Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Customer Experience Pt 4 - Shaping the Culture and Attitudes of Your Existing Employees

Post series written by Andrew McMillan (Principal Consultant at Charteris specialising in customer experience). Before joining Charteris, Andrew had a 28 year career with John Lewis and spent the last eight years of that career being responsible for the quality of service and selling across the UK department stores.

So, we have a statement that defines what the business aims to be both for its customers and its employees. There are two distinct audiences that will be affected by that statement: those who already work in the organisation and those who have yet to be recruited.

So where do you start? There isn’t a right or wrong answer here, and ideally the actions should be simultaneous to ensure the right attitudes are identified in new recruits and then to ensure those attitudes aren’t tarnished by any disengaged employees. However, for the sake of clarity, in this piece we shall just look at starting to shape the culture and attitudes of the existing employees.

It’s impossible to prescribe a generic solution here, because it all depends on the prevailing attitudes and values in the organisation and, crucially, what has gone before. In simple terms this is all about communication and explanation. However, communication in this sense doesn’t just mean informing people about the latest developments in the organisation, it means engaging the workforce to actually DO something different. Consequently sending an e-mail to every employee introducing the definition statement is unlikely to have the desired effect, nor is having the statement printed as a logo on pens, mugs or credit card aide memoirs, although these can have their uses at a later stage.

Communication vision requires a significant campaign of face to face internal communication that explains why there is a need for change, how the statement was created and what changes in behaviour are required from the employees to deliver the desired customer experience. It is all about shaping the internal culture of the organisation to externally reflect the customer experience the organisation aspires to deliver. A crucial element of this communication is for it to be entertaining, motivational and inspiring rather than just informative, as a key factor in its success is to make the employees want to change, not to try and make them change – a subtle but vital goal if this is going to have any longevity.

Again it is impossible to prescribe a single approach here as that will be determined by the size of the organisation and the existing communication channels. One of the most effective approaches I have experienced is using a presentation delivered personally by the customer experience champion in the organisation to every employee, ideally in groups of 30 or so to allow the opportunity for discussion and debate. This should emphasise what is good about the existing culture, but openly tackle any controversial issues head on too, otherwise they will remain unspoken and consequently unresolved. It should also act as a call to action and talk about how the behaviour of individuals is to change.

The downfall of many customer experience change programmes is that they just describe what the organisation is aiming to achieve. If well executed, they can create an intellectual engagement with the employees, but often they are left thinking “so what do I have to actually do?” with the consequence that they return to their respective roles and nothing changes.

The communication should therefore include an explanation of what the leaders in the organisation will be doing to support the change, how individuals will be measured and made accountable and the individual reward and recognition that will follow success (these will be covered in detail in later articles). It should be a story with context and examples to inspire and engage, not simply inform. A generic format may look something like this:
  • Changing expectations within society as a whole – with examples
  • Consequent impacted changes on the way the organisation operates – with examples
  • Why customer experience is as important as the product/service and the processes that deliver it
  • The definition statement of what the organisation wants to achieve in terms of customer experience – how this will have a positive effect for both employees and customers
  • What this will mean for frontline employees and the leadership support required from managers
  • How success will be measured
  • Reward and recognition
  • Consequences of failure
  • Other changes they will see – these may include recruitment, appraisals, training, regular communication etc.
Another valuable approach for communication, especially in very large organisations, can be the use of media. A fifteen minute DVD demonstrating the desired internal and external customer experience behaviours can be very powerful if it is well made and doubly so if it stars employees who already demonstrate the desired behaviour and not management describing what they want it to be. Brevity is important too as the media should be short, sharp and engaging – do you remember how you felt the last time you sat through a 45 minute training video? Ideally both mediums should be used, with the presentation introducing the statement and allowing discussion and debate, then being followed at a later stage by the DVD to reinforce what has been said.

If this communication programme is successful it will have drawn a firm line in the sand so that employees and managers know what they have to do, how they will be supported, how they will be measured and the consequences of success and failure. They should be left enthused about the challenges that lie ahead and, if really successful, many will start the change as they leave the room.


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