Customer-led digitization is what’s happening now, as companies seek to find the moments that matter to customers through AI, big data, and other technological innovations. The goal is to give customers a seamless buying experience. But, is it really wise to rely solely on customer data to drive your digital strategy? In a word, no.

Numbers are useful, but customer sales data is a lagging indicator of what’s going on throughout the customer journey. Slicing and dicing customer data to the nth degree can tell you what customers think of their experience with your company now, but doesn’t predict what you should do to move forward. With the increasing speed in which businesses make decisions, things can go awry faster.

The contact center employee hears the cries of the customer first.

The voice of the customer is heard loudest when reacting to an event that has already occurred, not something you’re planning to do to drive business forward. The voice of the employee is what counts most. The customer view is an outside view peering in, while the employee provides a connected, inside-out look at customer and employee experience.

Employees offer the humanity, empathy, and customer insights that data does not. And, when employees are listened to first, they’re engaged in solving customer problems, because the customer experience and the employee experience are inextricably tied.

The lowly call center is ground zero for employee engagement

Shockingly, the call center industry reports employee turnover rates of 30-45 percent, and that number hasn’t changed in decades. What has changed is that it’s call center employees who are managing your ‘make it or break it’ customer moments. Paradoxically, double digit customer attrition rates would sound off alarms in most companies. Yet, low employee engagement and high attrition in call centers are tacitly accepted as the norm.

If you’re employees aren’t feeling the love, customers don’t feel it either

Employee LeavingOne technology client learned first-hand what happens when call center employees didn’t feel their voices mattered.  When new leadership looked at driving revenue, solely based on data, they instituted changes that made it more difficult for the employees to achieve their goals. This change, along with several other smaller changes, added up. People felt that things were being taken away, and it wasn’t as exciting to come to work as it used to be.

A wake-up call came just three months after these changes were made with the employee engagement survey results. The call center scores dropped like a stone. Employees lost trust in their leader and felt uncertain about the direction the company was going in.

It’s the people behind the numbers that boost employee engagement.

The new playbook 

Leadership shifted, and an established senior leader that understood the company culture was brought in to sift through the problem and get things back on track. One of the first things the new leader did was prioritize employees first, followed by customers, then the company. “When we execute in that order we win,” he said.

Leader Strategy WhiteboardThen the work began with a cross-functional tiger team. Completely open and honest with employees, the team told employees exactly what happened and how they were going to solve the problems that ensued, posting the survey results with a tracker of the programs being implemented to fix things.

At first, the team didn’t worry about measurements. The team’s philosophy was to put out the fires first and really get a good strategy together. The team lead said, “If we just look at metrics first, we’re going to lose sight of the people behind the metrics.” Roundtable sessions, focus groups, and instant polling were used to ask what’s working and what isn’t for the customers and the employees.Whiteboard Markers

As changes began to take hold, the team doubled down and came up with a simple-to-read dashboard with every kind of data, from sales to absenteeism, to build a holistic employee engagement model. Far from hundreds of lines on an eye-numbing excel spreadsheet, the dashboard had three columns with red, yellow, and green indicators for the employee experience, customer experience, and financial experience. This made it easy to understand the patterns that emerged with the engagement indicators, like how the rate of absenteeism correlated to sales measures, such as renewal and retention rates.

The dashboard began to show results quickly. In the employee experience column, voluntary attrition was a focus, given the new leadership team in place. The attrition rate dropped double digits in just three months. In the customer experience column, one metric was the call abandon rate (customers hanging up without connecting to an agent). In three months, the number was cut in half. In the financial experience column on the far right of the scorecard, gross revenue climbed. New sales grew to 100 percent of its goal within three months.

The feelings behind the numbers

The employee experience metrics included several lead measures and a lag measure. The lag measure was, “Based on everything we’ve done so far, how do you feel about things?” and “Did we do anything to disrupt the employee experience in anyway?” The tiger team then probed to get the narrative behind the numbers. A team lead said, “Ultimately, these feelings will flow through to employee engagement, but we wanted to find out about them before it’s too late.”

If employees are asked how they feel about changes while they’re occurring, they stay engaged in the process.

From the financial perspective, the focus became more than just driving sales revenue. Renewal rates were not highly scrutinized as the team said, “We want to have more engaging conversations with customers, which naturally will lead to more sales of products customers don’t have, rather than just renewing what they already own.”

There was a shift to holistically look at the customer experience, not just sales. Measurements that recognized customer experience consultants who consistently had high-quality, high-touch conversations with customers, offering the right products to meet customer needs at the right time, were recognized along with the top sellers. The company realized that being a great contact center employee was more than being a sales superstar. It was about doing the right thing to create long-term value for the customer, which in turn, benefits the bottom line.

The Bottom Line

Flipping the scorecard from business results first to employees first moved the needle in sales, customer, and employee engagement. The company’s customer contact center experienced attrition rates roughly half the industry average as the average order size increased. Employees felt engaged again. One employee said, “Thank you for listening to us. I love my company again.” Being heard made all the difference in the world.Engaged Employees

The lesson learned is that analyzing the numbers first, and then looking at how your current staff can fill the bill is a big mistake. The numbers can look vastly different from an employee’s perspective.

When employees are disengaged, boosting the numbers is the last thing on their minds. However, when leaders look at how employees feel about the work they’re doing first, and focus on making people feel great about the work they do, the numbers can reach heights beyond what a spreadsheet can predict.