Transforming your Customer Experience: The Psychology that Drives Differentiation

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By Allison M. Ellis, Eric Michrowski & Dr. Autumn D. Krauss

In the service industry, employees on the frontline are critical for driving the business, through having meaningful interactions with customers and clients and serving as ambassadors of the entire organization. Prioritizing the customer or client experience, or in other words taking an outside-in perspective, requires a focus on both creating systems and processes that efficiently and effectively serve the customer, as well as identifying the human factors that drive the highest quality customer experiences.
Many are familiar with the adage, “the happy worker is a productive worker”, but have you heard the one that goes: “the happy worker is a helpful-customer- focused-willing-to-invest-extra-effort-for-their-clients-and-co-workers-worker”?



In the service industry, employees on the frontline are critical for driving the business, through having meaningful interactions with customers and clients and serving as ambassadors of the entire organization. Prioritizing the customer or client experience, or in other words taking an outside-in perspective, requires a focus on both creating systems and processes that efficiently and effectively serve the customer, as well as identifying the human factors that drive the highest quality customer experiences.



Research in organizational psychology suggests that the more employees are satisfied with their work and able to see its meaning and impact, the more committed they are to providing a customer experience that goes above and beyond the call of duty.



Since the early days of labor management, there has been a focus on how to design work systems to be optimally efficient and effective to achieve the greatest results. In the early 1900s, Frederick Taylor introduced the concept of “scientific management,” which centered on strategies to increase efficiencies through de-skilling work. Although this approach achieved some success, the dehumanization of work under this method resulted in several negative consequences, including reduced employee morale, increased job stress, increased conflict between employees and management, and stifled innovation. The lesson learned - process improvement that does not consider the human experience of work is not sustainable.



Many would argue that Taylorism is ancient history; however, the influence of his approach on a long lineage of approaches to operations management is undeniable. For instance, it has been argued that call centers and other large-scale service operations in which work is highly routinized and employees have little control over the timing or method of their work exemplify Taylorism in its modern form17. This is problematic because the modern world is not the same as it was in the early 1900s. Consider a call center troubleshooting a bug plaguing a new smart phone with all its numerous parts and applications, compared to yesterday’s flip phone where “diagnostics” largely consisted of a simple reboot.



The bottom line is that today’s organizations must operate in an increasingly complex world. They must compete globally, cater to growing customer expectations and demands, and adapt communication and marketing strategies to an ever-evolving technological landscape that has made access to and sharing of information between organizations and customers distinctly unique to our time. Accordingly, the context within which work is done has changed; employees on the frontline must be adaptable and effective in the context of increasing demands and changing conditions. Simply put, Tayloristic approaches to the design of work do not apply in today’s workplace.



To be successful, modern organizations must embrace this complexity and enable employees to be successful in this environment. Instead of de-skilling work, we need to be arming employees with the necessary skills, resources, and support to resiliently meet job demands, flexibly solve work problems, and steadfastly remain engaged in the success of the business.



“Instead of de-skilling work, we need to be arming employees with the skills, resources, and support to meet job demands, solve problems, and remain steadfastly engaged in the success of the business.”



In any service industry, employees are “ambassadors of the organization” and a critical factor that directly impacts the customer experience and indirectly influences the overall success of the organization. A solid research evidence base exists connecting an engaged workforce with important organizational outcomes. Field studies within the management research domain have consistently shown that engaged workers are more creative and innovative, as well as more likely to take initiative and actively engage in solving problems. They are more productive, have better wellbeing, and are more likely to stay with their organizations.



Engaged employees are better able to cope with any demands they encounter at work and are more likely to invest “discretionary effort”; that is, exhibit helping behaviors and engage in other actions indicative of going above and beyond the call of duty. Indeed, engaged workers do their work because they want to, not because they should—a critical distinction when it comes to providing a differentiated experience for clients and customers. In a service context, the extent to which employees are “switched on” in this fashion and motivated to deliver satisfactory outcomes to their customers and clients can literally make or break the success of an organization.



In the context of process improvement, an engaged workforce is critical to the achievement of impactful and sustainable results expected from any process change initiative. Thus, a holistic approach that considers not only the systems in place, but also the cultural and human factors that support them is a must. Much like a football team on the field, even the best strategy and plays on paper are utterly ineffective unless the players give life to those plays through effort, energy, and unwavering commitment to seeing them executed properly.



Unlike standard approaches to process improvement, ‘wise’ process improvement interventions integrate innovations from neuroscience and organizational psychology to simultaneously enhance the way work is done and the way it is experienced and perceived by employees, which ultimately bolsters the organization’s capacity to deliver for the customer.



