“We don’t need to do any additional market research with patients,” I told the CEO of a large dental practice management firm.
We were concurrently conducting research with his patients and staff to try to understand what was most important to patients. “So far, the information we are receiving from your dental hygienists and dental assistants is exactly in sync with what patients are telling us. Let’s save you some money and cancel the rest of the scheduled patient research.”
Yes, the front-line staff, who directly interact with patients day-to-day, had very accurate insights into what their patients cared about. The dentists we interviewed were much less clear about patients’ needs and wants, and the company’s corporate executives had, relatively speaking, poor insights into what patients were thinking.
I have seen this pattern repeated many times. Front-line employees are deeply in tune with customer interests and needs, and as you move away from the front lines, up the executive ranks, you see much bigger disconnects between assumptions about customers and reality.
And, of course, we all know where the marketing and product decisions that affect customers happen. Hint: It’s not on the front lines.
You need to take advantage of this valuable employee knowledge.
- Do you ask your employees what’s going on in your business?
- Do you encourage them to speak up?
- Do you welcome their insights?
Your customer-facing employees work in the best research laboratory you have, gaining insights from the daily encounters they have with real-life customers. The experience they gain from these encounters gives them perspectives that workers living in the home office bubble can’t possibly acquire.
Here are some questions I recommend that you ask your front-line employees, in order to engage them in conversations that will help you improve your business. (With the obvious requirement that you assure them that it is safe to talk and share their insights.)
So, what do our customers believe about us?
Your front-line employees know when and where you make customers happy, and when you don’t.
Ask them to imagine what customers are saying to their friends about your company. Ask them how customers would complete this sentence about your company: “It sure would be nice if…”
What’s right, and what’s wrong, about the experience we create for our customers?
You’re guaranteed to get some surprises here.
Front-line employees witness the details of the interactions between your customers and your company. They will, inevitably, see things that you can’t see from your desk, giving you an opportunity to improve your customer experience in meaningful ways.
If you had a magic wand, what would you change about our company?
As insightful as front-line employees can be, they often don’t feel empowered to use those insights to suggest changes in the way your company operates. If you encourage them to share suggestions for improvement, and if you listen carefully, you will discover important ways to improve your organization.
What would you like to do differently in your job to deliver a better customer experience?
Most employees will follow the procedures that have been outlined for them, and all employees have ideas for improving those procedures. It’s not surprising they would have these ideas, since they spend so much more time doing their work than the people who created the procedures ever did.
Your front-line employees know many things you don’t know. Think of what can happen if you tap into their knowledge.
by Steve Yastrow: Author, speaker, consultant and founder of Yastrow & Company, a Chicago-based consulting firm.
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