The satisfaction dilemma: customer or employee?

The satisfaction dilemma: customer or employee?

10 Jan, 2020

The employee experience (EX), alongside the customer experience (CX), is gaining increasingly in importance in German companies and is becoming a factor that can help determine the continued existence of a company. But how can a good balance between customer and employee satisfaction be achieved?

High demand for employees

Online retailing was, is and remains one of the big drivers for more and more service requests that are handled via service units, the so-called call or contact centres. Whereas in the past people used to buy in a local shop and get information, enquire, complain and exchange there, today the website, online shop, e-mail address and telephone number are the first points of contact.

Digitalisation - both of products (ads, music, photos, ...) and processes (digital self-service, payment, ...) - is playing its part. That is why the need for employees in German call and contact centres remains high. The individual contacts with the end customer, the consumer and the user are becoming more complex, more demanding - and in times of declining brand loyalty - more important.

Little interest in employee satisfaction?

Contact centres feel it every day: there are too few employees. The topic of "finding and retaining employees" seems to be on companies' minds. Seems - but is it really so?

If it's hard to find good staff, then all topics related to employees should have huge appeal. Yet, in my daily work and in conversations with my audiences during presentations, I always have the feeling that the topic of employee satisfaction or development meets with less interest than topics around understanding the customer.

Sometimes feelings are deceptive, but they were backed up by tangible figures: the webinars on the topic of customer experience were booked more frequently than webinars on the topic of employees.

A survey we conducted in summer 2019 also showed that managers ranked customer satisfaction as the top priority with 86%. Employee satisfaction only made it onto the list of priorities with 48% - multiple responses were even possible. The management priorities are therefore clearly with the customer.

Shouldn't the employee satisfaction index have been the most important corporate indicator by now? But investors, shareholders or board members are still hardly impressed by it.

But why do we not care enough about our employees? After all, there are more vacancies than employees, and yet we often don't care for them as much as we should.

Companies are often still stuck in old structures and hierarchical thinking. In Germany, a high level of employee satisfaction is often still associated with cosy corners and friendly overture.

When will the rethink come?

The change will only come gradually, but it is coming, that is clear. While at present the majority of workers have grown up integrating their lives into their jobs, a change in consciousness is taking place: The job must fit life or be integrated into life.

Millennials are moving into the world of work with new ideas, and the Golf generation is also long past being impressed with the drill of the 90s, when working 60 hours and more was the order of the day. "We work to live" is becoming the new mantra of employees. Will the needs of the customer fall by the wayside in the future?

„Clients do not come first. If you take care of your employees, they will take care of the clients.” Sir Richard Branson

I wish it really were as simple as Sir Richard says. Things have already changed - especially in Germany's contact centres. When I think back to my first visits to the service units of German companies, I could understand only too well then why people spoke of a service desert in Germany and why the profession of call centre agent was so unpopular.

The workplaces were more reminiscent of battery farms than a productive work environment, with an immense clocking of calls and an immense noise level - you couldn't really expect an empathetic and friendly employee here.

In the meantime, there are many good examples of companies that create workplaces that invite people to work, both on a technical, physical and social level. In short: an environment in which both mood and satisfaction increase - and with it productivity.

Satisfaction is no longer enough, experiences must be created

But the demands are becoming greater: just as customer satisfaction is no longer sufficient for society's demands and a customer experience is expected, companies are also expected to create experiences for their employees at work: an inspiring environment, flexible working hours, opportunities for further development, freedom to make their own decisions, appealing offers and appreciation.

Dr Ferri Abolhassan, Head of Service at Deutsche Telekom, says: "Impeccable service can only succeed if we listen to our customers and our employees and consistently gear our actions to their needs - despite all the digitalisation, people make the difference." - I think he is absolutely right!

Technology as a prerequisite for CX and EX

The employee is the linchpin and the technology is the pivot. The best technology is of little help if the employee of a complaint hotline does not react empathetically. Moreover, according to a PWC study, the percentage of customers in Germany who want to interact with a human being is the highest - it is 84 %.

Friendly and competent employees who, in case of doubt, are allowed to make a decision in favour of the customer and thus in favour of the company, are essential for good customer service.

However, well-functioning technology is also a basic prerequisite for satisfied customers. Whether data management, buying behaviour or logistics information, no human being can process so much data. This is where technology supports us to be able to create customer experiences - a smooth buying process is the basis for this, which never works without technology.

But we don't only need the right technology for CX, also for EX. Equal evaluation, equal goodies and equal incentive systems for all. Especially in agile companies, it is important to determine and record performance. If managers are no longer to judge by attendance, new metrics are needed and work must be result-based.

Here, a paradigm shift is gradually taking place in German offices. Employee management must be further granted so that feedback can be collected, development and results documented and working hours planned.

For example, if there are shifts to cover, it is not always the particularly nice colleague who can take the late shift, while the quick ones always grab the most popular shifts. For all this, the right technology is needed to serve as the basis for cooperation.

With all the new positive currents, it should be kept in mind that the corporate culture has to fit the type of person more than ever. Not everyone wants a mobile workplace or flexible working hours, some like and need more structure than others.

It is important that the employees feel comfortable and that there is a feeling of real connection between the company and the employees, because only then does the everyday working life really become a positive experience.

How do we solve the dilemma?

One doesn’t go without the other: This is definitely not about an "either CX or EX", but about togetherness: there is no outstanding customer experience without the employees who represent the company, sell the product or master the service.

So it's not a dilemma. To provide exceptional customer service, I need exceptional employees who enjoy their work. Satisfied customers and satisfied employees are directly correlated and interdependent.

There is a growing body of research showing that company performance is directly linked to employee satisfaction. But this close connection is still not sufficiently anchored in key figures and target agreements.

That should change: A customer service manager should always have the satisfaction of his employees in mind, the marketing management should put the target group of employees on the map and the board of directors must become alert when a large part of the workforce is constantly working overtime or the fluctuation is increasing.

Here are my 3 tips

  • Orientate yourself to the needs of your customers and your employees. They need to be courted and valued today.
  • Ensure that the technology used in their contact centre supports CX and EX.
  • The contact centre's goals should not only aim at better CX, but also at improving EX.

Author: Ralf Mühlenhöver

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