Will your core purpose see you through the crisis?

Will your core purpose see you through the crisis?

Regular listeners to ExperienceCast will remember our recent conversation with Phill Hirons on navigating the tensions of employee experience. Phill joins us again to discuss the future for the conference industry, its customers, and employees. As the conversation develops it becomes clear that the industry’s core purpose continues to appeal to its customers, the challenge is how this will be delivered in the short and long term future. Digital technologies will inevitably play a role as it will in many situations, but how do we provide space for the subtle social elements of face to face relationship building. On a more positive note we could see a significant reduction in cost and environmental impact.

ExperinceCast bringing you a different perspective on familiar challenges and opportunities.

Listen to more ExperienceCast podcasts

How do we sustain a successful response to the crisis?

How do we sustain a successful response to the crisis?

Register for our next session on 12 May 13.00-14.30

 

At our recent QoE Online debate we were joined by a cross industry panel to discuss the unfolding Coronavirus situation and its effects on customer, employees and businesses. The concerns of the group were how to maintain the level of customer support achieved so far, especially around the wellbeing of their people.

The likely length and depth of the disruption is becoming clearer, as are the repercussions on short and medium term plans to support customers and employees. Thoughts on how companies move to a more sustainable financial model, and the impact this will have on customers and employees, are starting to filter into the conversation. The change in focus from support in a crisis to returning to something close to ‘normal’ may well be as problematic as the lockdown itself.

Output Summary

  • Hard work, flexibility and teamwork have enabled companies to build a good response to the initial challenges presented by the lockdown
  • The immediate challenge is mitigating the effects of stress and emotional fatigue on people working and those who are furloughed
  • Businesses of all sizes are starting to assess the challenges of operating in such a disrupted business environment
  • The last few weeks and coming months will demonstrate that businesses need genuine flexibility and creativity, as well as the ability to deploy real change at pace to survive
  • What we don’t have yet is a clear understanding of what good will look like in six or twelve months’ time and developing this view is a growing priority
  • The temporary focus on people over profit has provided customer and employee experience with unprecedented opportunities to demonstrate value in the face of rising expectations.

You can listen to the full session in this week’s ExperienceCast above.

Panelists

  • Phil Dix – Head of Performance Improvement at WorldRemit
  • Bellal Abbas – Group Customer Expxerience Manager at BMW Park Lane
  • Stewart Bromley (COO at Atom Bank)
  • Tim Kitchener – a customer experience strategist currently working with Ford Group
  • James Kaye – Former Head of Business Change at Home group and currently working with Beyond House
  • Katy Pearce – Head of Customer Experience at Vodafone Business
  • Jonathan Cann (Global Head of CRM at Namecheap)

Guest contributors who also joined the debate were

  • Lewis Ryden, Lloyds
  • Olly Gardner, Sig plc
  • Rob Philips, Overbury

The QoE would like to thank all our panelists and guest contributors for generously sharing their thoughts and experiences in this debate.

How are CX and EX being shaped by coronavirus?

How are CX and EX being shaped by coronavirus?

Register for our next session on 16 April 13.00-14.30

Last week we invited a cross-industry team of CX and EX professionals to talk to us about what they are finding so far. Our QoE online discussed focused on four questions:

  • How are different industries being affected?
  • What are we doing now that we know will be temporary?
  • What do we think will become a permanent change?
  • To what extent do we think that customer and employee expectations will return to ‘normal’?

The panel

  • Stewart Bromley, Chief Operating Officer, Financial Services
  • Jonathan Cann, Customer Relationship Management, Technology
  • Jo Kennedy, Customer Service, Health Insurance
  • Carl Lyon, Managing Director, The QoE
  • Katy Pearce, Head of Customer Experience, Telecoms
  • Rob Phillips, Customer Experience, Construction
  • Tony Reeves, Digital Lead, The QoE

 

Reflections from the discussion and related conversations

 We are a group function so we can continue doing our jobs, but there is a huge weight on the shoulders of many employees. This can make it more difficult to talk about next year’s strategy and campaigns, as well as other aspects of a business that would normally be important but now seem less so.”

 “What we’re experiencing is likely to be the ‘new normal’ for at least six months, perhaps longer. Once people have got used to working from home, the next big challenge will be supporting staff mental health.”

 “People are making extra efforts to be productive and keep going, but there are questions as to how sustainable this will be as time goes on. We’re already having difficulty in contacting some smaller business customers to evaluate their changing needs.”