This triangulating approach, referred to as Operational Excellence, deliberately considers the unique perspectives of the customer or client, as well as the employee to drive improved customer experiences, cost savings, quality enhancements, and a culture of continuous improvement.



Organizations make huge investments in technology and infrastructure to ensure a positive customer or client experience, but they often fail to adequately tap into the full potential of their workforces. Increasing organizational capability through better motivation and engagement of the workforce is a “free” added resource, delivered through the human capital investment that an organization has already made. That is, often minor changes, requiring only a small amount of time and energy, can have significant and meaningful impacts on the social and psychological work environment.



Organizations make huge investments in technology and infrastructure to ensure a positive customer or client experience, but they often fail to adequately tap into the full potential of their workforces. Increasing organizational capability through better motivation and engagement of the workforce is a “free” added resource, delivered through the human capital investment that an organization has already made. That is, often minor changes, requiring only a small amount of time and energy, can have significant and meaningful impacts on the social and psychological work environment.



Organizations make huge investments in technology and infrastructure to ensure a positive customer or client experience, but they often fail to adequately tap into the full potential of their workforces. Increasing organizational capability through better motivation and engagement of the workforce is a “free” added resource, delivered through the human capital investment that an organization has already made. That is, often minor changes, requiring only a small amount of time and energy, can have significant and meaningful impacts on the social and psychological work environment.



As a concrete example, consider for a moment the extent to which processes in your organization facilitate clarity around work tasks and goals. Significant research in organizational science has shown that employees who clearly understand their roles and how their actions contribute to success are more efficient, productive, and experience greater wellbeing5; on the other hand, when uncertainty around roles is high, employees experience work stress to the point where it interferes with their ability to be successful. At face value, one might conclude that the goal should be to focus on simplification and routinization (remember Taylor?). However, experts have argued that attempting to make things certain in a dynamic and complex environment, can be dangerous. Indeed, organizational research suggests that when employees believe they have the support and resources to meet job demands, they are more likely to view challenges as opportunities and become engaged in actively pursuing goals.



Brain imaging research shows the difference between a relatively inactive brain in a predicable situation, where individuals rely on automatic processing and memory, and one in a challenging situation, where numerous parts of the brain are actively engaged and being utilized to meet objectives. Importantly, the ability to mobilize and engage our brains in active and creative problem solving requires the autonomy and resources to do so. Rather than simplification, which produces automatic thinking and reliance on previous ways of doing things, the right blend of freedom, responsibility, and support to meet demands, encourages employees to become engaged in solving complex and challenging problems as well as leverage their unique skills and perspectives to come through for the client or customer.



Below, we outline the ways in which the structure of work—everyday systems, procedures, and processes that dictate how work is done—impacts how work is experienced by employees, and what that means for customers at the end of the day. As you step through the section below, consider which brain you want working for you. How can you use the design of work to build an army of motivated, engaged, and empowered problem-solvers in your organization?



As a concrete example, consider for a moment the extent to which processes in your organization facilitate clarity around work tasks and goals. Significant research in organizational science has shown that employees who clearly understand their roles and how their actions contribute to success are more efficient, productive, and experience greater wellbeing5; on the other hand, when uncertainty around roles is high, employees experience work stress to the point where it interferes with their ability to be successful. At face value, one might conclude that the goal should be to focus on simplification and routinization (remember Taylor?). However, experts have argued that attempting to make things certain in a dynamic and complex environment, can be dangerous15. Indeed, organizational research suggests that when employees believe they have the support and resources to meet job demands, they are more likely to view challenges as opportunities and become engaged in actively pursuing goals.



Brain imaging research shows the difference between a relatively inactive brain in a predicable situation, where individuals rely on automatic processing and memory, and one in a challenging situation, where numerous parts of the brain are actively engaged and being utilized to meet objectives. Importantly, the ability to mobilize and engage our brains in active and creative problem solving requires the autonomy and resources to do so. Rather than simplification, which produces automatic thinking and reliance on previous ways of doing things, the right blend of freedom, responsibility, and support to meet demands, encourages employees to become engaged in solving complex and challenging problems as well as leverage their unique skills and perspectives to come through for the client or customer.



Organizations make huge investments in technology and infrastructure to ensure a positive customer or client experience, but they often fail to adequately tap into the full potential of their workforces. Increasing organizational capability through better motivation and engagement of the workforce is a “free” added resource, delivered through the human capital investment that an organization has already made. That is, often minor changes, requiring only a small amount of time and energy, can have significant and meaningful impacts on the social and psychological work environment.



