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Employee Effort: Are They Just Spinning Their Wheels?

Published: April 23, 2015 | By: Annette Franz

There’s a lot of talk about how much effort a customer is required to put forth in order to complete some task with an organization, whether it’s to buy a product, to get an issue resolved, or to do something else. There’s even a away to measure this effort, using the customer effort score (CES). If you’re not familiar with that, it’s a metric created by CEB, based on the following questions, using a 7-point verbal scale:

Please indicate the extent to which you agree or disagree with the following statements about your service experience, overall:

– The company made it easy for me to handle my issue.

– It took less time than I expected to handle this issue.

Through their research, CEB discovered that service interactions are four times more likely to create disloyal customers than loyal customers.

From their site:

This is because 96 percent of customers who put forth high effort to resolve their issues are more disloyal, but only 9% of those with low effort interactions are more disloyal. Creating low effort customer interactions is the clear goal for the service organization.

Well, all this focus on customer effort got me thinking about the spillover effect between employees and customers. What about employee effort? How do we measure that? And how does that impact the customer experience?

I’m not talking about the (discretionary) effort that the employee puts into his or her work every day. I’m referring to the effort it takes for the employee to do his job, i.e., are there processes that hinder their ability to do their jobs in an efficient manner?

I started wondering…

  • What’s keeping employees from delivering the great experience that your customers deserve?
  • How can we simplify workflows and processes?
  • Can we cut out three steps from the nine required to do something?
  • How can we become easier to do business with – internally?
  • How can we make it easier for employees to do what we ask them to do?
  • How do we make it easier for agents to deliver a great customer experience? What complexities, complications, and bureaucracy can we remove?
  • How do we reduce effort for employees and then, ultimately, for customers?

When we make it difficult for employees to do their jobs, it translates to the experience they deliver for their customers. Even if the task the employee is trying to do is not directly related to a customer and his experience, the frustration that effort evokes will manifest itself in the employee-customer interaction somehow.

Why do we do this? Why do we hire people to fill a role or to do some job and then make it nearly impossible for them to succeed?

I have a few suggestions on how to turn things around for your employees, and ultimately, for the customer.

  1. Walk in your employees’ shoes. To really understand the effort they must put forth every day, you do have to walk in their shoes. To do this, create: (1) employee journey maps, a subject about which Intradiem and I just did a webinar last month, or (2) your own undercover executive type program, where executives take on the role of the employee. What an eye opener that can be! Once you understand the effort, you’ll uncover inefficiencies and be equipped to improve the process.
  1. Pay attention to your employees. Listen and observe. Listen to what your employees are telling you. Watch how they work. If they say a process is painful or pointless, fix it. Don’t brush it aside. If you get feedback, do something with it. If you ignore it, employees will resent you.
  1. Listen to what customers are saying. When customers provide feedback that their issues were not resolved promptly or properly or that  employees seemed hostile and unwilling or unable to help, perhaps this is on you. Perhaps this is due to processes set forth within the organization. Perhaps it’s due to inadequate tools or training. Perhaps there are other root causes that hinder the employee’s ability to support that customer in the manner in which he should.
  1. Ensure employees have the tools. Clearly define their roles and set expectations. Make sure employees have the knowledge, skills, training, and resources to do the jobs you hired them to do and to deliver on what you’re expecting of them. Without this, they’ll attempt to forge their own path or come up with their solutions – which isn’t necessarily a bad thing – but could instead end up needlessly spinning their wheels.
  1. Similarly, clearly define what a great customer experience looks like. When employees are spinning their wheels, trying to achieve some moving or unclear target, the effort is extreme and unwarranted. Give them a clear line of sight to the target (customers) and help them understand how to get there.
  1. Provide ongoing feedback. How does feedback reduce employee effort? The answer relates to #2. If they keep doing what they’re doing and are continuing to get the same (wrong/bad) results, first of all, that’s the definition of insanity. You don’t want to drive your employees crazy! Second of all, if they’re doing it wrong and continue to do so, what does that mean for the amount of effort they’re exuding? Giving employees feedback – and ongoing coaching – helps to guide them in the right direction, to do things better, to do the right things.
  1. Lose the script. While that seems like a solution that contradicts simplicity, it really can be the root of all evil. If employees stick to the script, they may not really be listening to what customers are saying. Instead of being flexible and personalizing the experience for the specific customer/customer interaction, they are forced to work within this box (script), which really can make it more difficult to deliver a great experience or to find the right solution for the customer.
  1. Communication is key. I think a common thread throughout many of these items is communication, plain and simple. Listen to employees. Talk to employees.

I mentioned at the beginning that there’s a metric called customer effort score. Is there an employee effort score? Not that I’m aware of. But why should that stop us from measuring and understanding the employee effort. We should ask employees a variation of the CES questions; how about something along the lines of…

Please indicate the extent to which you agree or disagree with the following statements

– The company makes it easy for me to do my job.

– The company makes it easy for me to handle customer issues.

– The company makes it easy for me to deliver a great customer experience.

I’d include an open-end question so that employees can provide details about their responses and offer up suggestions for improvements. What else would you add?

Sometimes it’s just easier to sit around spinning your wheels than it is to move forward… but you never get anywhere. -Susan Gale

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