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How KFC, Stanford Health Care and EY are using Qualtrics to put empathy at the core of their experiences

Derek du Preez Profile picture for user ddpreez March 8, 2023
Three companies, from three different sectors, are using Qualtrics’ Experience Management tools to align both customer and employee experience - with empathy at the heart of the strategy.


Qualtrics kicked off its X4 user conference in Salt Lake City this week with an interesting customer panel, where we heard from three very different organizations - that service different types of customers and have vastly different employee requirements - but are all thinking about how to put empathy at the core of their experience management (XM) strategy. KFC, Stanford Health and EY were speaking with the media on the first day of the event about how they’re using Qualtrics’ XM tools to align customer and employee experience, with a key recognition that the two ultimately go hand-in-hand. 

All three companies have invested in Qualtrics because they cite experience as being core to their future success. But the outcomes of experience are wide ranging and judging from the customers’ comments, it seems that the data being obtained via the XM platform is fuelling a lot of how they’re thinking about servicing customers and managing employees. 

For example, Stanford Health Care’s Chief Patient Experience Officer, Alpa Vyas, explained how the COVID-19 pandemic has shone a light on the varying levels of healthcare that patients receive, depending on who they are. And Stanford is using experience data to try and bring about change, so that there aren’t varying levels of service for different groups of patients. Vyas said: 

For us, being in the healthcare industry, we are people taking care of people. And so maintaining that level of empathy and human connection is absolutely necessary. And over the past three years - hopefully we are now in the endemic stage of COVID - we are really paying attention to that connection of what our patients and families are experiencing and what our physicians and care teams are experiencing - that’s really important.

The pandemic opened up all sorts of spotlights on healthcare disparity. So, for us to be able to bring the insights forward to our care teams, to our managers on the frontline, to be able to be more aware and tailor experiences for our patients and families is really important. 

I will say one of the things that really was advantageous for us in our switch over to Qualtrics, from a healthcare disparities standpoint, is now we're actually able to get feedback from patients and families in six different languages. In our traditional way of collecting feedback we weren't able to do that, so we’re actually hearing the voices of more of the patients and families that we serve. 

For professional services giant EY, the use of Qualtrics and experience data has forced the organization to reflect on how it needs to change internally, in order to better service its clients - again, reflecting that the employee experience and customer outcomes are often inextricably linked. Penny Stoker, Global Talent Leader at EY, said that the company is putting ‘humans at the center’, which she adds is critical because EY’s business is all about people. Stoker said: 

We're going to our clients and talking to them about how they put humans at the center in their particular industry, and in order for us to have that conversation, we need to have that conversation internally as well. 

How do we talk to our employees about what's happening for them and how do we foster an environment where they can bring their whole self to work? We are conscious of making their role as simple as we humanly can. 

This, as is the case with a lot of large enterprises, hasn’t always been the case. Stoker added: 

So often in organizations, what we design is: something that works for HR, something that works for finance, or something that works for technology…doesn't work for our employees. They're struggling to make those leaps across the silos that all of us have. 

And our purpose really is looking at how do we change that? How do we change it so that our employees have that consistent journey so that they can work with our clients? It’s about having a degree of empathy for employees and for our clients, and how we have that conversation at a human level. 

Meanwhile, for KFC, a global brand that operates in dozens of countries, COO Rob Swain understands that the company’s franchisees need the right information and the right tools in order to win in an increasingly competitive market. He said: 

We're in the service industry, and I think sometimes people think we’re just selling buckets of chicken every single day, but we're actually selling experiences. And when you think about the idea of the front line, the reality is that 98% of all our people around the world actually work for a restaurant general manager. So the frontline is the business. In our organization we don't have the term ‘head office’, it doesn't exist, it’s a restaurant support center. 

How we think about it is actually empowering every single restaurant manager. What that means is 27,000 restaurant managers winning versus the competition - and beating the competition one postcode, one zip code, at a time. I'm really passionate about making sure that our restaurant teams have the right tools, the right insights, so that they can deliver the best experiences.

Using real-time data to drive change

What is common amongst all of the customers speaking, is that the use of Qualtrics is allowing them to engage with both customers and employees in a more real-time way, which in turn is allowing them to adapt more iteratively and think differently about outcomes. Not only this, but the real-time experience data is allowing the organizations to think differently about the questions that they ask of their employees and customers. 

In other words, KFC, Stanford and EY are able to identify new opportunities that they perhaps wouldn’t have understood fully, previously. For example, Stoker said that EY was able to introduce new experiences for employees based on data it had received about time pressures. She said: 

We got some information that, particularly during COVID, everyone was really burned out, everyone was struggling with the amount of time that they have. Normally, the answer to that is to reduce peoples’ workload. But we went out and we actually did some surveys, we did some focus groups, and we asked our people: what is it that this means to you, when you say ‘time is a problem’? And if you do have more time, what would you do with it? Would you focus on well being? Would you focus on your learning? Would you focus on your development? Where do you need support? 

Interestingly, what we found out was it wasn't that we needed to reduce the workload, what we needed to do is provide other meaningful experiences to the individual, then they were willing to put in that time for their own development, for their own learning, whatever it was that was meaningful to them. 

