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.

Elizabeth Cogswell Baskin

Employee surveys for manufacturing, hospitality, retail and other offline workers

How do you survey non-desk workers? Online surveys are great for employee populations sitting in front of computers, but they aren’t very good at capturing responses from all those on the manufacturing line, in retail stores and in other non-desk positions.

Some companies ask non-desk workers to visit a shared computer in a break room or at a kiosk. Without some serious motivation, hourly employees are not going to be lining up on their break time to answer a company survey.

As in most non-desk employee communications, you need to be a little more creative. Here are three ways to make surveys more accessible to employees without dedicated computers:

  1. Scannable paper surveys:  How did they do surveys before online surveys? Right. On paper. You print the survey; make it available to employees at a time and place that’s convenient for them; and establish a process for collecting those surveys. For scanning, you can contract with a vendor for scannable surveys, or use software that allows you to scan responses in house.
  2. 800 number: Here’s a low-tech solution that’s non-desk friendly, although you’d want to keep the number of questions limited. Employees call a toll-free number, respond to multiple choice questions by pressing a number and to open-ended ones by recording their response.
  3. Text surveys: In many non-desk employee populations, more people own smart phones than home computers. If you offer employees the chance to opt in to text surveys, many of them will likely be willing to answer one to three question surveys at regular intervals.

One caveat to all the above: respect the limits of the non-exempt employee’s workday. You’ll probably want to make it very clear that employees are not expected to answer these surveys on their own time, and to construct a way for them to participate while they’re on the clock.

Interested in finding ways to reach your non-desk employees? Tribe can help.