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Managing Frontline Employees for Customer Success: A Toolbox of Employee Satisfaction Ideas

By: Dorothy Pederson
Tel: 909 557-7270
Email: Email Ms. Pederson
Website: About Frontline Consulting

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For decades there has been a chasm between frontline employees, typically hourly, and management. Frontline employees recognize a problem and feel powerless to "fix it." They blame management and expect them to "fix it!" They perceive that management does not listen to them. They feel discounted. So they rebel. Managers are sometimes overwhelmed with responsibility and cannot cater to every upset and idea. They are responsible for results and sometimes do not care, or take into consideration, whether employees like their decisions or not.

Tension created as the result of power struggles ripple through the undercurrent of an organization and the effect is translated to customers. Work related policies and procedures are set, typically without much research on how the policy/procedure might affect the stability of the people performing the work, and this subsequently affects customers. Employees are routinely given a memo or short training on a new software program or policy and the expectation is one of, "deal with it! We gave you training!"

When your workforce is upset your customers are affected. It pays in retention coin to acknowledge and change this outmoded method of communication. Competition for power between the top, middle and bottom of an organization is counter-intelligent and borders on asinine. The interesting thing about this is that it gets fed by those that should have the "smarts" to mitigate it in a positive way! Managers sit in conference rooms and mind map strategies to counter or one up the latest employee ripple. In Union environments it can get really nasty. Unspoken anger, resentment and resistance seek out like feelings, mirrors them and they grows. "Like attracts like" so to speak. Negative feelings leak all over the place and can be felt. Anyone with a modicum of sensitivity can feel the resultant stress and tension in the very air of the buildings. Why counter employee upset with resistance when you can dissolve it by using more advanced strategies to bring about resolve?

Seeing the Bigger Picture:
Education, exposure and experience gives people a different point of view. It is understandable that more evolved employees will see the bigger picture when setting policy, and necessary that an organization has these more educated or otherwise experienced employees "running the show." Even though it might anger other employees, typically those perceived or labeled as being subordinates, there is most likely a bigger picture business purpose for it being in place. Even when the policy is a must, the question is, how was it presented to employees?

Seeing the Bigger Picture:
Were they given the respect of an explanation for the purpose or was it assumed it was not their call and left at that? Were they given the opportunity to express their opinion before implementation? If their ideas and suggestions were over-ridden were they thanked and given a brief reason why another approach was taken? It is always about respect, and communication. Trying to please all employees is crazy and impossible. Giving them the respect of being included in the communication loop however can inspire an employee to perform and give more freely to the cause; in this instance, satisfying customers. Put key frontline employees on previously management only committees and you might be surprised at discovering hidden talent.

What Fuels the Ripples of Discontent?
Managers that have a pulse on the current ripples of discontent may need to open their minds to new strategies for calming the waters. "Too bad if they don�t like it" is an attitude that feeds the problem. When customers are telling you there is a problem, there is a problem, whether it is "just perceived as a problem," or not. It is the same thing with employees. Better to sit with these folks, and listen with your emotional intelligent to get the deeper picture. Ferret out how they are feeling about things and then CARE enough to strategize compromises that will ease the stress. The biggest complaint frontline employees have given me is that they are the ones doing the work, and they experience how certain practices cause the job to be more difficult, or cause customers to react, but when they bring the problem to management, even with solution, it may or may not be acknowledged and nothing is done about it. Morale goes down the tubes in this case and the customer feels the lack of enthusiasm. It is as if a manager feels insulted or embarrassed that a subordinate might have a better solution than the one they came up with! If you as a manager do not care what your staff thinks, then you do not care about your customers. If you refuse to consider empowering them by giving them a say in setting policy, ask yourself what that might be about? What is the self talk at that point? I am the boss here and I know best? Really! Then why are your employees disgruntled? Why is it there is this chasm, and its inherent undercurrent of negativity, coming back at you demanding your attention on a regular basis. You might be thinking something to the effect, "If they want a power job, they need to get an education and go out and get one!" Arrogance is so blatantly obvious to staff and only serves to fuel the fires. Do you see how subtle the pillars of the bridge of discontent are? People read attitude and respond with their own similar attitude. Feeling discounted breeds unhappiness. Do you see where I am going here?

