Frontline staff are the face of your brand, service and customer experience. They are the people who make the customer experience either incredibly positive, or incredibly frustrating.
The term "frontline" in and of itself is interesting. For me, it conjures up images of old war movies - and soldiers marching into war. With guns slung across their backs, they run through mud, dodge bullets and look for opportunities to gain ground. Usually with very little direction "from above". They are there to take orders.
They are dependable and expendable.
Sadly, many wonderful frontline staff are made to feel the same way. They trudge in to work and are given a list of commands. If someone calls in sick - there is no back up - they just have to get on with it. Their time is allocated to tasks which take up every minute of their day - in case they were "slacking". There is mandatory compliance training. Paperwork. Additional head office requests. The list continues.....
And yet they are the ones who directly influence the customer experience, Who we need to empower. Give them time to ask customers questions, gather insights which translate into new ideas that improve customer service. And feed these back to the organisation as ways to continually improve products, processes and experiences. After all, they are there - in the field, able to understand what is really happening, what is in front. What are customers thinking and saying today? What do they need? And most importantly, how could your organisation create a competitive advantage by acting on this?
The real question: is your CX firing from the frontline? (or are they being shot in the foot?)
The companies who are famous for customer experience serve and empower the frontline, rather than commanding and controlling them. They visit or work themselves at the frontline regularly (so they appreciate the value of first hand customer insight), empower them with a purpose - and the resources, budget, and skills to deliver. They create a culture where everyone serves the customer, and as the frontline are front and centre - then head office also serves them. It's a partnership - with everyone on the same side. Each doing their part for the greater good.
This may sound obvious but think about your organisation, and what happens in reality. When was the last time the head office team were with the frontline, in front of the customer? Asking them for insights and ideas? What are the realities - that speak louder than words? I recently heard a frontline staff from a big ASX listed company articulate it perfectly. "In the branches, when a customer comes in, they expect we can pick up the phone and talk to the right person to get problems solved. But in reality - we have to dial the same 1800 number as customers - and wait in queue. We are not empowered to solve the problem - it's frustrating for them, and embarrassing for us." Another frontline staff member talked about the different treatment between head office and the frontline. "We have to buy our own milk for coffee, as its not in the store budget. At head office, they have 6 types of milk in the fridge, a free nespresso machine and a full time barrister". This may seem like a small thing, but this different treatment creates a culture of "us vs them"...where they are the expendable soldiers.
So what does a great partnership look and feel like - where everyone serves the customer? Of course there are the usual suspects who do it really well, but there have also been some companies who have completely transformed. The biggest surprise for me was Service NSW, when I recently went for my drivers licence renewal. Admittedly, from my prior experience my expectations were not high. I went in store as I wanted a 10 year licence which requires an eye test (fair enough). To my surprise, I was greeted at the door, helped to find the right queue, given a ticket, told the (short) wait time and then when it came to renewing with a staff member, my questions / eye test / payment / picture / new licence printing took less than 10 minutes. I was in and out within 20 minutes, in one of the busiest city branches. Wow!
Most of all - you could feel the empowerment and positive culture among the frontline team. The staff were knowledgeable, friendly, and enjoyed their job. There was smiling and banter between them - and they asked me questions to build rapport. They were empowered with the technology, resources and training (from the teams behind the frontline) to provide a great customer experience. Clearly this was a strategy which the whole organisation was committed to, but it showed up for me through the frontline, which is experience I remember. It would appear my experience was not a one off. Based on the Service NSW annual report, in 2017-18 they handled 47.2 million transactions, assisting with more than 13 million customer enquiries, and had a customer satisfaction rating of 97 per cent. Even the name "Service NSW" which was rebranded from the Roads and Traffic Authority a few years ago is customer centric.
So if you are serious about customer experience, how well do you partner and empower your frontline. Are you on the same team - working together for a shared good, or are you fighting a different war....?