Customer support representatives manage some of the most important interactions along the customer journey, gaining real time insights that tell an organization when they’re getting it right, and when they have veered off track. In many cases, these people are all that sits between your brand and your customers.
But what about the relationship between your brand and these frontline staff?
These days everyone is obsessed with customer experience, but too often we ignore the impact of an equally important aspect: the employee experience. As a company in the outsourcing industry, we are inundated with the classic signs of a poor employee experience: high turnover, absenteeism and declining performance, but in sharp contrast there is little discussion around the causes behind these issues.
Here are three ways organizations fail at employee experience, along with some strategies to improve it:
A Day in the Life
There is perhaps no more hierarchical organization in the world than the traditional call center. The CEOs of most major call centers — which often have hundreds of thousands of employees — are usually based in the US and Europe far removed from the vast majority of their employees who often sit in the Philippines and India.
These CEOs are completely disconnected from the daily concerns of their frontline staff. At TaskUs we took a very different approach. In building the company, we made it a point to put ourselves in direct contact on a regular basis so that we could experience the lives of our colleagues in the Philippines.
To be fair, this is in part due to the fact that when we started we didn’t have the money to do otherwise — we had to stay with our staff, ride public transport and eat at Tapsilog. Having done the long Jeepney commute through Manila, we know first hand how tough it is to sit in the heat, sweating away hours stuck in traffic — something the majority of Filipinos experience every day. As a result, we made it a point to locate our offices close to where people actually live, allowing our employees to slash their commute time by more than an hour versus the average for the rest of the employees in the Philippines BPO industry.
Similarly, as a management team we make it a point to get on the phone and take calls, respond to emails and moderate photos, so that we know firsthand the workflow and experience of our teammates. On more than a few occasions the experience has been illuminating. On more than a few occasions we’ve found team managers who are not willing to roll up their sleeves and do the same work their teams do. These people end up being the wrong fit for TaskUs because we believe a manager who feels they are above the work of their staff is a recipe for awful employee experience. Removing these individuals immediately helps to maintain the integrity of our employee experience and demonstrate that we respect everyone in the organization. After all, there is ample evidence to show that people are more likely to leave bad managers than bad jobs.
So my first piece of advice is, understand from the inside out what your employees are experiencing, so every decision you make truly considers their perspective.
Pay vs. Play
A classic way to combat attrition is to increase pay. In an attempt to drive their recruitment up, companies frequently offer one-time signing bonuses, but this approach can be counter productive. We’ve tried signing bonuses at TaskUs, and they always fail. In fact we found that these bonuses are actually great ways to promote attrition, because they only serve to attract opportunistic employees who will leave a company for a one-time bonus and are just as likely to leave you when the bonus runs out.
Another approach is to dangle the retention bonus in front of an employee. These often come as annual bonuses that you only receive if you are with the company on a certain date, or a ballooning retirement package that you completely forfeit if you leave the company before the end of four or five years. While this approach is more effective at getting employees to stick around, it encourages people to stay just for the money. This creates an environment of people who don’t like their jobs.
The last approach is to pay wages that are above market. At TaskUs we have found from experience that this does not combat attrition. It is important that your wages are competitive, but beyond a certain point they have zero impact on your attrition rates. So what does?
Having fun! People don’t like to leave workplaces that make them happy. If I offered you the choice between making 10% less, but genuinely enjoying what you did everyday, or making 10% more but being miserable, which would you choose? At TaskUs we are all about fun, from our classic Christmas Party, to our Sports Fest, to our Lizard Bear Club which takes top performers on trips around the Philippines.
Purpose is perhaps the most important aspect of developing an employee experience. By that we mean giving employees and answer to questions like “Why do I get up and go to work everyday?”
In the offshore outsourcing industry most people report very little sense of purpose. This isn’t surprising. They go to work to get yelled at by angry telecommunications customers all day, and they don’t even get the service provided by the company in their country. Call center agents are smart enough to know that they are at the bottom of an awful customer experience food chain. You cannot have an amazing employee experience without creating real meaning in the life of the employee.
At TaskUs we have done this by refusing to work with big ‘traditional’ companies like telcos and banks. Keep in mind these are the biggest customers in our industry — and we won’t work with them. Why? Because they do not emphasize providing an excellent employee experience, and our employees don’t get to use them in their daily lives (i.e. employees don’t relate to these brands).
At TaskUs, we only work with exciting, innovative companies who understand the connection between employee experience and their customer experience. And we prefer to work with companies that our employees use in their daily lives, so they have personal experience with the product. By working with companies like Uber, Tinder and Autodesk, we are able to attract and retain the best talent the industry has to offer. These are exciting, fast growing companies that care about creating an amazing employee experience as part of their customer engagement strategy. Also, it doesn’t hurt that many of our staff get to and from work in Ubers, find dates on Tinder or use AutoCAD software.
Focusing on the employee experience has created a positive, reinforcing cycle. At TaskUs we’ve attracted top talent, the top talent has produced incredible results, those results attract amazing clients and amazing clients allow us to attract and retain more top talent. Many people argue for a “customer first” mentality, at TaskUs we argue that “employee first” is smarter. By putting the employee first we have been able to consistently deliver incredible results to our client’s and their customers.