The number 1 source to collect valuable information about your business is from your employees. Front-line Employees, those who are in the field selling, those who are in the plant on the production line, those who are on the phones in the call centers, those who are serving food at your restaurant. These are our front-line employees and the ones who are closest to servicing and supporting the customer. Executive management needs to get a better pulse on how to get this clear, transparency of how customers truly perceive your products and services.
A key takeaway from this post is to gain input towards better understanding your customers, find the time to listen to the voice of your frontline employees. If you don't, you'll know less about your customers than you should
Several ideas come to mind to help make this work:
- Schedule time of management to be with front-line employees on a regular basis. Sales Management for the most part is an easy one, where the first line manager’s routine expectations is coaching in the field.
- In a call center, the supervisor may work with a customer service person by alternating calls. This will be a show and tell format and then gain better insight from the front line in group meetings at the end of the day.
- Manufacturing facilities offers many ways for first hand observation to take place...nothing better than to see a manager actually working in the plant.
- Restaurants need more than the occasional manager coming up to customers asking if there meal & service was excellent. Often times, this is perceived by the diner to be checking up on the waiter. Management from time to time need to actually “wait” the tables or be a food runner from time to time. This will add value to their inputs both to their employees and “up the chain” of management.
- Management in Department stores need to be out front instead of in their offices or storerooms. A little bit of interaction with a customer, merchandising and working in the fitting rooms will go a long way to giving them a greater pulse on the action. In the fitting rooms, one hears first hand the perception that customers have about the store and product.
The bottom line is that management needs to be visible to the employee and ask for honest feedback without any kind of repercussion. As illustrated, most times this can be done by “walking in your employees shoes” on a regular basis.
A second area that you may want to look at to “Unlock customer Value” is be segmenting your customer base. Learn and differentiate what makes up that “super elite” group of loyal customers that you have. The more accurate you are in defining that special group the greater your overall customer satisfaction rate you will have. Take for instance a program that Apple perfected...
Apple has had a program that they developed which involves alignment of the customer with a key ingredient within their overall formula for success. The program is by invitation only to select customers and asks for routine feedback up to 2X per month. This “selective” process by invitation only allows you to gain specific feedback to focus on the type of customer that you are keying on. For example, when Apple puts together a number of factors to come up with its “premier” customer, they can see better ways to engage and partner with them if they know what makes these “premier” customers tick. Similar attempts have been tried by Airline and Hotel programs but not to the success of Apple.
As you gain confidence on the insights and observations of your frontline people you will gain a much greater pulse on your environment and business. Never forget that a focus on quality and customer satisfaction is good business. Everything happens at the "front-line"!