- Frontline employees face the brunt of customer anger and frustration, and it’s only getting worse.
- Protect employees with better experience, signage, appropriate staffing, tech resources, empathy and language training, and learning when to fire customers.
It’s no secret that the last few years have been challenging and uncertain for many consumers.
And with that uncertainty comes an increase in impatience and frustration. Companies are tasked with providing great experiences for their customers but are also responsible for protecting their employees from angry and rude people.
Frontline employees burn out at an incredible rate, largely because they constantly deal with demanding customers. Nearly 50% of frontline workers said they are planning to leave their current jobs, with the majority citing burnout and a lack of appreciation from peers and managers as the main reasons. A staggering 63% of frontline managers are also considering leaving their jobs soon.
When employees struggle, the customer feels it. High turnover creates an inconsistent experience and can be incredibly costly for companies. According to Tom Goodmanson, the CEO and founder of customer experience software provider Calabrio, it costs $10,000 to change out a call center agent. If you have a contact center of 1,000 and 30% turnover it will cost you $300,000. You can save $100,000 for every 10% you reduce turnover.
But by fixing the process upfront, companies can protect their frontline employees and create a better experience for employees and customers.
Here are six ways to protect frontline employees with better experience design:
1) Experience Design. A great experience doesn’t happen by accident. It requires a strong understanding of customers and strategic planning to meet their needs. By walking through the customer journey and continually updating the experience to meet customers’ changing needs, you can proactively address issues, defuse anger and create a positive experience. Today’s customers increasingly want self-service options so they can find answers and help on their own time, so be sure to work that into your experience design.
2) Signage. Employees are powerful in sharing your brand’s story and communicating with customers, but having the right signage in place gives them extra assistance and credibility. If employees have to constantly repeat themselves about policies or move customers in a certain direction, add signage to make it easier.
Signage also humanizes employees. Airline customers are increasingly notorious for their brazen disrespect. The United Terminal in LAX is lined with murals showing stories of their volunteers, such as “This is Bill. He’s a pilot, and he’s also a friend, volunteer at the local animal shelter, and he’s a proud soccer coach for his daughter’s middle school team.” These signs remind customers they are dealing with humans.
3) Appropriate Staffing. Going into a busy season or time of day with limited staffing is just asking for chaos. Use data from call volumes and customer interactions to find patterns in when customers call the contact center or visit stores so you can proactively staff more people during those times. Look for pain points in the customer journey or areas where customers tend to be more frustrated and provide frontline employees with backup.
Even though the talent market is wild and it can be challenging to attract and retain employees, make appropriate staffing a priority so employees know you have their backs.
4) Tech Resources. Ensuring agents and frontline workers have what they need to do their job and give customers service and solutions (within reason) without asking for approval. Companies, including Southwest Airlines, Chick-fil-A, Disney and Airbnb, empower employees with resources, training and budget to serve customers as they see fit. There’s a reason these brands are consistently recognized for their customer service—when employees can solve customers’ problems without managerial approval, they become more engaged and can provide a better experience.
5) Empathy and Language Training. Life can be difficult for customers, especially in industries that involve heightened emotions. Teach employees to walk a mile in their customers’ shoes and practice empathy to build human connection.
One hospital for kids saw that anger from patients was increasing, especially when they first checked in. Parents were often impatient and frustrated when told they couldn’t just run in to find their sick children, and employees got the brunt of that anger. To help defuse the situation, the hospital trained employees to follow parents into the treatment room and do an intake there with the child. The simple change is more empathetic to a parent who doesn’t want to be filling out paperwork away from their sick child.
Being empathetic doesn’t mean bending the rules to appease rude customers. It means being human and helping employees better understand customers so they can work with them instead of fighting against them.
6) Learning When to Fire Customers. At a certain point, you may have to let go of customers, especially when they are putting employees at risk emotionally or physically or ruining the experience for other customers. A manager or leader standing up to a frustrated customer shows frontline employees that the customer isn’t always right and can’t walk over them. Set boundaries and know when to fire customers tactfully and safely.
Your frontline employees are some of your biggest assets. And they’re often at the mercy of impatient and frustrated customers. Designing an experience that supports employees improves the situation for everyone and gives your people the support they need.
Blake Morgan is a customer experience futurist and the bestselling author of The Customer of the Future. For regular updates on customer experience, sign up for her weekly newsletter here.