 “We’re having to make the difficult decision to let staff go where aspects of a business have dried up, but making use of government schemes to sustain employment wherever possible.”

 “Flexibility is paramount. We’re sustaining business as usual but from our front room. We have to expect kids walking into meetings, we have to be flexible around working hours so people can work in the evenings.”

 “Companies are taking a temporarily different stance to their customer, eg from a sales to a support company. Some businesses are realising that they can’t sell their core product so are switching to a more service-orientated model, eg offering deliveries.”

 “Everyone is feeling the change in their personal lives and witnessing the effect on others. But you also get a sense that some business sectors are still insulated from the full impact and that this will come as a shock in the coming weeks.“

The overriding view at the end of the second week of official work at home shows that companies are in survival mode. It will be interesting to see if this has changed when we have our next session on Thursday 16 April.

Employees

Employees are under a highly visible mix of pressures, personal, professional and financial. Many companies are responding to the situation with a variety of positive actions that were unthinkable only a few weeks ago. The next few weeks, possibly months, will be crucial as stress increases on frontline managers, and leaders will be tested to the limit. But so will the employees. We’re already witnessing a marked difference in performance between natural problem solvers and those needing constant support and advice. We are seeing companies setting up a Whatapp groups for teams that are specifically not work-related to provide an outlet for office banter. Will this usher in a new coaching management style that companies have been desiring for so long?

Inevitably employee expectation will change and there is already a healthy debate on how the future of work will look and feel. But at present the new ways of working are, on the whole, harder and more stressful, so the desire to get back to normal is strong.

From a broader perspective so many good things are happening around the world in terms of enhancing communities that people may not want to return to normal and go back to the daily grind.

Customers

Increased volumes of stressed customers, combined with reduced capacity to service their needs has been described as the perfect customer experience storm. Customers are, on the most part, aware of the challenges companies are facing and acting with restraint or even compassion, particularly towards call centre staff. The scale and visibility of the issues is a huge mitigating factor.

Businesses are taking different approaches to customer measures such as NPS. Some have suspended them, others are celebrating an uplift in the crisis. Some have the view that they will take a nose-dive because people are a bit depressed, or they might rise because customers are impressed with the service provided at a difficult time ….‘If it wasn’t for you…’ It will be interesting to see if measures fluctuate as much as is predicted, and what they might mean for customer experience in the future.

All are witnessing changes in customer behaviours. An increased use of voice channel is inevitable. But we mustn’t ignore customers who are finding new ways to use their digital devices. Video calls, online ordering, bill payment, education and social sharing will become the new norm. This could present companies with the perfect opportunity to nail self and assisted service.

The basics of customer experience are still the same. If you have customer loyalty to a company, and that company does something great, customers will talk about it. And more conversation could well drive more sales.  ‘Will it last?’ is likely to depend on your next action as a business.

The future for businesses

Most businesses are very much in a here and now mode. The few that are talking about the future are also looking at driving change now. Different ways of working are demonstrating advantages and how problems can be overcome. As the weeks pass, people will be finding new ways to solve existing problems. Processes can be reviewed and modified, technologies adopted, and others dropped. Companies will be looking at using employees in different ways, and for different tasks. New skills and capabilities will be uncovered and put to work.

 

Listen to more ExperienceCast podcasts

Photo by Edwin Hooper on Unsplash

Navigating the tensions of employee experience

Navigating the tensions of employee experience

This is a guest blog post by Phillip Hirons, Divisional Director at IQPC.

Firstly, a disclaimer. I’m not an employee experience expert and I’ve never personally worked within the EX (or broader HR) function. Yes, as an events director I have run a number of EX and HR events, but (for anyone reading this who does happen to be a professional in this, or any other closely related space) I’m by no means suggesting that this makes me a professional…at least in this capacity.

I am however, someone who finds this area particularly interesting, and over several years of running EX events I’ve had the opportunity to listen and meet a large number of professionals in this space and benchmark my own experiences against them. As an employee and an employer, I also get to see both sides, albeit from my own very personal experiences, which, has only continued to fuel my interest in this space. So here goes…

The landscape around EX fascinates me, and in recent years, certainly seems to have become far more prevalent than I can recall when I first started in the big, wide world. The time, effort, resources and money in this space now has grown exponentially, and with it a much broader interest in the workforce – and more specifically in the environment an employer seeks to create. I say ‘seeks to create’ as each business is naturally limited in some capacities, so it’s unfair to suggest that those who haven’t yet got to where they want to be simply aren’t trying hard enough, or don’t care about their employees.

