How are you promoting customer literacy among your employees?2010-11-12
In the summer of 1986 (dear God, 24 years ago), I was chatting with a customer service rep at Mattel, my employer at the time. She told me of the thousands of letters the toymaker routinely received from children. I wondered if the employee communications department (for which I was responsible) might be able to take a look at them. Eventually, we culled a few and ran them in a quarterly magazine distributed to employees, shareholders, partners and other Mattel stakeholders under the headline, “Dear Mattel.”
No single other article in any company publication during my tenure at Mattel produced the kind of response from employees this one did. After all, the entire company was dedicated to making toys that made children happy, but it was rare for any of them to get direct feedback from the customer.
At another job, at pharma Allergan, we ran a recurruing feature, an interview with a doctor. (While the actual purchaser of pharmaceuticals can be a hospital, a pharmacy, or some other institution, it’s the doctor who writes the prescription, and is therefore viewed as the customer.) The feature included an overview of the doctor’s practice, how he used Allergan’s products, his view of the advantages of competitor products, and other insights into his perspective on the company.
As was the case at Mattel, these reports on customers’ views were among the more popular features of the magazine.
Both are examples of what I’m calling customer literacy, something that seems to be in short supply among employees in most organizations. Generally, this knowledge is contained within the customer service department, which traditionally has no mechanism (or incentive) for spreading the insights they receive beyond the borders of their own box on the org chart.
During my time at Allergan (in the early 1990s), the company president launched a customer service initiative that included the instruction, “If you don’t serve the customer, serve somebody who does.” That’s not bad advice, but the reality today is that any employee can wind up serving a customer. Research conducted for one of my clients revealed that the vast majority of employees had been asked something about the company by someone in their social graphs.
Yet I still encounter customer service managers who resist the idea that employees should be allowed to respond to such queries. “They don’t know the customer or the right answer,” the rationale goes.
I would argue that internal communications needs to focus on both. Employees need to know as much about the company’s customers as possible—that is, there is a need for customer literacy. Equally important is the need to curate links to the company’s resources, no matter how scattered between the web and the intranet they may be, so employees can quickly find the right answer.
Training is also required so employees know what kinds of inquiries they can tackle themselves and what should be referred to the right department.
But customer literacy goes beyond equipping employees who are already inclined to talk about their employers in their online communities (not to mention their offline communities). Knowing what the customer thinks can inform the very way they approach their work.
Some ways you can share customer insights with the workforce include…
- Set up a customer insights blog on the intranet where those in direct contact with customers can share interesting experiences and insights
- Share customer service reports with the entire company—most customer service departments report to their higher-ups the volume and nature of the last month’s or quarter’s inquiries
- Have sales staff or others who deal directly with customers shoot five-minute interviews using Flip (or competitive) cameras and post them to the company’s internal video site (your company does have an internal video sharing site, right?)
- Have a series of brown bag lunches with a panel of customers
- Introduce a recurring internal podcast featuring audio interviews with customers
What does your company do to promote customer literacy?