Management has to get real about wanting customer satisfaction and list it as a key objective and then strategize for success. If you really want satisfied customers you will need to examine your current levels of employee satisfaction. One affects the other greatly.

What Fuels the Ripples of Discontent?
Change how you perceive the value of frontline employees. You do not want to hire with the notion that this is an entry level job and no experience is necessary. You are handing over your valued customers to someone who has little or no expertise for handling the difficult challenges of successful communication and resolve with the vast array of personalities they will encounter any given day. Setting marginal requirements for employment will bring you a big stack of marginally qualified applicants. If you hire at an entry level wage and skill level you�ll get an occasional diamond in the rough, but you will also get marginally motivated or qualified people, in droves The job of serving customers is just too important to hand it over to amateurs that lack the skill set to maturely and confidently communicate with the public. With that said, either a person has the talent required to successfully interact with your customers�, or they do not. All the training in the world does not replace a heart for service, even if that heart is inexperienced. Better to hire someone with no customer experience, but apparent empathy and compassion, than a seasoned customer service professional that has developed a tough, insensitive heart over time.

Finally, be sure to have a good training program in place that meets the needs of new employees and assists in revving up the skills of existing employees.

Change the Mindset:
Routinely companies across America set rigid working standards and put supervisors in charge of micro-managing to ensure rule after rule is followed or else. Sometimes this is necessary. What can you give dedicated employees working the frontline to mitigate the degradation of being an adult treated like a child that must be babysat and controlled?

  • Stop viewing them as less than or subordinate.
  • Treat them as fellow employees.
  • Develop the attitude that we are all here providing a service, by sharing our own unique talents and abilities; and that we have different job titles and different levels of responsibility. My management title and authority does not make me better in any way to a part time call center representative. The only difference between us is possible education, level of responsibility, work and life experience. Respect the differences and be aware of the deeper equality. Believe me, frontline employees are not stupid. They understand your title and authority. They typically accept the fact that you are the boss. It only becomes a problem when your words and tone become arrogant or condescending or when their grievances are ignored.
  • Eliminate the arrogance, become more approachable and friendly and you will see a much happier work group. You all have the same strategic goals that keep you on purpose.
  • Show support to your staff and have patience with the "know it alls" that are good employees but lack the tact to express in a more professional tone.
  • Be sure to have clarity on the few employees that clearly keep the negative stuff afloat. Disgruntled employees need attention and learned somewhere in life to get it with negative behavior; and it spills over in the office. If you cannot relocate or dismiss them after due process, they can usually be managed by giving them a special on-going �project� that they get to manage. Give them positive recognition when they manage the project well and patient training when they do not. This can go along way in mitigating their negative behavior. Repeat offenders need to be documented out the door or transferred to a department that doesn�t directly handle customers. It is simply not fair to the rest of the employees to have to tolerate the negativity inside the room while handling plenty of it externally!
  • What Fuels the Ripples of Discontent?

  • after due process, they can usually be managed by giving them a special on-going "project" that they get to manage. Give them positive recognition when they manage the project well and patient training when they do not. This can go along way in mitigating their negative behavior. Repeat offenders need to be documented out the door or transferred to a department that doesn�t directly handle customers. It is simply not fair to the rest of the employees to have to tolerate the negativity inside the room while handling plenty of it externally!
  • Toolbox of Solutions for Increased Employee Satisfaction: Low cost-No cost Ideas:
    Frontline working conditions are by nature fast paced, stressful and demanding. The employees performing the work chose it, so there are no victims, but support from caring managers is essential. More than anything simple ideas like the following maintain harmony and good attitude for the work group.

