Elizabeth Cogswell Baskin

What retail employees, airline attendants, hotel workers and other frontline people know that corporate doesn’t

Valuable customer insights go unrecognized in companies across almost every industry. Although large brands may expend considerable budgets on customer research and voice-of-customer initiatives, they may overlook the most direct source of knowledge regarding what customers want.

That source of knowledge is the frontline employee. The customer-facing employee can be a rich resource of ideas for small and large improvements.

In quick service restaurants, staff may notice a trend of customers mixing two packets of different sauces. That observation might lead to a product idea for a new sauce flavor. In the hospitality industry, hotel housekeepers might know that guests often remove a scratchy bedspread and toss it on the floor. That knowledge could influence the choice of fabrics in the next design prototype for room interiors.

The frontline employee also has firsthand knowledge of customer complaints. They see things corporate can’t, which not only stymies customer solutions but also frustrates these employees.

In Tribe’s research with non-desk employees, this frustration was a prevalent theme. They often see corporate as out of touch and ineffective at solving common issues. Respondents reported that corporate often doesn’t understand the realities of the business due to being so removed from customers.

In most companies, this valuable field intelligence is lost. Without a clear channel of communication between the front line and those back in the corporate office, none of this knowledge becomes actionable.

Establishing such a channel takes some doing. Communication to field employees generally flows in one direction only, cascading from managers to the front line. Although individual managers may be aware of these frontline insights, there are rarely established communications processes for sharing up the ladder.

An effective channel will be specific to the physical realities of those frontline employees. What works for hotel housekeepers may not work for garbage truck drivers. A solution appropriate for a high-end jewelry retailer may not suit furniture rental store employees.

Interested in collecting the field intelligence of your frontline? Tribe can help.

Brittany Walker

4 Reasons Not to Give Up on Communicating to Frontline Employees

Many companies with great internal communications have trouble reaching their non-desk employees. Why? Because communicating to employees who aren’t behind a desk all day can be hard. Whether it’s your sales force, retail team, physicians, manufacturing line or delivery drivers, frontline employees are often those who need to hear from corporate the most. Here are four reasons why sticking with a non-desk communications strategy could benefit your business.

1. You can’t expect employees to be aligned with the vision if they don’t know what it is. It’s no secret that many companies overlook communicating with non-desk employees. But it could be a big miss not to engage your frontline employees in the vision of the company to make them feel part of something bigger. In fact, Tribe’s national study on non-desk workers underlines the importance of communicating the company’s vision and values to this employee population.

2. Consistent corporate communication builds engagement. Many companies leave most – if not all – internal communications with frontline employees to their supervisors. While cascading communications can successfully deliver messages when executed correctly, our research indicates this is a missed opportunity to build engagement. What’s more, those employees who never hear from top leadership interpret that as a lack of respect for them and their contributions to the company’s success.

3. Frontline employees can have a tremendous impact on the customer experience. Whether the customer is an individual consumer or a business, they’re probably interacting with those non-desk workers. It is up to these employees to deliver on your brand promise.

4. Visibility from corporate is often something they crave. Just because many companies aren’t talking to non-desk workers doesn’t mean they don’t want communication from top management regarding the internal brand. Trust us, employees who work the overnight shift often appreciate these communications more than anyone else. We know because they’ve told us.

Need help with your non-desk communications strategy? Tribe can help.

 

Elizabeth Cogswell Baskin

Some non-desk employees come with PhDs

Non-desk employees are a hard-to-reach audience for internal communications, because they’re moving targets. Rather than sitting in front of computers all day, they’re generally up on their feet.

These non-desk employees are often frustrated by their lack of communication from corporate. In Tribe’s national research with non-desk employees, we’ve found that this is frequently interpreted as a lack of respect for their contributions to the success of the company.

The non-desk audience in most companies is predominantly made up of hourly workers. The employees out on the manufacturing line, in retail stores, behind fast food counters and out in delivery trucks sometimes feel corporate is out of touch with the realities of their work.

But the non-desk audience also includes people with advanced degrees pulling down major salaries. The nurses and physicians in hospital settings are generally interacting with patients more than they’re sitting behind desks. Engineers out on oil rigs or in heavy industrial settings fall into this group as well.

As with any non-desk audience, Tribe recommends looking for unique touchpoints. What are the physical realities of that particular non-desk employee’s day? Those working the ER will have a dramatically different physical environment than an engineer in a paper mill.

The point is that there’s no one-size-fits-all solution to non-desk communications. That’s why a period of discovery is so important a the beginning of strategic development.

We recommend approaching this with a sense of curiousity about how non-desk employees spend their days. Only when you understand what it’s like to walk a day in their shoes can you being to develop new solutions. Don’t let the hourly workers be right about corporate being out of touch with the realities of their work.

