Customer Support organizations, including help desks, call centers, and tech support, are facing a critical supply-and-demand problem when it comes to finding skilled employees. Part of the issue is the types of skills required of today’s Support employees are different from what we’ve traditionally looked for in the past. However, another factor impacting hiring and employee retention is that a significant number of Support staff just aren’t engaged or satisfied at work.
Support can be a very rewarding career, but unfortunately, many of today’s Support employees are experiencing a lack of emotional connection in curiosity in their roles. It’s up to managers and senior leadership to ensure employee satisfaction, not only in the interest of retaining skilled employees and attracting new talent, but also because dissatisfied employees directly lead to dissatisfied customers.
In this post, I will share the qualitative and quantitative elements of employee loyalty programs and the results you can expect, which goes beyond Support and can apply to any company looking to keep their employees engaged and reduce customer support attrition.
Employee satisfaction is ‘the wonder drug' for customer satisfaction.
Reducing Customer Support Attrition: Employee Satisfaction Directly Impacts Customer Satisfaction
In a previous blog post, I shared strategies for transformation within Support organizations. A big part of transformation requires shifting the Support culture to focus on the employee.
The hard truth of the industry is that Customer Support attrition is trending up at 15%. While attrition within Support and Customer Service organizations isn’t uncommon, this number was in single digits only a couple of years ago.
On the flip side, employee satisfaction is trending down. Based on industry surveys, employees are expressing dissatisfaction with their current roles, and find themselves struggling in new and complex ways they haven’t faced before. This isn’t just bad for the team, as it can spell bad news for customer satisfaction.
A recent quote in Forbes magazine states, “Employee satisfaction is ‘the wonder drug for customer satisfaction’.” In short, happy employees means happy customers, and satisfied employees, means satisfied customers. Support leadership will need to focus on employees, especially their engagement and connection to the company, in order to foster their curiosity which will in turn drive them to be engaged with customers in very meaningful ways.
I mapped out the correlation between employee satisfaction and customer satisfaction based on recent TSIA benchmark data based on 200 TSIA member companies:
The top 50% of companies had 87% employee satisfaction also had a 4.6 customer satisfaction score out of a 5-point scale. Meanwhile, the bottom 50% had only 68% employee satisfaction, and their customer satisfaction dropped to 4.2.
The numbers speak for themselves; there is a clear connection between employee satisfaction and customer satisfaction. So, what do you do to make sure your employees are satisfied? You need create an employee loyalty and engagement within your company.
The Layers of Employee Loyalty
As part of TSIA’s Support Services benchmark, I talk about the layers of customer loyalty which fall into three categories: qualitative (what you can observe), quantitative (what you can measure with numbers and data), and results. From transactional satisfaction surveys moving up to observing how customers are interacting with your company socially is all part of the process of getting a bigger picture “pulse” on your relationship with your customers. You can do the same thing with your employees, which I call the “Layers of Employee Loyalty.”
Employee Satisfaction Survey
An employee satisfaction survey is something that anyone can do in their company, and 71% of TSIA benchmark respondents report that they are conducting regular employee surveys. This is an entry point for assessing the basic health of the employee experience within your organization.
Are your employees satisfied with their salary, working conditions, and hours? Generally, employee satisfaction will also have a high correlation to employee retention.
There is a concern that it’s difficult to survey employees without the added sense of mistrust or fear of retribution for honest answers. The broader issue to solve is to make sure you are fostering a company culture where open feedback is encouraged. If you must, you can always start by going old school with anonymous feedback boxes in the break room.
However, one common issue I come across within companies that conduct employee surveys is that because they’re often administered by HR, managers and directors don’t know first-hand what their employee satisfaction rating is.
If you’re going to conduct surveys, it’s important that the results are communicated within the team, and that includes all stakeholders. When employees take the time to provide feedback and offer good suggestions for the benefit of the company, they deserve to know that they’re being heard and know what the next steps are.
For example, if there’s a good idea that’s presented, discuss with the team whether or not it’s possible to implement, and if not now, when. Communicate not only the results, but the actions you as a company can take from the results.
85% of employees are not engaged or are actively disengaged at work.
Employee Engagement Surveys
TSIA defines employee engagement as the connection between an employee and their employer. This connection can be measured by assessing the employee commitment, passion, and efforts. “Satisfaction” is about the job itself, such as hours and salary, but engagement covers the emotional component that is so important to today’s workforce. Employee engagement also to customer retention, productivity, growth, and customer success.
John Ragsdale shared a stat from Gallup during his TSW power hour, “Employee Engagement in the Era of Talent Wars,” that states 85% of employees are not engaged or are actively disengaged at work. This is where employee engagement surveys can help you identify how engaged your employees are.
As for what questions to ask, the Gallup Q12 Index offers some really great questions to help you get starters. I recommend that you don’t ask them all at once, but maybe a few each quarter.
- Do you know what is expected of you at work?
- Do you have the materials and equipment to do your work right?
- At work, do you have the opportunity to do what you do best every day?
- In the last seven days, have you received recognition or praise for doing good work?
- Does your supervisor, or someone at work, seem to care about you as a person?
- Is there someone at work who encourages your development?
- At work, do your opinions seem to count?
- Does the mission/purpose of your company make you feel your job is important?
- Are your associates (fellow employees) committed to doing quality work?
- Do you have a best friend at work?
- In the last six months, has someone at work talked to you about your progress?
- In the last year, have you had opportunities to learn and grow?