Personal disclaimers aside, when the QoE team approached me to write this post on the challenges posed by EX in relation to the attitudes of organisations towards it, I was naturally hesitant. There appears to exist some tensions, not necessarily between employers and employees, or between certain businesses, but from a socioeconomic standpoint. By this, I mean a view between what we should and shouldn’t be doing, almost defining good and bad practice in a uniform approach, which just doesn’t seem possible in this day and age, but nonetheless, a minefield of varying opinions.

When it comes down to defining, creating, implementing and transforming an EX culture, you have so many variables that it makes life very tricky for employees and businesses alike. In my opinion, I’d boil it down loosely to the following:

 

Global vs. local

This is all a question of scale, and what is/isn’t possible (and in some cases legal) in the areas you’re doing business in. Equally, what would add value and a heightened EX in one office, may be something vilified in another (think incentives, dress code and socialising as clear examples), so the challenge is about balance and maintaining that balance, as different factors create noticeable shifts. If you look at the recent impact the digital revolution has had on the ability to work flexibly, or the value placed on health, fitness and nutrition, childcare (and petcare) in more recent times, these are slowly replacing the health plans, dental plans and life insurances of years gone by.

So balance, adjustment and a willingness to invest in change is needed. One way to look at this is as “flexibility within a framework”. In this case, the framework is a leadership commitment to invest in improving EX. How that investment manifests itself, however, will no doubt vary from business to business.

 

Knowing when to say no vs. knowing when to say yes

What is acceptable, and where should companies draw the line? For example, my office is split between 2 floors and houses around 250 people. We can’t offer a free cafeteria, an onsite gym or new laptops and phones for all, but we have invested a lot more in creating a fostering a working environment that facilitates positivity. However, based on what’s publicised about what other businesses are doing, expectations are naturally being raised, and importantly, these are factors that directly impact the war on talent.

Having previously worked in a start-up environment, saying yes to everything or simply glossing over what’s really important with false promises and shiny tech can lead to a culture of expectation without boundaries and foster a negative environment if not managed effectively. Ultimately these initiatives cost money, so for many businesses, the bottom line and the margins are critical – what value will the business see from these type of investments, and how can this be quantified? Without this, or without the buy-in from the top, the investment will remain comparatively low, which, somewhat ironically will likely mean the ROI of the investment will also remain comparatively low too.

 

Baby-boomers vs. Gen Z (and everything in between)

Let’s define this by personality as opposed to age, but there are countless studies which demonstrate that money isn’t a primary factor as much as it used to be. Equally, the average number of jobs my parents had in their working lifetime was a fraction of what it is in my generation (a millennial…just!). So naturally, for employers with multiple generations of employees, should we offer a ‘pick n mix’ type solution based on personal preferences i.e. you can have a robust health plan OR the latest technology…but you can’t have both? And, if so, does the issue then not simply revert to the whole global vs. local argument again i.e. how can this be done at scale? To the point around the average number of jobs increasing, I’ve heard comments based on not even bothering to invest in these generations, as they’ll come and go as they please anyway so why bother, but I feel that’s somewhat missing the point entirely.

 

The best vs. the worst

This is one that we’re seeing a lot more of recently. Take the stereotypical Silicon Valley based company as a whole and the fact that they are widely regarded as the pioneers in EX and investing in their people – at least based on material things. When looking to hire the next wave of talent, they often have their pick of the bunch. However, the level of expenditure placed on EX in these businesses is massive, and/or many were built on creating places people wanted to work in the first place.

Take most established businesses, irrespective of size, and we’re left with a lot of organisations who have at some level a huge desire to improve but have limited budgets, legacy systems, staff who can’t or don’t want to change and often a lack of idea as to where to start. For these companies, it’s not that EX isn’t important, but it’s a sense of reality and being smarter with what you can positively impact. This is where the vast majority of EX folk sit, and why more of them should be being given the opportunity to drive that change from the top. The underlying rationale is that this needs to start with a top down commitment to change. I’m not suggesting this is the only way, nor am I saying that the bottom-up or middle-out approaches don’t have merits, but from my own experiences the best results have started by building a business case for the C-suite that shows how EX investment can drive profit.

Within each of these areas there are naturally different opinions, different experiences and many, many different rabbit-holes to explore, but this is both the beauty and curse of EX. The challenge posed to those brave enough is to try and please us all in our day-to-days… at least until AI truly takes hold and the robots replace us 😉

A huge thank you to our guest panelist Phillip Hirons for generously sharing his experience for this podcast.