It didn't mean we had reduced the workload. We actually had more effort, and we had a better result, when we provided those meaningful experiences. So putting real effort on listening and hearing what is important to our employees hasmade a huge difference in what the outcome was for the organization.

Swain, meanwhile, said that his first ‘ah-ha moment’ with Qualtrics at KFC was when piloting the platform in the UK, where he realized that the tools provided would give restaurant managers - those front line employees - the information that they need to service customers across an increasingly diverse set of channels. He explained: 

If you look over the last five to seven years, the number of channels we operate has fundamentally changed. We have given customers more access to our brand, with increasingly digital channels. When I first started, I’ve been with KFC for 15 years, it was drive through, take away, from counter. 

And now we've got click and collect, delivery, multiple aggregators. So the challenge is that some of our restaurant managers are spending half their time doing data analysis - they’re part information analysts. They're trying to work out and prioritize manually: where do I get the data? How do I make sense of it? What's important to my guests? 

And I was really searching for an omni-channel view, to help restaurant managers focus on what they should be doing, which is really delivering those brilliant experiences. The first time I saw the very first proof of concept, I was like this is what we need, that's going to help us unlock consistent experience management. 

In healthcare, the traditional process of getting feedback from patients has been stifling change. Vyas said that the normal survey process in healthcare organizations could mean six to eight weeks before you understand what your patients thought of the care they received. Vyas said: 

I don't know about you guys, but I can barely remember what I had for dinner last night, much less what was happening in our environment six to eight weeks ago. 

As such, the real-time capabilities that came with the use of Qualtrics were a “game changer” for Stanford Health Care, Vyas added. She said: 

Our team got an email from a frontline clinic manager who said: “I made a phone call with a patient who had completed the survey before they left the clinic building and I was actually able to engage with that patient to talk in real time what the experience was like and then share that with the team at the clinic”. 

Instead of trying to guess, what was the experience like based on the limited information that we could get from a more traditional survey process? When we were talking to this manager, there was excitement of being able to start taking this feedback and change things in more real time. It seems so simple, but for our industry, I think it's going to completely help us understand our patients and families more. 

The impact is real

Qualtrics has found in recent research that an agent demonstrating empathy during a customer service call will lead to twice the loyalty from that customer, compared to if they had a shorter wait time on the call. In other words, people would rather wait longer on the whole if that means having an empathetic experience with an organization. 

Stoker gave a personal experience of how she had been driving to Florida when her car broke down - and the brand of car she had to deal with during the experience gave such a poor experience during the incident, it now means that when picking a new car she will no longer be going with that brand. This is the real impact of empathetic engagement. Stoker said: 

We've already chosen what our next car will be. It will not be with that brand. Now, that's not that frontline employee’s problem. Somebody did not give her the tools, nor the training, nor that support to have that empathy with the customer and to really understand the impact of that back and forth. 

And I think that's what's so unique about this frontline piece of work. That person that touches your customer or your client, if they're not interacting in a way that is making that interaction empathetic, compassionate, and with an ability to take action, you're not going to keep that customer. It’s just not going to happen, if they have a choice. And that's what that means. 

For KFC, it’s clear that an empathetic experience is directly tied to the success of the business. Swain said: 

It’s pretty straightforward for us. It’s just fundamentally linked to our growth. In the restaurant industry, experiences do matter because people make choices about repurchase. And so I think it's directly linked to sales. There's a correlation between the satisfaction of our guests and restaurant sales. And I think what we probably have not given enough focus to at a macro level in the sector is employee experiences. Our team members have got choices about not only where they work, but the environments they work in. 

Equally, it should go without saying that empathy and an empathetic experience should be central to healthcare provision - but as we all know, this often isn’t the case in organizations that are providing care. This has wider consequence, according to Vyas, who said: 

Our cultural pillars are really based on empathy and compassion, and creating that inclusive environment for both patients and families and our physicians and staff. I think if we don't approach things with empathy and compassion, it has an even broader impact, because if patients don't trust the system, if they aren't engaged in their care, and they don't believe that the team is there to care for them, it adversely impacts their health and their health outcomes. 

And so for us, it's really important to understand where our customers are in terms of their feeling or view of us, because not only will it impact the choices that they make, but ultimately it will impact how they decide to engage in their own care.

For Stanford Health Care, this is also critically important when thinking about healthcare staff. Vyas added: 

It's our vision to be able to bring those data [employee and patient] together because, again, I think that in healthcare the stakes are slightly different. You have all probably been reading the articles in the news around healthcare worker burnout, especially over the past several years. 

So our ability to keep our workforce, whether it's physicians or other frontline staff, engaged and healthy is really important for us, because if that doesn't happen, that directly impacts the experience for our patients.

And even more importantly, and more fundamentally, our foundation of quality and safety for our patients. So those things are all intrinsically linked. And I think in healthcare, there's a lot of focus right now on understanding those relationships. 

My take

A useful panel that sets the tone for the week with Qualtrics - we will be hearing from a number of customers and executives about how they’re approaching Experience Management in 2023. So keep your eyes open for updates from the event, including a forthcoming interview with Qualtrics CEO Zig Serafin and some product news. 

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