheless, management must do the following:

  • Hire tech-savvy employees who are well-versed in modern collaboration tools, social media,and other engagement methods. Incentivize and re-train existing employees, if possible. All companies are tech companies now.
  • Delegate more, micro-manage less and champion a more progressive, healthy work culture.
  • Let go a bit and allow employees to drive the granular, ground-level discussions needed to deliver the larger outcomes.
  • Managers should resist the temptation to try to prove they are the smartest person in the room! Facilitate the discussion, but don’t provide the answer (even if you know it). A conclusion reached by an individual or team receives 10 times more buy-in when they arrive at the conclusion on their own.
  • Equally important, management must provide the basic technology toolset and quality of tech support for employees to work effectively together across a large global organization, making collaboration less of a slogan and more of a reality.
  • Empower employees to fill the procedural gaps, increase productivity and reduce the mean time to resolve escalations on behalf of customers.
  • Correct and fix procedures permanently via continuous improvement.

New Tools Are Needed

E-mail and instant messages are the most over-used tools for communication, collaboration and engagement. While they can reach both individuals and groups, they fail to engage, facilitate or archive efforts in a truly effective way. While neither will go away any time soon, a newer breed of collaboration tools, purpose-built for the modern workplace, is needed to drive excellence across the enterprise.

There are many collaboration tools on the market. The best will perform the following:

  • Provide an effective forum for companies to solicit and analyze customer feedback, to hear the good and the bad, capture what works, identify specific issues that hold companies back in their customer success mission – then share those findings transparently across the organization.
  • Support employees' innate desire to love what they do, believe in the mission, to be a part of something larger and be appreciated.
  • Foster a culture of ownership and continuous improvement. Empower employees to take action, fix problems on the spot and implement permanent solutions. May the best idea win!
  • Communicate ongoing challenges and progress on resolution. Establish a place to validate success. Continue the successful cycle.

There are many ways to improve employee experience, but nothing is more important than providing employees with the right technology.

Today's workers are more dependent on technology than ever. During a digital transformation, as we change the way customers engage us, we must provide our employees with the proper tools. Above all, companies need a centralized collaboration platform that supports a wide variety of processes, information and interactions, including:

  • Virtual spaces where employees can get IT support, ask questions, make suggestions and help IT work better.
  • Constant improvement processes, identifying the highest-impacting, lowest-effort targets for immediate prioritization.  
  • Single-subject discussion threads (forum leader- or user-created) and polls to give employees a voice to determine the relevant areas needing improvement.
  • Responding on a timely basis to maintain relevancy and integrity of purpose.
  • Training videos, tips and tricks for a range of employee skillsets, from the most basic to the most advanced. Nobody left behind!
  • Engaging employees for selection and testing of IT solutions.
  • Providing key information on emerging IT made for more self-sufficient employees, reducing support costs.
  • Keeping employees informed about known service-impacting issues and efforts to resolve them.

Let go a bit. Employees, not the platform administrator, will begin facilitating some of the most important discussions, driving significant traffic and engagement levels. IT product owners will use the platform to gather direct feedback from end users. Regularly monitor new content to maintain decorum, but more importantly shape the discussion positively, define the issues and own the outcome. Employees may begin with a somewhat cynical view of corporate communications, but open, transparent communication and collaboration can lead to greater trust and buy-in in a relatively short period of time.

Human nature being what it is, people are forgiving. If they can see you earnestly trying, they will get behind your efforts. IT can be frustrating, and issues won’t get fixed overnight, But your efforts, in effect, represent a  daily promise to work hard, make the place just a bit better every day, and gain everyone’s loyalty. In short, a collaboration platform (like Jive) is a powerfully simple, easy-to-use, feature-laded tool to help foster collaboration, problem-solve, and facilitate lasting trust in and outside your company.

Learn more about how the right collaboration platform can help you build a highly-engaged, customer-centric workforce. View the webcast "Why You Should Treat Employees Like Customers."

About the author: Robert Chamberlin is a former SVP for Employee Technology Experience at a Fortune 100 company. He is an IT leader and turnaround expert with a focus on service delivery, continuous improvement, digital transformation and M&A integration efforts.  

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