For CX Leaders by CX Leaders: Three Focus Areas to Improve Employee Engagement, Retention, and Performance

For CX Leaders by CX Leaders: Three Focus Areas to Improve Employee Engagement, Retention, and Performance

We’ve been hosting a new video podcast series, and our guests are some of the brightest and most innovative people in customer experience! In these dynamic conversations, they generously share their critical insights, best practices, and perspectives.

And we pulled together some of our favorite moments from these conversations around three focus areas: creating cultures of success and engaging team members, empowering managers in a hybrid environment, and how they leverage data insights.

After all, today’s CX leaders are facing unprecedented challenges and they have a unique opportunity to improve the way we work in this new world. Leaders in customer support can create cultures and approaches that build better and meaningful relationships with their customers, and importantly, create work environments where their frontline employees feel engaged, appreciated, and understood — all to improve the bottom line.

Research from Gartner’s 2022 Customer Service and Support Priorities Poll shows that the top priority – by far at 64% – for CX leaders is to grow the business. Furthermore, a survey by Salesforce and Forbes indicates that companies with high EX (employee experience and CX see almost double the revenue growth as those that do not. But companies continue to struggle with employee retention – and in some cases even more so over the last couple of years. This is causing headaches for CX leaders who want to grow the business, keep costs in check, and deliver on their business objectives. Replacing reps is not cheap or sustainable. According to Gartner, the average cost of turning over a single rep is $14,113 for CX leaders.

What can CX leaders do to stem the outflow, improve employee experience and achieve their goals? Here is a series of insights, tips, and perspectives to help CX leaders understand and solve some of their most pressing challenges.

Maximize the engagement and experience of frontline representatives

By understanding the needs of the individual rep, their opportunities, and challenges, organizations can foster an engaging and supportive environment. Melissa Brown, AVP Knowledge Management at Sutherland, shared tips about creating effective programs. In hiring and onboarding new team members, she’s looking for people with specific personality traits who will be successful in today’s omnichannel customer support environment. I focus a lot now on is, moreover, looking at that person kind of like the industrial-organizational psychology of training in the call center, right. Because we're talking now, and especially with the pandemic on how those individuals are learning and coping in that virtual space.”

Gartner's research highlighted that two out of three CX reps are disengaged, increasing costs and poor employee and customer outcomes. They indicate that the biggest predictors are a lack of goal clarity and vague directives. They find that “Disengaged reps are 84% more likely to think of quitting or be actively looking for a new job and perform three times as many high-effort behaviors when resolving customer issues as their engaged counterparts.”

Engaging workplaces are also transparent, clear on goals, and support accountability. According to Colleen McCreary, Chief People, Places, & Publicity Officer at Credit Karma, “People just want to be respected, they want to be valued, they want to be heard and trusted.”

Additionally, Ahmad Shabazz, former Head of Global Community Operations at Snap, shared practical advice on approaching accountability. “If you can't motivate folks, influence them, lead by example, but then strike that balance where you can still hold people accountable and have difficult conversations in a kind manner, then you're just not going to make it in this world, in this work environment today.”

Empower managers to be better coaches in hybrid environments

Perhaps Colleen McCreary from Credit Karma encapsulated it best. She shared, “It's the manager that defines that experience… how do we help our managers have these conversations, especially with these emotional needs that they didn't really always talk about before or know how to appreciate and do that.”

Experts agree that managers need to be better and act more like coaches. But the distributed nature of hybrid work can create complications. Another recent guest, Jim Farnsworth, a former senior executive with SYKEs and current advisor for Dallas Venture Capital, highlighted the need for trust, saying, “You're going to have to trust the people that work for you a lot more than you ever have in the past. Even the best leaders who are trustful have to open their minds a little more to say, How can I motivate this team? How can I lead this team?  When I'm not face-to-face with them all the time or when they're choosing to have more flexibility in their work life.”

And the secular trend toward more digitization of work can create more opportunities for technology to help shift towards a coaching culture. A Harvard Business Review article showcasing Microsoft’s move to develop manager-coaches, stated “with the availability of powerful digital tools that provided everyone with real-time data on key metrics, it no longer made sense for managers to spend their time monitoring and controlling employees. So, after a restructuring effort… [they] followed up with workshops, tools, and an online course designed to help the company’s managers develop a coaching style of leadership.”

Farnsworth continues, “We're going to have to have much more technology enablement within the supervisory ranks, where you've got the ability to process multiple data points about human behavior, human performance, workforce measurement, and how do I use, technology or applications to be a smarter leader, without having to micromanage everything people do.”

Leverage data to optimize employee experience but focus on the customer experience

The increasing digitization of work and engagement across employee and customer touchpoints has allowed more data to be generated and collected. According to BetterCloud, the number of SaaS apps has increased tenfold since 2015. And by 2025, it’s expected that 85% of business apps will be SasS-based. And with the proliferation of data and tools, organizations have become inundated with data. There’s far too much to understand effectively and then take action, creating potential confusion and misdirection. So inefficiencies and misalignment at the frontline and individual level can be magnified when applied to the org chart and manifests across the organization. But the experts are beginning to take action to focus on what matters for the employee and the customer experience.

Michael Kuenne, Senior Vice President and Chief Customer Experience Officer of Extended Stay America, said in a recent podcast episode, “we use technology or process or operational excellence to make that associate or employee, more efficient, not necessarily replace that employee... freeing up that associate, to focus on things that are more value add toward the guests or more value add toward the operations.”

Similarly, April Campbell, an alumnus of Stripe, LinkedIn, and SAP Ariba, shared, “it's all about the customer. So if I'm in the back office and we're configuring this stuff, we're like, ‘You just have to press these seven buttons and open up four extra screens.’ But now the company has the data that we need to march forward, and you'll be like, ‘Oh, wait. Hold on. That experience is taking away from the time my folks have with the customer.’”

To control the costs associated with agent or rep churn, it’s clear that leading CX experts are using new techniques, approaches, and technology to engage and retain their best team members. They empower and enable their frontline managers to be better coaches in in-person, remote, and hybrid working environments. At the same time, they’re taking action to focus on the data that matters most to drive increases in productivity and efficiency to enhance the employee experience, the customer experience, and the bottom line.

You can find all episodes of the podcast here.