Cheryl Bachelder, then the CEO of Popeyes, writes about the time she was touring franchisee restaurants to talk to them about the importance of serving guests well. “I met a young man who was not excited about my ‘lesson’. He asked who I was. ‘I’m Cheryl,’ I said. ‘Well, Cheryl,’ he said, ‘there’s no place for me to hang up my coat in this restaurant, and until you think I’m important enough to have a hook where I can hang up my coat, I can’t get excited about your new guest-experience program’.”
Was that a classic case of losing a great teaching opportunity for want of a hook? Or was it a great opportunity to know what needed to be set right before learning could do its work?
Bolster the chain of excellence
There has never been any doubt about the importance of the frontline team in any business. What the pandemic has done is put the healthcare workers in the limelight, as they deal with death and misery up front, risking their own lives in the process. That ought to tell us all, yet again, that those in the frontline can make a difference between life and death in business as well.
They need to be empowered and motivated to look uncertainty in the face hour after hour, day after day. The all-important customer absorbs your vision statement and all the values you stand for, not from your website, but from real-time words and deeds of your frontline people. Listen to them, keep them in the loop, teach (here comes learning!) them to cope with unusual scenarios. Everyone will reap the rewards.
Dan Cockerell used to lead a team of 12,000 cast members that welcomed 20 million guests each year at Magic Kingdom, Walt Disney World. After extensive interviews, Disney found that their guests really wanted four things during their visit. Treat me as an individual; make me feel special by treating me to those wow moments; respect me, my time and my money; and readily answer my questions and guide me right.
These four components of customer experience turned out to match those of Disney’s employee expectations, yielding the “chain of excellence”:
If the leadership is committed to employee satisfaction, learning can enhance it and, in turn, equip the team to promote customer satisfaction.
Microlearning to the front
Most members of the frontline team get small chunks of time that can be potentially used for learning. That makes bits of engaging mobile-driven microlearning modules the ideal fit for their needs. To help them cope, convert and create in the face of different challenges.
- Stressful times lead to stressful behavior. Instead of retaliating, respond empathetically.
- Spot potential conflicts before they escalate. Act quickly to de-escalate. Know when to call for support while continuing to interact with the customer.
- In the event of a clamor for attention, request help to serve each one better one at a time. Politely but firmly convey how you are unable to serve a crowd.
- Resolve conflicts by learning to think from the customer’s perspective. Focus on satisfactory resolution to retain the customer’s confidence.
- In case of shortages, share information about how the company is addressing the issue and offer to make a call as soon as the product is available.
- In case of complaints, understand the problem from the customer’s point of view and commit to a definite solution that you are confident of delivering.
- Gain a holistic knowledge of the business—product range, brand extensions, peripherals, etc.
- Understand how the customer intends to use your product and suggest solutions that offer greater value.
- Explore cross-selling opportunities.
Whole, fast, fun
Ideally, the microlearning modules for the frontline should have the following characteristics.
Put things in perspective
It may be easier to make a learner wear blinkers and limit the learning to one’s narrow function. However, any employee who gains a larger picture of the company’s business or the brand’s values (without having to stumble through jargon) will be in a better position to be a more valuable spokesperson.
Build customer personas and likely conflict situations
No simulation may match a live moment at work. At the same time, understanding different personalities and dealing with realistic situations can enhance confidence.
Keep the learning going
Make it easy for every learner to know where and how one can learn more. The end of one chunk need not be an endpoint but the start of (and the motivation for) the next step.
Fast, fresh information
While it is not uncommon for companies to splurge on campaigns long before a new product or extension can reach the shelves, it is unproductive to keep the frontline in the dark. Let them be the first to know whether it is good news (new, improved, cheaper) or bad (recall on account of regulations or complaints). Make sure they know well in advance how they should answer queries, reassure customers and where and how they can quickly get extra help.
Wherever possible, introduce an element of gamification to make learning fun. That will encourage greater involvement, even if a learner can spare only a few minutes at a time. Use the program to applaud winners, explaining how and why they won, thus converting the competition into competitive learning.
Make it possible for every learner to provide a feedback based on daily interactions. It could be a suggestion or an insight. Encourage responses without fear (or reluctance) as a stray tip could turn out to be strategically important. Set up a mechanism to follow up and act on feedback. Part of the general learning could be about the importance of feedback.
In the trenches
“Change is the only constant” might have cloyed a little, but our ears are still ringing with the bomb the pandemic dropped on us. Being closest to the action, the frontline is in the best position to help formulate and validate new strategies. While trying to outwit the next disruption may be difficult, training the frontline team is very much possible and is a necessity.
They are out there in the trenches, cradling your brand with one hand, while the other deals with the lethal apprehensions, anxieties and acrimonies whizzing overhead. They need steady inputs to sustain themselves, in terms of support, strategies and intelligence. Leaders who are tuned into the war, empathize with their people and are on their toes both to listen and educate are certain to win the war.
However, they must remember to provide a hook to hang the coat.