As a concrete example, consider for a moment the extent to which processes in your organization facilitate clarity around work tasks and goals. Significant research in organizational science has shown that employees who clearly understand their roles and how their actions contribute to success are more efficient, productive, and experience greater wellbeing; on the other hand, when uncertainty around roles is high, employees experience work stress to the point where it interferes with their ability to be successful. At face value, one might conclude that the goal should be to focus on simplification and routinization (remember Taylor?). However, experts have argued that attempting to make things certain in a dynamic and complex environment, can be dangerous. Indeed, organizational research suggests that when employees believe they have the support and resources to meet job demands, they are more likely to view challenges as opportunities and become engaged in actively pursuing goals.



Brain imaging research shows the difference between a relatively inactive brain in a predicable situation, where individuals rely on automatic processing and memory, and one in a challenging situation, where numerous parts of the brain are actively engaged and being utilized to meet objectives14. Importantly, the ability to mobilize and engage our brains in active and creative problem solving requires the autonomy and resources to do so. Rather than simplification, which produces automatic thinking and reliance on previous ways of doing things, the right blend of freedom, responsibility, and support to meet demands, encourages employees to become engaged in solving complex and challenging problems as well as leverage their unique skills and perspectives to come through for the client or customer.



Below, we outline the ways in which the structure of work—everyday systems, procedures, and processes that dictate how work is done—impacts how work is experienced by employees, and what that means for customers at the end of the day. As you step through the section below, consider which brain you want working for you. How can you use the design of work to build an army of motivated, engaged, and empowered problem-solvers in your organization?



Below, we outline the ways in which the structure of work—everyday systems, procedures, and processes that dictate how work is done—impacts how work is experienced by employees, and what that means for customers at the end of the day. As you step through the section below, consider which brain you want working for you. How can you use the design of work to build an army of motivated, engaged, and empowered problem-solvers in your organization?



As a concrete example, consider for a moment the extent to which processes in your organization facilitate clarity around work tasks and goals. Significant research in organizational science has shown that employees who clearly understand their roles and how their actions contribute to success are more efficient, productive, and experience greater wellbeing; on the other hand, when uncertainty around roles is high, employees experience work stress to the point where it interferes with their ability to be successful. At face value, one might conclude that the goal should be to focus on simplification and routinization (remember Taylor?). However, experts have argued that attempting to make things certain in a dynamic and complex environment, can be dangerous. Indeed, organizational research suggests that when employees believe they have the support and resources to meet job demands, they are more likely to view challenges as opportunities and become engaged in actively pursuing goals.



Brain imaging research shows the difference between a relatively inactive brain in a predicable situation, where individuals rely on automatic processing and memory, and one in a challenging situation, where numerous parts of the brain are actively engaged and being utilized to meet objectives. Importantly, the ability to mobilize and engage our brains in active and creative problem solving requires the autonomy and resources to do so. Rather than simplification, which produces automatic thinking and reliance on previous ways of doing things, the right blend of freedom, responsibility, and support to meet demands, encourages employees to become engaged in solving complex and challenging problems as well as leverage their unique skills and perspectives to come through for the client or customer.



Below, we outline the ways in which the structure of work—everyday systems, procedures, and processes that dictate how work is done—impacts how work is experienced by employees, and what that means for customers at the end of the day. As you step through the section below, consider which brain you want working for you. How can you use the design of work to build an army of motivated, engaged, and empowered problem-solvers in your organization?



The work we do and the context within which we do it impacts what we think and how we feel about our job, how motivated we are to achieve results, and how committed we are to our company. Research indicates that the characteristics of our work impact our performance through two means



1. Through enhancing psychological states that promote engagement in our work role, and
2. Through reducing or eliminating the demands that hinder our goal accomplishment.



Psychological states impacted by the way work is designed include an employee’s sense of responsibility for their work, the meaning they attach to work tasks, and their sense of empowerment and confidence to perform their job. The way work is designed can either enhance or block these psychological states. For example, variety in the types of skills required and used through the workday, the ability to see the product of one’s work and make connections between everyday tasks and meaningful outcomes, and the extent to which one’s work has a positive impact on other people such as clients and customers, among others, are work design aspects that have an impact on how work is experienced and, consequently, the level of performance that is achieved.



The design of work can also impact the way we think and feel about our work through reducing or eliminating demands that hinder our ability to be successful. Research shows that demands such as experiencing conflict between goals (e.g., providing quality customer service versus achieving productivity goals), dealing with challenging customers, feeling pressure to complete tasks too quickly, and encountering other organizational constraints (e.g., old technology, inability to access necessary information) can cause employees to become frustrated and stressed. A work design intervention that addresses these factors has the goal of “freeing up” employees’ psychological resources (time, energy, mood) so they can then invest them in more productive work, and at the same time reducing the incidence of burnout.