Listen to more ExperienceCast podcasts

 

Working from home in a crisis

Working from home in a crisis

Working from home is great and productive for many but having to work at home during a period of crisis can be a very different proposition and present unique problems. There are of course also opportunities for those who can adapt quickly.

The current coronavirus crisis is bringing this to the fore but there are many other times, during transport issues or numerous other unavoidable crises, when working at home becomes necessary. In some of these situations, the company may be under financial pressure and the future uncertain but it’s often during those times that our instinct is to come together. Teams become more creative in solving problems and deploying solutions with great speed and efficiency. Reputations are built.

The challenge is to duplicate this heightened state while working separately at home. Different approaches need to be established quickly for

  • Team relationships and motivations
  • Sharing knowledge, experience and ideas
  • Consensus building and decision making
  • Maintaining trust and focusing on deliverable outcomes

Plus when working at home for a long period under any circumstance, a whole range of problems can be confronted, such as

  1. Limited access to information
  2. Finding an appropriate space to work
  3. Regular interruptions from family members (and pets)
  4. No time to wind down on the journey home
  5. Little social interaction
  6. Motivation and focus
  7. Constant distraction from notifications
  8. Changes to physical activity
  9. Different expectations from management

Let’s tackle each of these in turn and highlight considerations for crisis situations.

1. Limited access to information

Due to data protection and security, it’s quite likely that information easy to access in the office, won’t be so easily accessible at home. Existing remote workers may have VPN with secure connectivity to office systems, but this may take time to establish for new home workers, even if the problems only relate to lack of hardware or permissions. One way around it could be to use a buddy system. Those still in the office could set aside time to review information and send advice based on the data available there. If it comes to a point when no one is at the office, it may be that companies need to set up key workers to act as knowledge and data brokers.

In a crisis

Timely access to information is a vital safety net that protects the quality of decision making. The need for speed can lead to gut reaction, so maintaining access is vital.

IT will be under even more pressure to provide upgraded connections and may also be asked to re-evaluate risk factors. This can lead to conflict and the start of the blame game that becomes a downward spiral. Communication is therefore key and good people skills are increasingly important. The upside to buddying systems is the increase in collective working and trust.

2. Finding an appropriate space to work

Working on the sofa is fine for a day or two, but any longer and people can start to experience physical discomfort. It can also highlight the difference between office and home workers and can be detrimental to team dynamics. To minimise the problem, it’s important that home workers are encouraged to create a clear space to work easily and effectively.  Finding space for a second screen and laying out documents as in the office will help, particularly in keeping as professional as possible an image to colleagues if video conferencing is used.

In a crisis

Creativity and teamwork are essential but can put pressure on the home worker. Replicating the office helps to reduce the stress of a strange working environment. Where possible, providing extra screens, PC accessories, even tables and chairs if space allows, can be a good plan. Funding increased broadband access to allow ‘always on’ video links etc, can make a real difference.

3. Regular interruptions from family members (and pets)

For temporary homeworkers this is often unavoidable. Partners and children may need to walk past or even be in the same room making it very difficult to focus and frustrating for the homeworker – and their family. It’s important to encourage employees to set clear expectations that even though they’re at home, they’re still working. Just as it is for employers and managers to set clear expectations on when homeworkers will not be available. Expectations must also be realistic. A two-year-old can’t be expected to understand, and pets will do what pets do. So it’s important to establish an etiquette. It may be agreed that older children say hello to everyone then go back to what they were doing, and pets can sit on owners’ laps. All this helps to build mutual respect and trust, not only with the employee but also their family and friends, leading to deeper relationships when employees return to work.

In a crisis

With careful management working at home can add a sense of reality to discussions and decisions, especially on customer and employee related issues. The ability to see things from a different perspective can be to everyone’s benefit.

4. No time to wind down on the journey home

For many people, the journey to and from the office is the time to switch into and out of work mode. It might be valuable me time to listen to podcasts or music, catch up on emails, enjoy the silence, sleep or read a book. But working at home requires a sudden switch between work and home mode and this can be challenging. Employees should be encouraged to take an hour to decompress at the end of the day, consider going out for a walk or even go for a drive to wind down.

In a crisis

Many may start to suffer quite quickly from fatigue or burn out. Concentration reduces and mistakes can be made. Working at home can exasperate the problem with the added effect of re-bound reactions from family and friends. Good managers should be able to pick up the signs but if this is not their core skill, or the employee is new to them, help should be sought from others.

