An organization and its performance are dependent on the day-to-day functioning of its frontline employees who generally make up the bulk of its workforce. The tactical stewardship of execution is in the hands of the frontline staff that reflect the company culture and its values to the customer. And generally, these associates who are the majority of an organization’s workforce are the ones affected by several challenges across industries – low levels of motivation, economic and emotional stress, stressful work goals and management pressure to meet them, poor growth prospects, all of which result in high levels of attrition.
Today’s organizations are moving toward building their future prospects on customer experience. According to a recent article I was reviewing, an estimated 90% of all organizations are expected to craft themselves around customer experience by 2025. With customer experience becoming such an integral part of an organization’s success, it’s important to re-focus on the frontline staff who are the face of the organization to the end consumer. Although technology in its various forms is making in-roads into customer experience, the human element is still very much an integral part of the value an organization provides to its customer base. Be it retail, airlines or business process outsourcing, frontline employees play a major role in day-to-day activity and customer interaction.
With customer experience playing such a vital role in the performance and growth of any business, productivity and progress of the frontline staff becomes that much more important and its imperative to focus on them to ensure that there is a fair exchange of value going on.
With a slew of challenges, from financial wellbeing, poor work environment, boredom, and lack of challenges to stimulate creativity, poor growth prospects and high-pressure micromanagement to reach goals established by management without any space to induce their own personalities in what they do, the frontline employees continue to paint a poor picture of the organization to the end consumers, and move between jobs frequently trying to find a suitable position and organization to work for. As a result, management challenges include finding the right associates, coaching and training them to only lose them and work on the next while also battling work goals that need to be met. Dealing with the revolving door continues to be an impediment that affects operational and financial goals of organizations.
How can an organization double down on and tackle this issue, especially in these times of renewed focus on consumer experience to drive the engines of an organization?
That is where building a culture of empowerment comes into play. The frontline employees are the visible face of the organization. Development of a culture of performance through focused drive, clarity of mission and vision, and imparting value individually and as a team, should become the tenets of frontline management.
Better pay and employment conditions are the first tenet. It’s important for organizations and management teams to understand that the first line of employees on the job is the most vital arm of an organization and its long-term success. Since these employees are on the lowest rung of the ladder, doesn’t necessarily mean that they should be the lowest paid, more importantly, they should be paid to have a decent living base, without the worry of day to day financial challenges in their personal lives which tend to have an impact on their performance at work. All employees should be treated as an extension of one work family. Equanimity of base pay and benefits go a long way in improving employee morale. Pay for performance, whether positive or negative has some implications on performance, but not necessarily long term.
Next, support through training and coaching is important to ensure clarity of purpose for frontline employees. Each individual needs to understand, not just their work but also the impact it has on the larger scheme of things. They need to understand their contribution and value they bring to the organization, to own it and impart it on a daily basis to their best. Coaching, especially through peers or managers on a one on one basis reflects the investment the organization is willing to make in them, as valued employees, to learn about their strengths and weaknesses and help them cope to get better, and more importantly to advance in their careers. Frontline employees should be coached to look at their roles, less as jobs and more as careers where they have opportunities for advancement, provided they work on their specific strengths to take the lead as opportunities come up within the organization.
Empowerment is also a vital aspect of this puzzle. Generally, frontline roles are treated as jobs with high attrition and to be easily replaced with the next person coming in. It is also assumed that the role is a set of repeated tasks to be performed thus boxing in the role. That notion has to change. These are probably, the most important roles within an organization as the first line of customer interaction. Empowering the frontline employees garners multiple benefits for the individuals in the roles as well as for the organization. By empowering the employees to identify challenges, think creatively and come up with ways and means to interact with consumers, find and execute solutions to the challenges, the organization gains to improve upon its frontline as well as other specific challenges, finds new ways of interacting with consumers, thus raising customer satisfaction and loyalty with the organization and also helps identify the difference makers within the employees and offer them better career growth prospects. This empowerment also boosts employee morale as they feel challenged and in control of their work execution, thus bringing the best out of them. Productivity boosts can be seen in employee work ethic and improved influence on organizational performance resulting in higher revenue at the same or lower costs and better profit margins allowing the organization to experiment further and provide better opportunities to its employees. Further, the brand recognition and goodwill gained in the market is invaluable.
All of the above alleviates stress from the work environment, focuses on training, coaching and empowerment than micromanaging, using positive and negative motivators that have a limited shelf life and more importantly, brings the employees and management closer as one work family out to succeed together, working on a unified mission and vision, that they all take pride in.