Interested in new touchpoints for reaching your non-desk employees? Tribe can help.

 

 

 

Elizabeth Cogswell Baskin

What frontline employees know that corporate doesn’t

Valuable customer insights go unrecognized in companies across almost every industry. Although large brands may expend considerable budgets on customer research and voice-of-customer initiatives, they may overlook the most direct source of knowledge regarding what customers want.

That source of knowledge is the frontline employee. The customer-facing employee can be a rich resource of ideas for small and large improvements.

In quick service restaurants, staff may notice a trend of customers mixing two packets of different sauces. That observation might lead to a product idea for a new sauce flavor. In the hospitality industry, hotel housekeepers might know that guests often remove a scratchy bedspread and toss it on the floor. That knowledge could influence the choice of fabrics in the next design prototype for room interiors.

The frontline employee also has firsthand knowledge of customer complaints. They see things corporate can’t, which not only stymies customer solutions but also frustrates these employees.

In Tribe’s research with non-desk employees, this frustration was a prevalent theme. They often see corporate as out of touch and ineffective at solving common issues. Respondents reported that corporate often doesn’t understand the realities of the business due to being so removed from customers.

In most companies, this valuable field intelligence is lost. Without a clear channel of communication between the front line and those back in the corporate office, none of this knowledge becomes actionable.

Establishing such a channel takes some doing. Communication to field employees generally flows in one direction only, cascading from managers to the front line. Although individual managers may be aware of these frontline insights, there are rarely established communications processes for sharing up the ladder.

An effective channel will be specific to the physical realities of those frontline employees. What works for hotel housekeepers may not work for garbage truck drivers. A solution appropriate for a high-end jewelry retailer may not suit furniture rental store employees.

Interested in collecting the field intelligence of your frontline? Tribe can help.

 

Elizabeth Cogswell Baskin

CX depends on EX: The link between Voice of Customer and Voice of Employee

To improve your CX, work on your EX. The employees are the ones delivering that customer experience, so it makes sense to check in with them to see how it’s going. Do they have the tools and processes in place to make customers happy? Are there issues that come up again and again as customer complaints? Maybe they are frustrated by their inability to solve customer problems because they’re not empowered to make the decisions that could make it right.

Just like the company depends on Voice of the Customer, it’s helpful to listen to the Voice of Employee. When Tribe begins work with a large company, we often find that the top layer of management is a little out of touch with the rank and file employees. This isn’t because they don’t care – far from it – but because they don’t rub shoulders with frontline employees on a regular basis.

In our Discovery phase of a strategic communications plan, we recommend talking with employees as well as management. In focus groups, one-on-one conversations or phone interviews, we ask employees about their experiences. What do they love about their jobs? What are the challenges? How does the typical day unfold for them? What’s the culture like, compared to other places they’ve worked?

Hearing about the employee experience can reveal easy fixes and larger challenges. Most importantly, it suggests and informs strategies for closing the gap between the desired culture and the current reality.

A stronger culture and a better EX lead naturally to more engaged employees and thus an improved CX. In a 2014 study by the Temkin Group, highly engaged employees were “more than three times likely to do something good for their employer, even if it’s not expected of them; almost three times as likely to make a recommendation about an improvement at work; more than 2.5 times as likely to stay late at work if something needs to be done; and more than two times as likely to help someone else at work.” Those are exactly the sort of things that lead to above-and-beyond service and improved customer experiences.

It’s a logical chain of events. If you listen to the VOE, and improve the EX, then you’re more likely to hear from the VOC that you’ve created a better CX.

Interested in learning from the voice of your company’s employees? Tribe can help.

Brittany Walker

Four reasons to communicate with frontline employees, even when it’s hard

Many companies with great internal communications have trouble reaching frontline employees. Why? Because communicating with employees who are hard to reach is difficult. Whether it is your sales force, retail team, physicians, manufacturing line or delivery drivers, frontline employees are often those who need to hear from corporate the most.

1. Communication builds engagement. Many companies leave all internal communications with frontline employees to their immediate supervisors. Tribe’s national study with the non-desk employee population indicates this is a missed opportunity to build engagement. What’s more, those employees who never hear from top management interpret that as a lack of respect for them and their contributions to the company’s success.

2. They often crave the visibility from corporate. Just because many companies aren’t talking to non-desk workers doesn’t mean they don’t want communication from top management regarding the internal brand. Trust us, employees who work the overnight shift often appreciate these communications more than anyone else. We know because they’ve told us.

3. Because non-desk workers can have a tremendous impact on the customer experience. Whether the customer is an individual consumer a business, they’re interacting with those non-desk workers. It is up to these employees to deliver on your brand promise.