5. Little social interaction

Having a day at home gives a break from the noise of the office. But those at home for more than a few days can quickly begin to feel isolated with no opportunity for casual conversations with colleagues. To help the feeling of connection, consider introducing a quick team video conference at the start and end of each day. Some will even keep a video conference room open, even though nobody is talking, just to feel ‘in the same room’. If instant messaging is used, creating a casual chat channel and setting aside some time each day to interact about non-work issues can also help to replicate some of the social interaction that happens in the office.

In a crisis

Socialising opinions and sharing ideas is vital and contributes to the feeling of energy and commitment. Imposed home working can be a problem in this regard so every effort must be made to mimic working relationships. Understanding different personalities is crucial. Giving reflective employees time is easy but collaborative thinkers also need support, just as it would be in an office environment. People orientated employees will continue to need ongoing interaction with others to be effective.

6. Motivation and focus

Some people are highly motivated in the office, but struggle to motivate themselves when working at home. Employees and managers need to spend time thinking consciously about the things that can help and hinder productivity.  Some work best when there is a deadline.

Consider scheduling tasks so that everyone can see what’s being done at any given point in a day. Others are motivated by discussing work with colleagues. Think about using an AGILE type approach with a quick ‘stand-up’ video conference at the start, and possibly at the end of each day, to help accountability.

In a crisis

Motivations can take on new dimensions and drive some managers to be more dictatorial. In the normal office environment this may be recognised and accepted or diffused by a supportive word from a colleague. Temporary homeworkers can easily miss the signals, so problems develop without a third party seeing what has happened and intervening. It can be difficult to do but it may be necessary for everyone to recognise their emotional overload and take time before reacting. Even asking someone to read emails before they’re sent in these circumstances can be helpful to avoid any misunderstanding. Once again sharing and buddying can help.

7. Constant distraction from notifications

Instant messaging tools such as Slack can be a great way to keep in touch when working at home but can also turn into a nightmare of distraction, with constant noise preventing focus. It’s important to set clear expectations on the extent to which they are used. Individuals need to be empowered to turn these tools off for periods of the day to help concentration.

In a crisis

Increased collaboration can be a very positive attribute, but office-based employees will be used to the dynamic of face to face group discussion. The pace, tone and other human group dynamics can be transferred to the chat room world more easily with clear direction on its use.

8. Changes to physical activity

We know that physical activity is not only good for our body but can also have a positive impact on mental health. Walking to and from and around the office gives us a good amount of activity during the day, and a chance for our subconscious to process information. Even just standing up can increase the flow of oxygen to the brain by 20%, making it easier to focus for the next hour.  When suddenly working at home, it’s likely that there’s not so much moving around so it’s important to create time in the day to go outside and move. It may help to schedule breaks in everyone’s calendar, just as for any other meeting or task, so people get up, re-oxygenate their blood and stretch muscles.

In a crisis

Adrenaline is a friend and an enemy so physical activity is important. Some may need permission to walk the dog, collect the children or just go for a walk which can make all the difference.

9. Different expectations on management

Office based managers are used to having people around them that they can see and interact with. If employees suddenly have to work at home, managers can struggle to believe that their team is being productive and feel less able to influence output. Setting clear expectations that reflect the new working environment is vital and is probably best achieved through a collaborative process, recognising the individual circumstances of every team member. Unlike full time remote working, people haven’t evaluated their home and circumstances as suitable or otherwise, so different levels of achievable output may be seen. The feasibility of a daily video conference or phone call, time taken to respond to emails etc will vary. Establishing trust is essential for any effective working relationship but it may be necessary for people to find new ways of building confidence in each other in changed circumstances.

In a crisis

Depending on the severity of the crisis many may fear for their job or the introduction of permanent remote working.  This can produce unusual behaviour patterns without familiar face to face support or reassurance. Individuals may also have access to a constant update via news feeds, blogs and messaging from colleagues that can be misleading, so it’s important for the company and managers to step up efforts to keep temporary home workers accurately up to date.

If you need more help…

We have developed an online short course and chat-based experience-sharing group to provide timely and easily accessible support for companies and individuals

The pricing structure covers cost rather than generates profit and details can be found at www.theqoe.com/short-courses

A huge thank you to our guest panelist Jonathan Cann for generously sharing his experience for this podcast.

Listen to more ExperienceCast podcasts