What We Think and Feel Impacts What We Do



The next step in the causal chain is that when work is experienced as more meaningful, either because it reinforces who we are at work (our personal identities) or benefits people we care about (i.e., customers, co-workers), we work harder, persist longer, and pour more of ourselves into what we do.



Accordingly, jobs designed with employees in mind, drive greater meaning and purpose for employees, facilitate more proactive thinking and behavior (e.g., making suggestions, taking initiative), enhance creativity and innovation4, and improve all-around job performance.



Effective work design can positively impact both the intrinsic enjoyment of the work and extrinsic motivation, through enhancing the extent to which everyday tasks are personally meaningful to employees. For instance, organizational processes that allow employees to receive feedback from customers or clients can not only help employees see how the completion of their regular tasks influences the experience of the customer but also facilitate alignment of the employees’ own work goals and priorities with those of the organization.



Field research has shown that when employees receive detailed information about their clients and have a clear line of sight to how their own work impacts their clients, they are more motivated to invest effort and engage in helping behaviors on behalf of the customer or client6. Further, research supports the connection between effective work design and increased task and sales performance, and reduced absenteeism and turnover intentions. Simply put, when employees see the value and meaning of their work and are provided the necessary resources to accomplish their tasks, they perform better and are more likely to participatein discretionary actions that benefit the customer or client.



Enriching the Context of Work through Applying the 5As Framework



Leveraging research from neuroscience and organizational psychology, Propulo has developed the 5As framework which identifies five key factors reflecting the central elements that must be present and aligned across an organization’s employees, leaders, and processes, to achieve Operational Excellence. The 5As framework was developed to facilitate “wise” process improvement decisions in consideration of the experience of employees and the implications for customers and clients. Consistent with a work design perspective, the 5As framework focuses on how the work environment, including the features of the work itself as well as aspects of the leadership and organizational culture, supports employees to become actively engaged in work and enables them to meet challenges creatively and resiliently.




Autonomy – The freedom to make decisions and flexibility to utilize creative or innovative methods to achieve clearly defined outcomes.
o Do employees have the right amount of flexibility to engage in meeting challenges and solving problems?
o Do the processes in place in your organization support employees to become actively involved in meeting goals, or are they overly routinized or simplified?
o Do leaders in your organization encourage Autonomy through vision, inspiration,and accountability?



Awareness – The extent to which employees can see the results of their work and understand how they contribute to the success of the business.
o Is there a clear line of sight between employees’ work tasks and the broader goals and outcomes of the business?
o Do leaders help employees see how their everyday tasks and interactions with the customer or client contribute to the overall customer or client experience and business performance?
o Do current KPIs and other performance metrics encourage a connection to customer or client outcomes?
o Do current processes and practices encourage cross-team collaboration and communication?



Alignment – A clear sense of purpose and confidence in prioritizing the customer or client experience. Systems and actions function harmoniously and maximize successful customer and client outcomes.
o Is everyone working for the same outcomes?
o Are KPIs in your organization aligned to providing a high-quality customer or client experience?
o Do systems in place work together to prioritize customer and client outcomes?
o Are leaders in the business supporting and driving behavior that is aligned with a positive customer and client experience?



Authenticity – The extent to which open and honest communication and collaboration within the organization is valued, and opportunities for reflection and learning from errors and feedback are provided.
o Are employees communicating openly and honestly within teams, as-well-as cross-functionally, about ways to improve processes?
o Do formal work processes provide opportunities for reflection and learning from errors?
o Do KPIs and other metrics promote authentic communication and collaborationacross teams?
o Are leaders driving continuous improvement through two-way communication?



Agility – A frame around work demands as opportunities for growth and development, supported by a leadership group that proactively anticipates change.
o Are organizational processes sufficiently flexible so that they can be adjusted to better support changes in strategy or demands?
o Do employees think proactively and anticipate the need for change in their work tasks?
o Are employees armed with the resources needed to adapt to changes daily?
o To what extent do leaders in your organization drive continuous change and innovation?



Conclusion



In the service context, organizational process improvements that are implemented to facilitate an exceptional customer or client experience—no matter how well-intentioned—must also consider the employee experience to be successful. To create a positive and impactful employee experience, we start at the foundation of work, applying the 5As framework to first design more motivating, meaningful jobs for employees.



In doing so, we acknowledge and embrace the complex challenges that employees face in today’s work environment and arm them with the resources they need to be empowered, engaged advocates for their customers and clients—invested wholly in the success of the business and going above and beyond in support of the achievement of that success every day. Are your employees armed with the resources they need to deliver an exceptional and differentiated customer experience?



For more information and insights from our research, please contact us at propulo.com



By Allison M. Ellis, Eric Michrowski & Dr. Autumn D. Krauss