4. You can’t expect employees to be aligned with the vision if they don’t know what it is. It’s no secret that many companies overlook communicating with non-desk employees. But it’s a huge mistake not to engage your frontline employees in the vision of the company to make them feel part of something bigger. In fact, Tribe’s research on non-desk workers underlines the importance of communicating the company’s vision and values to this employee population.

Elizabeth Cogswell Baskin

Innovation Is Not Just For Engineers

Innovation is often considered the domain of engineers. And of course it’s true: a new technological innovation can be the catalyst that allows one company to gain dominance over the competition.

Yet innovation can come from anywhere in the company, particularly the frontline. The frontline workers —  those people who are making the beds in your hotels or running the drive-thru at your quick service restaurants or standing on the sales floor in your retail operations — can be a gold mine of innovative ideas.

Because that’s who has a finger on the pulse of the consumer. While the engineers are sitting in front of the computer or messing around in the lab, the frontline employees are interacting with your customers. They see what works about your product or service — and even more importantly, what doesn’t.

Unfortunately, many companies operate with very little input from frontline employees. That’s not necessarily because management discounts the value of their ideas. More often, it’s merely because it can be so difficult to communicate with non-desk employees.

But it’s not impossible. When companies do find ways to reach non-desk workers, not just through their direct managers but through direct channels to corporate, they’re able to harness the ideas of those with a unique understanding of the customer.

Those companies also enjoy higher employee engagement. In Tribe’s research with frontline and field employees, our respondents consistently noted that they felt out of the loop — and often that made them feel they weren’t respected or valued by the company.

Want to promote innovation on your frontline? Tribe can help.

 

Elizabeth Cogswell Baskin

What’s so important about communicating with non-desk employees?

Many companies with excellent internal communications do a poor job keeping non-desk employees in the loop. But it’s a huge mistake not to engage your frontline employees in the vision and values of the company, the brand promise the company makes to consumers and what the brand stands for in the world.

Why? Because these are the very employees who are delivering on your brand promise. Or not. You can spend zillions of dollars on advertising and raise your awareness through the roof, but one surly drive-thru attendant can ruin the customer experience.

They’re all ears. Just because many companies aren’t talking to non-desk workers doesn’t mean they don’t want communication from top management regarding the internal brand. We know because we asked them.

Tribe’s recent study with non-desk employees indicates that these workers are craving more corporate input. Anne Fisher of CNNMoney reported on Tribe’s research in an article called “Note to executives: Your employees are in the dark.”

I’d love to hear your thoughts and comments.

 

Insight Seven: Honesty is Critical

This is the last of seven weekly posts sharing insights from a national study on communicating with frontline and field employees. Tribe recently fielded quantitative and qualitative research with non-desk employees in companies with 1,000 or more employees. The complete white paper is available for download on the Tribe site.

Keep your employees in the loop by communicating with them honestly and frequently. While its true the entire company doesn’t need to know every last detail of what’s happening in the company’s day-to-day operations, it’s important to remember to keep them in the loop as much as possible.

Few employees feel they are in the know. When respondents were asked if they felt that corporate communications were upfront and honest, very few agreed wholeheartedly. While some felt communications were trustworthy, most respondents were skeptical, stating they felt only good news was communicated to employees, if any, and others said they took most communication with a grain of salt.

Honesty is the best policy. Survey respondents collectively agreed they wanted to hear the truth, to be treated like humans, and for employers to “Just keep it real.”

Here are some useful tips to keep in mind:

Put yourself in their seat – no matter where they sit. If you want all employees (especially frontline and non-desk) to embrace and live your brand as genuine brand advocates, it’s critical to show them the same courtesy and respectfulness in return. How can they successfully advocate without open and honest communication? If things aren’t so great, they would mostly likely give a little more of themselves, and if things are good, knowing that can keep the positive momentum going.

Don’t forget to include all employees. This means corporate and non-desk workers combined. Customize your messaging so it will reach across all departments and levels.

Consider a campaign that takes a multi-faceted approach. There’s more than one way to spread a message effectively even if it’s not the best of news. Emails and printouts are fine, but they sometimes get overlooked. The more thoughtful and intriguing you can be in delivering your message, the better. Make it more memorable by printing a special piece, adding a little color, or trying out a new medium. Consider stickers, posters, mirror clings, door or window decals to spice things up around the workplace.

In case you missed them, check out insights one through six in our archives. For additional and future insights, subscribe to the Good Company Blog by clicking on the RSS icon in the About section of our blog.

To discuss ideas or questions about how best to reach non-desk employees in your company, call us, we’d be happy to help!