In the past 18 months, customer service and support organizations have been on a roller coaster as the pandemic forced great changes on workplaces and routines. For many organizations, hiring has become difficult and attrition high as remote work diminished the everyday collaboration and mentoring that characterize most support operations.
Unlike many companies, ServiceNow customer support managed to thrive during the pandemic. We recently sat down with Dean Robison, ServiceNow’s SVP of Customer Service and Support, to talk about why organizations must scrutinize the total experience—involving both employees and customers—to create a great customer experience and stay ahead of the competition.
An experience-driven organization is like a self-healing, self-innovating, self-driven program oriented on one ultimate goal: delivering a great total experience. When it comes to human experiences, the sum is greater than its parts. A recent ESI ThoughtLab study found that 41% of the leading companies reported greater market share and lower costs from balancing customer and employee experiences.
Much of this success starts with company culture. If a company has a strong culture where employees can articulate, demonstrate, and live its purpose and values, the move to remote work is smoother with minimal impact on the customer experience. A solid mission and purpose are a North star that an entire organization can point to as a guide.
But it’s one thing to look up to the star and dream; it’s another to make sure that the entire support team clearly sees how they fit into that mission. This requires clear alignment of the support function with the company goals.
Remote work during the pandemic amplified cultural gaps and resulted in lower employee retention and customer satisfaction scores in most support functions. One customer support executive told me that his organization reached a 60% attrition rate at one point during the pandemic. Much of this spike in attrition was driven by new hires leaving after only a few months, as they found it very challenging to work without the camaraderie of the office environment.
This demonstrates how critical company culture is to the creation of both great employee and customer experiences. We should be asking: Is your culture robust enough to extend beyond the office? Or is your company culturally adrift? Trying to build a strong culture from scratch with a remote workforce can be done; it’s just more difficult. Companies have to work harder at collaborating and mentoring, especially when it comes to ramping up new employees.
You need a culture in which employees know exactly where they fit into the broader mission and purpose and understand what drives the company, its mission, and how their contribution fits in. Customer satisfaction scores are an obvious barometer of that. Other benefits that are not measurable but are crucial such as:
Lower turnover. More tenured, experienced people will dazzle and delight customers and produce better results faster, because they have the knowledge.
Greater loyalty. People want to work for a winning company. Happier employees are typically more highly engaged in recommending the company, which helps recruit better talent.
Financial results. A great employee experience improves customer satisfaction, which helps the bottom line. Happier employees also stay longer, allowing the organization to avoid a revolving door in which new hires only incrementally improve what’s already there. A cohesive total experience reduces the cost and redundancy of serving both groups.
Competitive advantage. Companies with a great support experience take it for granted. They know they can count on great service. It’s an unspoken customer benefit. If support doesn’t deliver a great experience, it is no longer an advantage to the company.
The employee and customer experience are like a mobius strip or infinite loop. They are interconnected. Leadership has to seize every opportunity to optimize at the employee level, which leads to better support and customer delight.
For example, ServiceNow engineers are encouraged to identify whatever is hampering their ability to work a case. By removing functional divides and listening to the support team, we can make better decisions for customers. Engineers keep offering feedback because they know we will act on it. This is how an infinite loop of continual improvement begins.
To me, three of the most important are empathy, personalization, and expectations. Here’s why:
Empathy. Support engineers should be not only technically astute but also warm and empathetic, signaling to customers that they are valued. If they work from a place of empathy, they will focus on the right stuff with the right urgency to reach a resolution. That improves our customer experience because they know we care.
Personalization. If you grind employees into the ground, you may get some amazing metrics, but eventually they will burn out and leave. So rather than having one blanket policy for everyone, be flexible. Give employees responsibility for allocating their time. Provide training opportunities and time during normal working hours to help them stay sharp, explore new areas of interest, and encourage long-term career growth in and out of the support team.
Expectations. Ask any customer support org and they will tell you that they struggle with setting upfront expectations, often waiting days or weeks for customer replies. What if the engineer felt empowered to say they wanted to resolve this quickly and the way to do that was to stay in close communication? Or what if we could use AI and machine learning to give customers assistance without having to open a case? This attitude shifts the relationship to a partnership where the company and the customer tackle an issue together, rather than throwing it over the fence.
There is a clear economic link between employee satisfaction, customer satisfaction, and profit. Brands that ranked in the top quartile for employee engagement enjoy higher customer advocacy and higher profitability. It’s pretty simple. If you want customer success and growth, you need to start with your employees.