Drive revenue with CX

Connecting Frontline Staff To Customer Experience: Two Conundrums

Kerry Bodine
August 22, 2011

I started an unusual research project recently. As a follow-up to my report on the customer experience ecosystem, I wanted to dig into the highly visible role of frontline employees like call center agents, in-home service technicians, and retail staff. Specifically, I wanted to know how customer experience professionals could help these folks understand how they personally affect customers’ interactions and perceptions of the brand.

The topic was – I thought – pretty straightforward, and it essentially boiled down to two main questions: What’s the best way to share customer feedback with frontline employees? And should you compensate frontline employees based on their individual feedback?

But what made this research effort so unusual, and so unlike most of my other projects, is that as I conducted more and more interviews, the opinions and “best practices” began to diverge wildly. I found a variety of incompatible tactics. But more than that, I uncovered major differences in management philosophies and deep passions underlying those beliefs.

What’s the best way to share customer feedback with frontline employees?  

A bevy of enterprise feedback management solutions can help managers collect and analyze feedback from customers – and not just about their overall impressions of a company, but about interactions with individual frontline staff members. Firms can collect survey-based quant data and/or verbatims. But what to share? The answers I’ve encountered include:

  • Give every employee access to everyone’s feedback. The firms with this answer fundamentally believe in full transparency. They also believe that employees will be motivated by seeing how they stack up to others.
  • Give each employee access to all of his/her individual feedback. Firms that take this approach believe that their employees have a strong will to learn and that giving them full access to their own customer feedback will help them improve their performance.
  • Only share quantitative feedback. Some companies worry that agents will get distracted by the potentially negative language customers might use in verbatims to describe their interactions or the employee him/herself.
  • Only share verbatims. Others worry that providing quantitative feedback will cause employees to fixate on the raw numbers and not the underlying issues that are leading to good or bad customer experiences.
  • Share almost nothing. On the opposite end of the transparency spectrum, some firms might send out the occasional “kudos” email with a positive customer comment, but they focus on one-on-one coaching to remedy negative feedback.

Should you compensate frontline employees based on their individual feedback?

The connections between compensation programs and employee motivation are too tangled to get into here. (And in fact, Forrester’s Customer Experience Council summer book club is discussing Drive today.) But when I’ve asked interviewees if they provide individual bonuses based on customer feedback, the answers have spanned the entire spectrum:

  • No. Firms that don’t provide feedback-based bonuses ask, “Why should I give my employees a bonus for something that they should be doing anyway?” 
  • Yes. Some firms are adamant that their bonus programs are a primary driver of employee behavior and customer satisfaction – and have data to back up their assertions.
  • Yes, but only on an ad hoc basis. In the middle are companies that provide small spot bonuses or prizes like movie tickets based on a positive feedback trends. These firms believe that money motivates, but not when it’s expected.

As an analyst, it’s always fun to step into big steamy pile of conflicting opinions and philosophical beliefs. And of course, these aren’t isolated questions – they’re inextricably linked to issues like hiring, training, corporate culture, and (of course) the quality of customer interactions.

So I’ll keep working on this . . . . In the meantime, got a success story about what’s worked at your company? Care to share something that hasn’t worked? You can add your comments to this post or join our Customer Experience Community discussions on the topics of compensation and customer feedback.

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