I originally wrote today’s post for ICSA as part of their blog carnival and celebration of National Customer Service Week. It appeared on their blog on September 5, 2016. It is a modified version of a post that I wrote for CX Journey back in 2012.

National Customer Service Week is just a month away; it’s awesome to set aside time to recognize and to celebrate those employees who work hard every day of the year to support customers. It’s also a great reminder that customer service is a critical aspect of any business. With this post, my focus will be more so on the employee, on your customer service representatives, than on the customer.

There is a clear linkage between the employee experience and the customer experience. We know this, and yet many companies still refuse to make the employee experience a priority, focusing instead on shareholder value, the bottom line, or customer experience without considering the implications of a poor employee experience to all of the above.

It’s time for companies to think about their employees first. I love this, from Tom Peters: “CEO Hal Rosenbluth chronicled the incredible success of his travel-services firm, Rosenbluth International, in The Customer Comes Second. Love that title! Who comes first? Don’t be silly, says King Hal; it’s employees. That is – and this dear Watson, is elementary – if you genuinely want to put customers first, you must put employees more first.”

It’s time to invest in your employees now! It’s time to make sure they have a great experience so that they deliver a great experience for your customers, but more importantly, so that they don’t leave. Churn is a big problem in the customer service profession. But it doesn’t have to be.

Here’s an interesting thought: Why do companies conduct exit interviews when employees leave, but they don’t conduct stay interviews to understand why employees stay? Or what would get them to stay?

I don’t even think I need to pose this question, but why focus on employee retention instead of turnover or churn? Without a doubt, employee turnover is costly – not just in terms of the costs of recruiting, hiring, and training a new person but also in terms of the knowledge and productivity that just walked out the door.

As an employer, it raises a few concerns. Namely, what company wants to incur the costs associated with hiring new employees every year (or more frequently)? And the impact on the customer experience every time you lose a more-seasoned employee and have to start over again with a new one is huge. Plus, the time invested in training and developing the employee also becomes costly. But, then I’m reminded of the saying…

    What if we train employees, and they just leave?
    What if we don’t train them, and they stay?

… and so that cost needs to be absorbed, either way.

Let’s go back to my question about exit interviews. In an exit interview, we typically ask what went right and what went wrong. (I’m over-simplifying, but you get the point.) At this juncture in the employee-employer relationship, where the employee has checked out, the employee has no vested interest (usually), and either doesn’t provide any information worth acting on (sometimes for fear of recourse) or does such a huge dump of things gone wrong that you find it hard to believe, i.e., is it vendetta or truth? It’s typically too late to save the employee, which can be a costly mistake. Honestly, I’m not so sure that an exit interview is a good use of time and resources. I do, however, like the concept of the stay interview.

Why don’t we ask, on a regular basis, where employees stand; how they feel about the organization, management, culture, and vision/direction; and if they have everything they need to be successful in their roles? You might say, “Well, I do an employee satisfaction survey. Isn’t that good enough?” I say “Bravo to you!” if you do conduct employee satisfaction (engagement, culture, etc.) surveys! You’re ahead of the curve already! Stay interviews are a bit different, though, and supplement your annual or semi-annual employee survey. They are more conversational in nature and are conducted between manager and employee, perhaps during weekly 1:1s.

While exit interviews are more like autopsies in nature, stay interviews are more like your wellness visits, focusing on what current employees enjoy about working for the company, as well as on aches and pains and what needs to be fixed. As an employee is walking out the door, there is really nothing that a manager can correct immediately to keep him (and throwing money at them is really just a temporary bandage), while employees who are staying can be reassured that they are appreciated and can witness their feedback being used to transform the organization and its culture.

Key to this process is that managers are trained on how to conduct the interviews and on how to address concerns and feedback. Also important is the need to close the loop and keep employees abreast of improvements and changes as a result of the discussions. Changes, if needed, must be made in order for this to be a successful initiative. In addition, these discussions must happen on an ongoing basis. Paramount to everything else is a culture that accepts the feedback gleaned from these interviews without recourse and embraces employees who are open and honest, in the spirit of success of both the employee relationship and the company.

Someone’s sitting in the shade today because someone planted a tree a long time ago. -Warren Buffett