How to Understand and Nurture the Voice of the Employee

Employees are one of the most powerful influencers of positive customer experiences. Why? They are deep in the trenches of an organization’s operations and often at the front lines of brand experiences for customers. These positions allow employees to provide some of the best insights for new ideas and innovations, which is why forward-thinking organizations recognize the correlation between employee engagement and positive business outcomes, such as  talent retention, customer satisfaction scores, and innovation. However, many organizations are still struggling with employee engagement or voice-of-the-employee (VOE) programs, which ultimately means that a key driver of positive customer experience is left out of the picture.

Why Employee Engagement Is Important

The age-old business rule that it’s easier/cheaper to keep existing clients than to win new ones is true for employees as well. With the time and expense involved in hiring, training, and replacing employees, retention is critical to ensuring a company’s future. Employee engagement programs have four primary outcomes:

1.  They increase motivation. Employees who feel that they have a voice and their opinions are heard produce better results.

2.   They increase productivity. Engaged employees who feel they are making a difference take greater pride in their work. 

3. They increase retention. Research shows that one of the top reasons employees search for new jobs is that they feel ignored and underappreciated (it’s not always about the money).

4.      They improve the bottom line.  According to the American Society for Training and Development, “higher reported levels of engagement are correlated with higher levels of market performance, as gauged by self reports in the areas of revenue growth, market share, profitability, and customer satisfaction.”

Give Employees a Voice and Be Sure to Listen

Employee engagement focuses on the contributions that individuals make to the organization, including the personal satisfaction they experience at their jobs. The more employees feel they are contributing to the success of the company, the higher their satisfaction. The happier individuals are in their positions, the more likely they are to engage positively with peers, management, and customers.

A motivated and dedicated workforce is vital to business survival in fast-paced business environments, yet much more challenging to achieve and sustain given cutbacks, salary freezes, and layoffs. Consider these statistics from a 2010 Gallup Poll on employee engagement in the United States: 29 percent of employees are engaged; 54 percent are not engaged; 17 percent are disengaged.

It’s no easy feat to bring increasingly disenchanted workers back into the mix. Businesses must give employees every opportunity to be heard, and demonstrate that they are truly listening to the VOE.


Establishing Your Intelligent Employee Engagement Program

Historically, the tools used to gauge the employee experience cycle have included the basics: surveys, performance management systems, and interview notes, to just name a few. Unfortunately, these tools are often inefficient, costly, focused on structured scores (rated on a scale of one to five), not scalable, and severely limited in the types of sources and data they could analyze. They do not really listen to what employees are saying. They aren’t looking across the employee base to understand where employees are challenged or thriving, and they aren’t measuring employee sentiment or emotion – telling only a small part of the VOE story.

 Intelligent Employee Engagement—the next generation of employee engagement—is the use of sentiment and text analytics technology to create a centralized, holistic process for intelligent listening, analyzing, operationalizing, and measuring the VOE. We’ve worked with hundreds of companies on creating employee and customer engagement programs and have created a list of questions to ask when looking at sentiment and text analytics technology.

   Are you listening intelligently? Employee feedback data floods in through different sources (think emails, employee portals, social media, surveys, etc.), in different formats, and in different languages. Can your technology allow you to set up a single, multichannel listening post for all internal and external and structured and unstructured data over multiple sources in any language?

  Are you analyzing intelligently? Since organizations are drowning in data, powerful analytics can help identify and focus on the employee insights that are the most relevant and actionable–the RIGHT information, where is the insight coming from, when, and why?

   Are you intelligently operationalizing? Valuable insights are useless if they are not shared across the organization. You need to get the right information to the right people at the right time. By routing employee feedback to the appropriate stakeholders, you bolster cross-departmental collaboration to solve complex business problems. And because you have access to real-time, actionable employee feedback, you are also allowing for real-time employee engagement.

   Are you measuring intelligently? Measuring and documenting every touch point of the employee engagement cycle is imperative. This is about employing tools to help you measure sentiment, volume, satisfaction changes, and your return on action.

 Enhancing Customer Experiences with Employee Insights

I’ve just established how employee engagement programs, when in sync with the right sentiment and text analytics technology, can benefit employee retention and loyalty. Now, let’s review how it benefits the customer experience.

Engaged employees are critical components of a successful customer experience program. Their informed opinions on everything from how to improve customer service to how to stock an eye-catching display can be nuggets of gold to a company that will listen. Employees typically flag issues weeks to months ahead of customers and can get organizations to provide a positive customer experience proactively rather than reactively.

 Unfortunately, the majority of customer experience programs do not incorporate the valuable feedback from customer-facing employees. Instead, decisions are made by management executives, many of whom never come into contact with actual customers. Employees on the front lines can provide insights that management simply cannot.


A Real-World Case of Employee-Centric CEM

One of the largest multinational retailers of technology and entertainment products and services (or “Company X”) employs 180,000 people worldwide. Company X implemented a Customer Experience Management (CEM) program that hinged on employee feedback that it received through its sentiment and text analytics solution on a daily basis to track issues in real time.

The organization sourced employee feedback from a variety of sources, including forums, surveys, texting/SMS, focus groups and councils, phone calls, in-store, and over email. Employees are motivated to enter feedback because they see their store and district managers make changes based on the information.

Company X has a dedicated analyst team that focuses on key trends from categories such as products, promotions, policies, and merchandising. The team also creates “spike” reports when a particular issue requires deeper analysis. Reports are sent to the stores each week, and the team makes recommendations to corporate based on the insights it receives.

This organization receives between 3,500 and 4,000 insights per week from its employees, and the results have led to numerous changes to ensure a positive customer experience. For example, employees at one store told senior leadership about customer frustration with the in-store pickup process. The district managers then went to the store to work with the employees who submitted the issue. They started a task force aimed at improving the in-store pickup process, and eventually the store saw a 30 percent increase in the number of customers using the service.

As the marketplace becomes even more competitive and the cost of doing business escalates, retaining happy, empowered employees is a priority. Capturing the intelligence contained in employee feedback can make all the difference in maintaining a positive and productive workforce while limiting turnover costs. The fact that VOE programs can improve customer experience initiatives as well is enough of a reason for making intelligent employee engagement a top priority for your organization.

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