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How Customer Experience Expertise Can Lead To More Humane Workplaces

There is a movement for a more equitable workplace, and customer experience firms are uniquely positioned to help drive this change.

How Customer Experience Expertise Can Lead To More Humane Workplaces
[Photo: Jay Baker/Flickr user Maryland GovPics]

Customer experience matters. From Zappos to JetBlue to the Cleveland Clinic, one finds examples from almost every industry of companies that have doubled down on customer experience as a way to differentiate, win business, and grow through a focus on the needs of its consumers.

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And, as digital as the world has become, as everything from banking to healthcare grows more reliant on self-service, great experience often hinges on moments of person-to-person interaction. Employees drive experience.

With a current emphasis on issues such as pay equity, workplace happiness, employee retention, and values-based organizations, the focus on creating great experiences for employees–not just customers–is increasingly front-of-mind. Recently Dan Price, the founder of Gravity Payments, grabbed national headlines by announcing that he was raising his staff’s salaries to a minimum of $70,000 and lowering his salary to pay for it.

Gravity Payments may be a bellwether, but it is not yet the norm. We know that many people who deliver customer experiences are suffering. Frontline employees in many industries are struggling to balance shifts, pack in more hours, and work in conditions that are not always healthy. Maria Fernandes died last year, napping in her car between shifts at Dunkin’ Donuts, where she worked the equivalent of four jobs. A 2014 study published in Occupational and Environmental Medicine announced that night-shift work affects memory, processing speed, and brain power–in addition to the effects on obesity, heart attack, breast cancer, type-2 diabetes and other diseases already known–by chronically disrupting circadian rhythms.

Related: How Sleep Became A Social Justice Issue

The good news is that there is a movement for change. Thirteen states and Washington D.C. have increased the minimum wage in the past year. Walmart, Starbucks, Aetna, and Gap have all recently announced a raise for their employees. Bills banning “clopenings,” the scheduling of an employee for back-to-back closing and opening shifts have been introduced this year in three states.

I’d like to suggest that customer-centricity and customer experience design can become the basis for creating a more humane working experience, that what is good for business and consumers can be mirrored by benefits for the employee. This theory has been demonstrated by studies out of MIT and Wharton–in one example every dollar of increased wages brought a retailer $10 more in revenue. Customer experience design firms such as ours are uniquely positioned to create systems that can continue to drive this change, from the consumer inwards.

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This relies on a few basic tenets:

We treat employees as important players in the system.

First, we should do this because they are. Employees deliver an organization’s brand and experience to its consumers, whether through direct interaction or through support that is invisible to the public. We have designed contact-center experiences that empower associates to answer questions and resolve problems for callers in ways they haven’t been previously. Sounds simple. Each time, our clients are rewarded with increased consumer satisfaction (and brand trust and loyalty) alongside reduced costs from fewer calls and hand-offs.

Second, we should do this because they are not disposable resources. As with consumers, it is more cost effective to retain a great employee than it is to acquire one. Our food-service clients are feeling the pain as the economy recovers, hustling to bring in the right frontline talent to create the service experiences that they rely on.

A Shift In Thinking Of Employees As Cost-Centers To Value-Centers

Labor is expensive, but it’s also often how our clients make sales, win loyalty, create the type of intimate brand connections that consumers crave. In a remote world, the right human interaction has increased impact and the right talent pool is a driver of growth, not a drag on the bottom line.

We Design As A System.

The best customer experiences swim across channels, touchpoints, and often silos of an organization. They knit together functions that may have historically been separate and can recast the perspective that an organization has had on its system of interactions with its consumers. By viewing the design challenge as that of a system, we balance consumer needs with operational requirements, understand the impact of investments in broader terms, and think more widely about providing value to business.

Customer experience is an adopted doctrine in typically consumer-centered industries and is quickly finding its way into categories that have been slow to wake to the needs of their consumers. Insurance companies and B2B organizations are appointing chief customer officers, and companies that compete with Continuum are emerging to create great experiences for people. We can, together, develop this practice with a humane approach at its center.

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Augusta Meill is the Vice President of Program Development at Continuum.