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Employee listening programs are vital to having happy customers, but first you need trust - and that's the tricky bit

Madeline Bennett Profile picture for user Madeline Bennett October 20, 2023
Summary:
Dr Benjamin Granger, Qualtrics Chief Workplace Psychologist, explains the reciprocal relationship between employees and customers

Qualtrics
Dr Benjamin Granger

Chief Workplace Psychologist isn’t a job title you’ll come across at every technology company. But for a firm that builds its business on Experience Management like Qualtrics, it makes sense as a core role. 

This is an area that is expected to grow over the next few years as more companies look to appoint their own organizational psychologist. According to the Society for Industrial and Organisational Psychology, IO psychologists’ job demand is expected to grow by 13% by 2028. 

So what does a trained psychologist do day-to-day at a tech company? Dr Benjamin Granger, Chief Workplace Psychologist at Qualtrics, actually has two roles at the organization. 

As chief workplace psychologist, he gets involved with the research Qualtrics carries out around employee and customer experience. This research is based on the firm’s own customer data, along with market data outside its own customer base, around how employee expectations and experiences are changing, and practises in which leading organizations are engaging. 

The next step is integrating those research insights into advice for Qualtrics’ customers and into the company’s own tech solutions. 

Granger, who has an MA and PhD in Industrial Organizational Psychology, also leads Qualtrics’ Employee Experience Advisory practise in North America. The firm has a team of organizational psychologists like himself, who engage with customers to offer specific advice on their programs and strategy, how they should execute an employee listening program, and what to then do with those insights.

Expectations

According to Granger, there's a growing awareness among companies that employee expectations are changing and increasing. To attract and retain talent, and to meet their own customer needs, which are also increasing, it’s increasingly important for firms to have the kind of ongoing dialogue offered by an employee listening program. 

Qualtrics research highlights the challenges frontline employees are currently facing, which make it even more important to ensure companies are aware of and able to respond to their needs. The research revealed that 38% of frontline employees are stressed at work at least half the time, while 41% feel emotionally drained.

Pressures from outside the organization, like the cost of living crisis, are also making this more of a requirement. While nearly 60% of customer-facing staff got a pay raise in the last year, about half of those say it’s harder to keep up with living expenses compared to a year ago. Of those who didn’t receive a raise, two-thirds are finding it harder to cover their expenses. This creates risks around employee burnout and staff retention, Granger advises:

The risk for burnout is higher today than what we've measured globally in the last few years. We have strong evidence that burnout has increased, not just with the frontline, with senior leadership as well. That burnout from leaders has a tendency to trickle down. It also creates a retention and a talent attraction problem.

High inflation in many parts of the world means pay and benefits are more important for employees and potential employees. Burnout is high in industries like healthcare and travel, where there are lots of staff shortages. Those jobs were considered essential back in the pandemic days, and while employee expectations have increased, they haven’t seen the benefits and solutions from organizations catch up. Granger adds:

In other words, the pay hasn't caught up, and the staffing hasn't caught up so that people aren’t working too many hours. And in a lot of cases, the organizational norms haven't been locked in because coming off the pandemic, we've now moved people into different working models and it's a little bit more challenging to lock in what those expectations and those norms are. Without that clarity, it does become challenging.

Some companies are taking the situation seriously, and are capitalizing on the need to understand and take care of their employees to give them an advantage in attracting and retaining talent. But this isn’t the case for all employers, Granger notes:

Other companies may be thinking, the market's tight, we're going to utilize this leverage while we can. We're going to get as much as we can out of our associates.

Not productive

That mindset is unproductive, according to Granger. Among Qualtrics’ customers, there’s much more of an understanding that employees are the lifeblood of an organization, that the survival of every organization is dependent on the behavior of its consumers – and that these two things are linked. Granger explains:

It's well established in the service-profit chain that when you support employees, employees engage in better behaviors, those better behaviors drive customer experience, those customer experiences that are more positive drive consumer repurchase, word of mouth, expanding their usage of your products and services. And then that of course drives revenue, margin, all of those financial outcomes that every organization has to care about. 

We know that that chain exists, but what we have been finding is that there's a reciprocal relationship between employees and customers.

So while it’s true that if employees are supported and happy in their roles, they will drive better consumer experiences on average, it’s also true that employees are impacted by good or bad customer experiences. 

A classic example of this is in call centers, where effective call center reps get promoted and typically end up dealing with higher risk and more difficult customers. Once their job has changed, and they're dealing with more challenging customers, that can have a downward effect on the employee experience. Granger adds:

We know that there's that interplay back and forth, tough customers are difficult for employees. To overly simplify this, an organization can either turn that reciprocal relationship into a virtuous cycle or a vicious cycle. But the starting point has to be your employees because organizations have far more influence over that relationship than they do over the relationship with their consumers.

Investments

Naturally, organizations invest a lot into what's most important to consumers: product design, user experience, service quality. Granger says:

Because they know those things will make or break the relationship that consumers have with brands. That's well understood. What companies like Southwest and many of our customers are understanding is that one of the most critical levers they can pull to ensure that the product design is good, the service quality is good, and that it is consistently good across location and over time, is that they have to work through their employees.

In order to do that, they have to first support those employees, equip them with the right tools, empower them to make good decisions on behalf of the customer, and then let them get on with the job. Opening up a dialogue with employees to understand what's important to them, what they’re hearing from customers on a day-to-day basis, and what problems need solving, is crucial to enable this. 

As technology is evolving, it's becoming easier for organizations to have this dialogue with frontline employees at scale. And for those staff whose job is out in the field, rather than sat in front of a screen, QR codes, mobiles and kiosk devices offer listening opportunities.

But for organizations that are just getting started with employee experience and listening, it’s vital to gradually build trust. Granger says:

That is a key word here. When you are listening to your workforce, the workforce has to trust that you're using that information and doing something with it. They also have to trust that you're not going to misuse it, you're not going to use it against them as a stick.

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