You can also find out a lot about the general state of your workforce on whether or not they even submit the survey. If they’re not actively engaging with the survey, for example if your response rate is only about 20%, it might show you that you have a disengaged workforce and need to look for ways to reengage.
Employee Net Promoter Surveys
The next layer of employee loyalty is employee net promoter. Net Promoter Score (NPS) is a method for measuring customer loyalty, originally developed by Fred Reichheld, Bain & Co and Satmetrix during the 90’s. It can be summarized as whether or not a customer would recommend your company, products, or services to others, but do we ask the same question of employees? You can get to the heart of some of your company’s biggest problem areas simply by finding out whether or not your employees would recommend your company to their acquaintances as a good place to work.
Employee Effort Surveys
Customer effort is about identifying friction points that customers experience when doing business with you or when trying to achieve the results they’re looking for. Customers will tell you if you make it difficult for them, and I encourage you to ask your employees the same customer effort questions, albeit slightly reworded.
If your employee loyalty program is done well, it will give you the feedback into areas where you need to improve, and employee effort surveys is just another way to get insight. You will be able to find answers to questions such as, “Do we enable you with the right tools?” “Do we enable you to get through processes that are hard to work through?” You might even find out that you’re doing something that you’ve always done but no longer makes sense. Look for ways for employees to be efficient and productive and get rid of a lot of the noise and friction that you could unknowingly be creating for your employees.
Now we’re moving into the quantitative, starting with social engagement. Very importantly, this is not about monitoring your employees’ social media accounts to see what they’re saying about your company. This is specifically about whether your employees go out of their way to like, favorite, comment on, or otherwise promote or engage with the content your company is putting out via their social media channels.
Do we have a social advocacy program within your company where you encourage actions like these? If so, are employees contributing in that program? A brand ambassador within your company is hard to come by, and employees that believe in the brand they’re working for can be your biggest advocates. Social engagement is just another way to look at whether or not your team is truly engaged and committed and being what’s known as a “brand ambassador”.
Adoption and Consumption Analytics
Adoption and consumption analytics looks at how customers are using the products and services they have purchased in order to identify problem areas and ensure successful adoption. We do this for customers, and adoption and consumption analytics is a big science for companies, so much so that many are now implementing dedicated teams to analyzing consumption data.
Have you taken your analytics to a place where you’re looking at how effectively and efficiently your employees are using the company tools, engaging with one another, and taking advantage of the benefits your company offers, such as training programs and company events? Are they sharing knowledge throughout the company?
If you find that your employees are not adopting the tools or using resources available to them, aim to understand why. Are you giving too little, too much, or even things they don’t want? You can also turn this data into predictive findings, where you can identify an engaged or disengaged employee sooner than you will using traditional performance and appraisals.
For years we as an industry have focused on distinct employee metrics, but you will want to also make sure you’re looking at behavior metrics. Are your employees collaborating with each other? Are they working in a place where they feel comfortable to both share information and ask for help? Are your employees innovative thinkers, and do they give you good suggestions? These suggestions are a good sign that they continue to be engaged. Here are some questions you can ask yourself to begin thinking about the types of metrics you should be focusing on:
- Do the employee needs come before metrics?
- What does your organization prioritize?
- How are you assessing emerging metrics?
- What behavior does your organization incent?
- How will you implement a balanced employee scorecard for employee experience as well as more traditional performance/operational metrics?
We measure hundreds of things in Support and, while metrics are important, you need to have a balanced scorecard for the employee experience as well that focuses on more than performance/operational metrics but look at employee metrics.
By implementing any of the above layers of employee loyalty, here are some results you can expect to see based the experiences of TSIA member companies:
Employee Tenure and Attrition
Our tenure is going up and our attrition is going down, and certainly our voluntary attrition is going down. Members of our companies should not be leaving if we’ve made it a satisfying and engaging place for them to work.
Employee Growth and Promotion Growth
This doesn’t just mean promotions. It could mean that your employees are actively learning new skills in new business areas. Are they receiving certifications and being acknowledged both inside and outside the company?
Employee Recruiting and Training Costs
Both of these costs should be going down with an effective employee loyalty program in place. When you bring in new employees, how quickly does the larger team embrace them and bring them up to speed and into a position where they can add value?
How long does it take you to find new employees? How much is it costing your company to recruit new employees? Hopefully if you’re adopting a more collaborative training approach, less time is being spent on formal instruction and more time is being spent on informal knowledge sharing.
Transformational Change Depends on Your Relationship With Your Employees
A favorite quote that my colleague Vele Galovski likes to use quite frequently when it comes to retaining great employees comes from Robert M. Gates, who says, “Only the people who work for you can bring about the transformational changes you seek.” This quote rings true because your great employees are already there, know your company culture, and hopefully have a good idea of where you as a company want to go in regard to your objectives.
You should really aim to work with those employees more, seeking their input that can drive the organizational transformation you seek based on what they experience first-hand. Here is my recommended call to action for management and senior leadership:
- Listen to employees and seek their input
- Continue to focus/re-focus on employees
- Discuss today’s session with management and/or human resources
- Seek emotional connections with employees
- Encourage employees to be curious
- Create interesting tasks that challenge and reward employees
- Measure and reward what matters
- Review current job descriptions and update them to attract new skills
Commit to being a leader who aims to enhance the employee experience by building and continuously encouraging an open environment for sharing ideas, which will have the added benefit of fostering trust. This culture will lead to open sharing of ideas, curiosity, and transformation.