  • Flexible work hours when possible. Example: 15 minute flex-arrival/leave time without penalty. As long as required hours completed.
  • Time off with pay for good behavior. Example: Highest salesperson for the month gets to leave at 2:00pm and get paid until 4:30pm next Friday.
  • Forget lunch with you or the CEO� just how much of a reward is that!? To me it would be agony in return for a job well done.
  • Music in the background
  • Potluck once a month
  • Games and magazines in the break room
  • Lunch or dinner certificates for ideas for improving customer satisfaction that are implemented.
  • Instant recognition for compliments from customers
  • Good Attitude Certificates
  • Have stellar customer relations training in place for new employees and ongoing training for all frontline employees.
  • Put employee committees in place that, after initial facilitation by a manager or supervisor, is facilitated by one of them. The purpose of the committees might include social events such as birthday recognition, feedback for management, including repeated customer complaints brought about by policies and procedures that negatively affect them.
  • Include a senior frontline employee or two in the purchasing process of any new software or telephone upgrades. Let them sit in on the "dog and pony show" that vendors provide and listen to their input when making the final purchasing decisions. Don�t assume bigger whistles with pricier extras are best but don�t be afraid to budget for something beyond entry level packages that are inadequate and might cause frustration.
  • Support employee interactions with complainants. Have senior people in place to handle more difficult customers.
  • Give all employees a toolbox of instant fixes they can offer customers. Bonus coupons, percentage off next purchase, no hassle refund policies, late fee waivers, etc.
  • Toolbox of Solutions for Increased Employee Satisfaction: Low Cost-No Cost Ideas:

  • Screen employees for particular talents and ensure they are given work that will utilize those talents.
  • Create a monthly or quarterly "Complaint Free" report that recognizes employees that went complaint free or received a compliment. Give them a service pin or other marketing item plus post the report or give them mention in your internal newsletter.
  • A work-out room
  • A quiet room
  • On Site child care
  • Make a commitment to dissolve the age old tension that exists between management and frontline employees. Include employee and customer satisfaction in your strategic plan and budget for both.

  • Develop programs and policies that support both goals
  • Beef up your budget to hire for customer service success
  • Eliminate the mindset that views customer service as entry level work
  • Include training and recognition in your budget
  • Promote from within the department or organization whenever possible
  • Have internal/external workshops and training available-give CEU�s (Continuing educational units) for participation. (Could be brown bag lunch training or after-hours sessions.)
  • Make both CEU�s and testing requirements for promotion
  • Keep your employee�s job descriptions flexible
  • Always have "senior" positions that pay more and require employees to continually meet/exceed standards, plus pass more advanced testing and evaluating to acquire upgrades or promotions. Some employees need to have the brass ring within reach to keep them motivated, and you always have employees in a pool for cross-training or advancement or succession.
  • Make sure quarterly and yearly evaluations have realistic and reliable methods incorporated in their structure that fairly evaluate and also set the stage for new goals for advancement and improvements
  • Support employee education
  • Discipline with consistency
  • Provide coaching, monitoring, and mentoring with consistency
  • Communicate value to all employees
  • Most importantly, understand your own value, authority, power and ability to move, motivate and inspire others to act with a positive attitude and achieve stellar customer service success.

    Dorothy Pederson is A 26-year veteran of teaching corporate personnel how to deal with customer complaints, Dorothy is now the owner of the communication and customer service training company Frontline Consulting, LLC. She is available for speaking, workshops, teambuilding training and management consulting. Speaking topics include:

  • Handling Difficult Customers
  • Customer Satisfaction-Advanced Strategies
  • Telephone, Email and Voicemail Communication
  • Managing Conflict
  • Critical Listening Skills
  • Mitigating the Negative Undercurrent in the Workplace
  • Coaching & Mentoring Skills for Supervisors
  • Management Consultant

  • See Ms. Pederson's Profile on

    ©Copyright 2006 - All Rights Reserved


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