Employee Views on Customer Initiatives – Lessons From the Economic Downturn

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Key findings

Differences were found in employee perceptions of their employer’s customer initiatives prior and during the economic downturn.

During the downturn employees were more concerned with:

  • their organisation’s strategic approach for developing and maintaining customer relationships
  • management’s ability to integrate long-term customer initiatives into operations

Employees said that their personal efforts in maintaining day-to-day customer relationships hadn’t been impacted by the downturn and remained high.

Economic downturn triggers employee concern around big picture customer strategies

Our study shows that the economic downturn impacted employee perceptions of their employers’ long-term customer initiatives. During the economic downturn, employees were less confident about the appropriateness of their organisations’ existing and long-term customer strategies – concerns which were not evident before. The downturn saw many customers facing spend freezes and pressure to get maximum value for their purchases. Many organisations and employees Warehouse  realised that customer orientation had to be driven from the top. The findings in the table below suggest that employees were seeking strategies that were better aligned with long-term goals if the organisation was to remain viable.

Interestingly, regardless of the economic condition, the results don’t show a change in perceptions around the organisation’s customer service culture.

Lesson 1

Overall, these findings suggest that employees were comfortable with their organisation’s strategic approach for acquiring and maintaining customer relationships before we hit economic turbulence.

The lesson here is about complacency. As we emerge from a tough economic environment to one where business confidence is lifting, customer strategies can be reviewed, measured and re-energised. Staff may have lost confidence in tired approaches which could have a spiral effect on the whole organisation.

Equally, it may be time to re-define how day-to-day employee behaviour contributes to achieving the organisation’s customer strategy. This line of sight is critical for employee buy-in and an engaged workforce.

Employees question customer strategies

The economic downturn has impacted employee perceptions around the extent to which customer strategies are integrated effectively into the organisation’s operations. During the downturn, employees perceived that their organisation was less concerned with the following areas:

  • existing customer initiatives assisting the organisation to achieve success
  • benefits of products and services being communicated to customers

Lesson 2

The lesson here is about listening to the customer in both good economic times and bad. Having the “voice of the customer” close to the ear of management and employees is likely to provide the information required to “test” the organisation’s customer initiatives. Such information may also act as a catalyst for targeted change, should the data reveal the need for it.

Maintaining everyday customer relationships constant regardless of downturn

Surprisingly, employees’ efforts in maintaining everyday customer relationships (i.e. asking for customer feedback to enhance service levels, considering customer needs in decision-making, acting on feedback and seeking to improve customer service standards) were not impacted by the state of the economy.

In light of the results in the previous sections of this study, this finding could suggest that employees recognise that while these elements are necessary and reflect customer service “fundamentals”, they are not sufficient for organisational sustainability. Employees are now seeking clear strategic guidance from management for their day-to-day customer service behaviours. Employees are beginning to see that the success of the organisation is going to take more than meeting their individual KPIs.

Lesson 3

Overall, these findings suggest employees perceive that they maintain high levels of customer service in their day-to-day contact regardless of the economic condition.

The lesson here is about clarity and consistency. Management plays an important role in ensuring employees understand customer related strategies/initiatives and how these will help the organisation sustain its health. Management should communicate these messages regularly and ensure that customer related strategies are supported through organisation systems (e.g. structure and systems, reward and recognition etc). This is critical for employees to feel supported in focusing on customer initiatives.

Conclusion

Being complacent about customer strategies during times of boom is a risk. During the economic downturn, employees became concerned that their organisation’s direction and strategies weren’t customer centric and wouldn’t cut it. This suggests that many organisations were getting swept along in times of economic prosperity without listening closely enough to their customers.

Not surprisingly, employees consider the maintenance of existing customer relationships to be of great importance, regardless of the state of the economy. After all, the success of an organisation relies on its customers. The economic downturn has been a reality check for many organisations. As we begin to recover, it is important for organisations to regularly ask for feedback and review customer strategies to ensure they’re viable. Organisations are now hungrier for success. Annual reviewing and replanning strategies are crucial for organisational sustainability.

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