Walk A Mile in Their Shoes

customer experienceI was recently reflecting back on a couple of organisations that I have worked for in the past that tried to bring the customer experience as close as they could to employees.

Many refer to these types of programmes as ‘customer immersion’ but for me that conjures up some sort of full submersion below water! I would rather think of it as ‘the customer experience for employees’.

The first of these organisations was a food retailer where in this instance, the ‘customer’ was defined as the staff working in the retail stores and provisioning depots / warehouses.

This programme was focussed on IT staff. IT staff were sent to spend time in a store and/or a depot after having been in the organisation a little while. Service desk staff often have a good understanding of the impact of degradation or failure of IT on the end-user (customer) because they interact with them on a daily basis. But for second-line, third-line, n-line support staff and development staff, they are often removed from the customer experience and have no idea of the impact their actions can have. They can work in a vacuum with no appreciation of the part that they play in the delivery of end-to-end service. They may understand the nature of what they do within their silo, but their contribution to the delivery of business outcomes is often unseen.

Prior to these visits a failure that used to ‘annoy’ one support area because they felt the customer was over reacting was the inability of the depot staff to print a picking list. During one IT staff visit to a depot this failure occurred and the impact was soon fully understood. The depot came to a standstill, a long line of trucks started to form outside the depot and the realisation of the importance of this ‘one piece of paper’ soon became apparent. Without it, stores would not get replenished and paying customers may never return to a store again.

In store visits, staff saw first hand the impact of a checkout being out of action or back-office systems being unavailable. They understood the importance of the supporting IT systems and the impact they could have on business.

Even if during visits IT was working fine, they got to talk to the staff in depots and stores and hear their stories and their frustrations first-hand. It is so much more real when it comes from the horse’s mouth!

The second of these organisations was a large financial institution. In this instance the customer was defined as the customers of the bank. This customer experience included asking programme participants (who were from across the business – not just IT) to do a number of things such as going to a branch to open an account, using ATMs, using the internet to make an insurance claim or trying to check interest rates, filling in a credit card application form, using online banking and many other customer transactions. They were also asked to watch other customers and talk to them where possible.

The collective experience when participants returned to the programme was amazing. They had experienced the frustration of bank tellers when IT was slow, they had realised that the design of the internet did not make it easy to navigate, they had experienced the inconvenience when an ATM was out of action, they realised the frustration associated with applying for a credit card. They had connected their roles in the organisation with the customer experience.

These may be things they would have seen without the customer experience programme but they were looking at the experience through a different lens and making the link between their role and the service delivered to the end customer.

On returning to the workplace in both organisations, staff passed on their experience to their colleagues so the understanding spread. It was a powerful scheme.

These are just two examples I have experienced of bringing the customer closer to staff.

A practice that we could all adopt is one introduced at Amazon by founder Jeff Bezos who had an empty chair at executive meetings and stated that the chair represented ‘the customer’. This meant that executives at the meeting were compelled to include the customer in their thought processes and to consider the implications of their discussions on the customer as if he / she was present. This overcomes the ‘out of sight – out of mind’ scenario.

How would your meetings change if you invited ‘the customer’ even if it was just imaginary?

Another way of overcoming ‘out of sight – out of mind’ is sharing customer survey results with all staff. Often they are shared with a select set of management and employees. Every employee should see his or her impact on customer satisfaction.

I recently read about a couple of other customer experience programmes. At Blue Cross Blue Shield (BCBS) of Michigan they helped employees walk in the shoes of customers by creating the Blue Cross Blue Shield mobile customer experience room to introduce employees to customer personas they may not have known. This initiative also won them the 2013 CX Innovation Award from the Customer Experience Professionals Association (CXPA).

You can read the BCBS story here.

At Capital One, they have done something similar. You can read about their initiative here.

A programme with the same idea as the one I experienced at the financial institution, but targeted at executives, was conducted at Credit Suisse, and is described here.

walk a mile

I am sure there are many other ways in which employees can connect with the customer experience. This blog just calls out a few.

So, how are you bringing your staff closer to the customer? How do you get your employees to walk a mile in the customer’s shoes?


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