By Clara Shih
A great customer experience starts with happy employees. But many workers aren’t happy right now — they’re stressed and ready for a change. Over 40% of the global workforce is thinking about leaving their jobs this year. I’m part of that tidal wave: Last year, I left the startup I founded, and I returned to Salesforce as CEO of Service Cloud in January.
Despite workers’ interest in a new job, it’s harder for companies to hire the right people — or fill open headcount at all. In March, 42% of small business owners surveyed by the National Federation of Independent Business reported job openings they could not fill. Ninety-one percent of those hiring or trying to hire reported few or no qualified applicants for the positions.
Traditional ways of working pre-pandemic have gone out the window, creating new challenges for onboarding workers and engaging existing ones. These factors have created an employee experience crisis. For companies, addressing the employee experiences is priority number one — if they want to stay competitive.
Most organizations have both employees and contractors and need a holistic strategy to empower both. Take contact center agents, in particular, the people closest to your customer. Annual turnover averaged 30% to 45%, according to The Quality Assurance and Training Connection — more than double that of all other U.S. occupations even before the pandemic.
Contact center agents — in most cases, contingent workers paid hourly — have been affected by the rapid pace of digital transformation. Pre-pandemic, the vast majority worked side-by-side in large call centers. When they got stuck on a customer issue, they flagged a supervisor for help. With most customer service leaders planning to remain remote or hybrid, we need new methods of training and upskilling agents, especially as AI, bots and self-service increasingly handle the simple, more straightforward questions. Going forward, agents need training as their roles become more empathy-focused and strategic.
Investing in the employee experience makes business sense because happy employees and customers lead to revenue growth, according to 70% of executives surveyed in a recent Forbes Insights Report in association with Salesforce. Business leaders have a responsibility to offer dignified, satisfying work to all their hires — both contingent workers and FTEs — by fostering human connection, learning and community while removing friction. Doing so is good for employee retention and morale, and therefore business and customers.
Excellent Employee Experience Begins With A Spark
In the battle for employee loyalty, start with what employees need from their work. It’s interesting to think about this through psychologist Abraham Maslow’s famous Hierarchy of Needs. Maslow said people have five key needs: survival, safety, love and belonging, esteem and self-actualization. In reality, it has become harder than ever for companies to address these needs:
Before Covid: A paycheck met this need for most employees.
Now: Even getting a paycheck has become more complex as employees have relocated — temporarily or permanently. Employees must pay taxes to the state where work is performed (the “physical presence” rule), making issuing paychecks more complicated.
Before Covid: Teamwork and events created a sense of psychological safety and well-being at work.
Now: The pandemic has resulted in financial, health and emotional stress for many workers. The in-person team meetings, dinners and offsites that nurtured a sense of psychological safety aren’t as possible. Employers and managers must find new ways to engage and reassure employees.
3. Love and Belonging
Before Covid: Community and sense of belonging came from being part of a team in an office.
Now: With many workers no longer going into an office, the office identity is less relevant. Companies need fresh ways to build community — beyond Zoom happy hours.
Esteem includes self-respect, or the belief that one is valuable and deserves dignity, self-esteem and confidence in the potential for personal growth and achievement.
Before Covid: Managers provided ad hoc, real-time feedback in person.
Now: Companies need meaningful ways to provide feedback and recognition virtually.
This means fulfillment of one’s full potential, including education, skill development, tackling hard problems and finding purpose.
Before Covid: Teams found purpose in working together, often in the same shared physical space. Managers could celebrate team and individual wins, and everyone grew together.
Now: Companies need new ways to help distributed employees build a sense of team and shared purpose. To help employees grow, companies must offer personalized training and upskilling opportunities.
A Key Ingredient To Employee Engagement: Removing Friction
Self-actualization and esteem are important aspirations, but many negative employee sentiments come from the daily grind of being subjected to disjointed, inefficient processes causing frustration in how people spend their time. Technology that helps people do their jobs efficiently frees time for meaningful work and professional development. Look for solutions to streamline simple, repetitive tasks. In the contact center, use technology to help service agents do their jobs more efficiently while up-leveling their skills.
Free your human resources team up by automating routine questions and tasks, so they have more time to deliver empathetic employee experiences. Find ways to make work feel more human in the remote world.
Pay attention to your culture. Some team members aren’t returning to the office at all — due to health concerns or personal preference — which means you need to be hyper-aware to not exclude people who aren’t in the room. Take steps to make asynchronous work more efficient and collaborative. One incredibly powerful tool I like is pre-reads: They minimize meetings and equip employees to show up prepared and use face time most effectively.
As leaders in today’s new world, it has never been more important to reimagine and invest in the employee experience. By cutting down on friction with self-service and automation, together with enabling community, connection and engagement for remote and hybrid workers, we can write the new playbook on employee loyalty and therefore the customer experience. As we navigate the great reopening of society, we can emerge from the pandemic stronger, more agile and more committed to one another.