Features and Analysis

Unhappy staff mean upset customers – so fix it

[See an update to this story here]

This woman walks into a bank. There’s one teller and a line of people. Young employee patrols the the line, asking what people want to do. He’s offhand and clearly some people aren’t comfortable about saying publicly what they’re there for. He asks me, I say I want to draw out money, he says the teller will deal with that. I ask if they can’t put more staff behind the counter. “There aren’t any more staff,” he says abruptly, and moves to the next.

The elderly lady behind me explains she wants advice about her tax-free savings account. He replies, “You’ll need to make an appointment and we’re booked up for days.”

Her face falls, my blood pressure rises. She says, “That will be too late,” and leaves. I ask the teller who the young man is. “Our personal advisor,” she replies without any irony, apologizing for keeping me waiting.

I accept that bank employees are entitled to lunch breaks, that staff take leave and get sick. I also understand that maybe the guy has big worries. Or perhaps he just hates his job. Certainly as a personal advisor with attitude, he seems to be in the wrong one.

The missing link

In the light of my experience in the bank, a survey just published by IDC really hit home. Only 22 percent of the 799 companies surveyed said they are working on better employee satisfaction as part of their efforts to improve customer experience – and surprisingly only 53 percent are pursuing a customer experience program. Wow.

We all understand that becoming a customer-centric business is about the entire organization’s culture, not just a bunch of separate programs. As Mary Wardley, VP and CRM Analyst, IDC, comments, satisfied employees are “integral” to providing good customer experience. She added, in notes cited in this CMSWire article, “As we will see in the data, there is a direct link between customer experience and employee experience that organizations are seeing.”

Almost 50 percent of respondents said that the single biggest factor driving their efforts is that “customer expect consistent experience across different channels”. And right behind it, that customers want to deal with, “personnel that are motivated, capable and friendly,” almost 20 percent ahead of the third key driver, good self-service capabilities. Bingo.

Fixing it

More companies need to see the light on this, and fast. From recruitment to training, arming employees with the right tools and information to do their jobs well, and recognizing and rewarding good performance, there’s so much that can be done to address these issues – that won’t break the bank. Indeed tying senior executives’ bonuses to staff satisfaction surveys and improving customer experience works a treat.

And don’t forget that listening to those at the front line, who deal with customers day in, day out is also crucial – and acting on what your learn. Not only are customer-facing staff full of hugely useful information and ideas, everyone needs to feel their contribution is valuable and they make a difference*.

Getting it so right

The most successful companies in terms of customer experience go even further. For instance, Zappos, the online shoes and clothes retailer in the US (now part of Amazon), is famous for its outstanding customer service. There any employee, even one who is performing well, will be let go if they don’t fully embrace the company’s culture and goals.

Zappos is a hugely popular place to work with very low turnover of staff. In 2013 it received 31,000 applications for jobs, but only employed 1.5 percent of them – a lower acceptance rate than Harvard University, or even the legendarily selective Goldman Sachs analyst program.

If your staff aren’t happy at work, your customers won’t be happy either; and all the technology in the world won’t fix it.

*These issues are discussed, with recommendations, in TM Forum’s recently published Becoming a customer-centric business, which is free for anyone to download by registering on the website. It is written by Rob Rich, Managing Director, Insights Research, TM Forum.

You can contact Rob Rich direct with your questions and comments, and Rebecca Sendel, Senior Director, Customer Centricity Program, TM Forum to explore the Forum’s extensive work in these areas and join them.


    About The Author

    Snr Director, Research & Media

    Annie Turner has been researching and writing about the communications industry since the 1980s, editing magazines dedicated to the subject including titles published by Thomson International and The Economist Group. She has contributed articles to many publications, including national and international newspapers such as the Financial Times and International Herald Tribune, and a multitude of business-to-business titles. She joined the TM Forum in 2010 and is responsible for overseeing the content of the Research and Publications portfolio.


    1. Ramakrishna Vedantam on

      Good point Annie. All the touch points with the customer have to be donned by people with flexible approach towards customers. Sometimes it becomes taxing because of demanding customers but two approaches can be taken by management. 1. Select people who have flexible nature for such front-end jobs. 2. Provide adequate training covering the implications of a customer being dissatisfied on the overall image of the enterprise. 3. Customers prefer personalized solutions compared to generic solutions, so a real time data analytics infrastructure in place to aid the front-end guys will make a lot of difference.

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