Invest in People-First Brands

Contributed by Tom Goodmanson, president and CEO at Calabrio

Historically, company success has been judged based on financial performance, stock returns, profitability, and similar operational success metrics. The economic boom of the 1990s saw companies expand rapidly and perform well by those standards but saw a rise in employee burnout and a decrease in brand loyalty.

Into the mid-2000s, companies were starting to consider employee wellness to safeguard productivity and sales, but it took a pandemic, the Great Resignation, and a swing toward corporate responsibility as a success metric to really move the needle in how companies view and treat employees.

People-powered brands

For companies that own or operate customer service and support centers, professional agents and advisors are often the first point of contact consumers have with a brand. These brand guardians answer phones, texts, chats, and handle everything from basic billing questions to complex telehealth visits. Despite this, customer experience (CX) teams have been historically treated as transactional employees, and the overall CX function is viewed as a cost-center rather than a brand-building asset.

It is no wonder agent turnover is high, averaging 30-45% annually. Even consumers see the problem with more of them reporting annually that companies treat CX as ‘an expense rather than a growth opportunity.’

Where is the disconnect? And how does this impact the financial viability of an organization?

The Cost of Complacency

Treating employees well and becoming a people-first brand has wide-ranging benefits, no matter the business or industry. However, when it comes to creating exceptional experiences, many organizations miss the obvious fact that the humans behind the experience are critical to success. They are the voice—and more often today the face—of the brand, influencing not only personal customer perceptions and behaviors but public customer actions such as social media conversations, advocacy, and criticism.

The louder these customer voices are, both in praise of brands for good customer service and critical of brands for poor interactions, the more likely it is to impact the brand. Either the brand will experience a surge of good will from consumers and investors alike or be faced with the potential for “cancel culture,” which can last a few days or leave permanent reputational damage.

On the flip side, AT&T appeared in Forbes’ 2020 ‘The Just 100,’ a ranking of companies leading through responsible capitalism. The ranking was directly tied to high marks the telecom received based on its customer service, particularly during emergency situations.

In the CX segment, treating agents well has extended benefits for both end consumers and investors. In fact studies, such as the Cumulative Return 2020, now suggest “employer branding and company culture, as experienced internally by employees and externally by investors, can make a substantial difference in company stock performance over time.”

In the CX business, treating frontline employees well can lead to higher retention, which leads to more skilled agents who understand how to help customers navigate the CX journey. This, in turn, can create more loyal customers, better sales and customer retention, and a more consistent bottom line.

Supporting frontline employees needs for flexible or remote work can create overall happier, more engaged employees. When they do not need to worry as much about childcare, commuting and rigid schedules, stress levels naturally reduce and productivity increases. This creates agents who are ready to tackle any customer challenge that comes their way with grace and patience. And, when customers have a positive experience, they are more likely to become repeat customers.

Happy Customers Create Financial Value

Finally, when agents are empowered with the right technology and training to be successful, customer journeys can be streamlined. Reducing barriers across the experience is a hallmark of successful companies and creates time for agents to nurture better customer relationships for the long-term, instead of focusing solely on reducing average call time or time-to-answer.

Like investing in the right people, companies need to invest in the right technology. For instance, tools such as speech and text analytics are being used today to evaluate customer sentiment and agent performance. These tools that used to be ‘nice to have’ are now ‘must haves.’ These crucial tools allow contact center managers to focus on areas of improvement within the organization, reducing areas of friction and creating personalized training to make sure every agent is doing the best job possible.

Similarly, self-service tools, apps, and virtual assistants are not just there for a smoother customer journey. Take mobile-enabled self-scheduling. It gives agents more autonomy over their work and schedules, while ensuring managers can adjust quickly to changes in customer demand, agent availability, seasonality, or peak service times.

When considering investments in CX and customer service-oriented businesses, past and current financial performance is just one metric. As the business landscape continues to focus on corporate responsibility and employee wellness as significant metrics to success, knowing how brands treat their employees can provide insights into how the organization might perform financially over time.

Tom Goodmanson is president and CEO of Calabrio the workforce performance suite provider and ally to enrich and understand human interactions, empowering your contact center as a brand guardian.

The views and opinions expressed herein are the views and opinions of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of Nasdaq, Inc.

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