Do you remember your first real job?
The job where you had to show up on time?
The job where, when you got your first paycheck, you were shocked—shocked—at the inexplicable chasm between gross and net pay?
My first real job was at Long John Silvers. Long John Silvers served seafood as fast food. Any creature that began its life below the waves was, in the world of Long John Silvers, fair game for the deep fryer.
One Sunday afternoon, as I was working in the dining room of the restaurant, a customer approached me. The man’s car battery was dead. His wife and toddler daughter were sitting at a nearby table.
I had jumper cables. The lunch crowd had left. I jump-started his battery.
Over the next couple of Sundays, the man and his family would come in for lunch. We would say hello.
I commented on the family’s regular appearance to my manager. My manager remarked, “people remember it when you help them.”
That encounter counts as my first lesson in customer experience. Help people in the ways they need help. The help that people need may or may not tie directly to how you thought you were supposed to deliver value. And, pay attention. You might learn something useful in the process.
Life comes full circle, sometimes. Today, serving as chief solutions architect at Spigit, I have had the opportunity of late to interview several of our clients who have successfully applied collaborative innovation with their front-line employees. Call center employees. Services employees. Retail employees. The thousands of employees in whom the organization entrusts the customer experience, day after day.
My goal? To understand the connection that clients make between collaborative innovation, continuous improvement, and the customer experience.
Clients observed to me the following.
Engagement serves as a sanity check for what’s important. Clients observe that—surprise—they are not omniscient. They do not know which problems are worth solving amidst the universe of challenges that confront them each day. They bring their own biases with them to work, which may or may not jibe with reality. Engagement with front line staff through collaborative innovation gives leaders the ability to scan the (true) horizon by receiving a steady stream of ideas and insights that front-line staff gain from working with a wide swath of customers.
If you believe that the pace of change in the world is accelerating, then your ability to sense changes more quickly and more precisely becomes a necessity. People who remove themselves from the front lines of where the work is being done will struggle.
Engagement serves as the basis for continuous improvement. Clients observe that the front-line staff become, by necessity, expert at working around problems, as opposed to identifying and bringing to light the root cause of the problems. They lack the time, the tools, and in some cases the charter to get at the root cause. That’s unfortunate. In the Digital Age the organizations that succeed will be the ones that develop a workforce of problem solvers. Collaborative innovation—the practice of taking a moment to reflect on the work and then share insights—allows the organization to remove long-standing obstacles, one after the other, as opposed to working around them, time after time. The lean practitioner would observe that removing obstacles is removing the waste that gets between the organization and their ability to deliver value to the customer.
Collaborative innovation dovetails nicely with continuous improvement. Organizations need both a means of finding problems and a well-rehearsed, repeatable mean of solving them.
Engagement serves as an expression of respect. The insight that clients offered to me which I found most compelling was that, from the start, their organizations assigned high value to everyone who worked there. Organizations that value their employees by extension see value in gaining their perspective. Engaging front-line employees in collaborative innovation was a very natural extension of the regard in which they held their staff.
If you value people, you ask their opinion. If you are running an effective organization, you take the extra step of connecting the dots between collecting all those opinions at scale and how you improve the operations by acting upon those insights.
At Long John Silver’s, I had the opportunity to deliver value to one family who happened to visit the store for lunch one Sunday. The customer experience—jump-starting the man’s car battery—clearly fell outside the playbook for the franchise.
Did I as a front-line employee have a means of sharing this experience, along with any insights gleaned from the encounter, with other stores? No.
Did the store leadership have any visibility into how their people were delivering value—some of which might have surprised them? No.
Would offering a “free jump-start service” at every store have been a good idea, ultimately? Maybe. Most likely not. Nevertheless, the more important point is that there was no means of trying an experiment to see, one way or the other.
Fast forward to today: what I see is that some companies in some cases are making great strides in connecting the dots between how they capture the insights from front-line staff through collaborative innovation; how they improve their operations by how they make meaning of and act upon those insights through continuous improvement; and, how they ultimately deliver a customer experience that becomes a means of differentiation for the organization. This virtuous circle, along with having a compelling product or service to offer, holds the key to success for any organization.
Where are you on your journey for more fully developing the customer experience? Have you engaged your front-line employees in helping you to find your way forward, given their abundance of insights? Have you built a means of continuous improvement so that people can experience success along the way? Have you jump-started anyone’s car, lately?
Please drop me a line and let me know your thoughts.
Article first appeared on the Spigit blog site.