It’s time to start treating our employees like customers
In today’s connected marketplace characterised by an increasingly tough economic climate, it is no longer possible for businesses to compete purely on price. As such, companies are implementing strategies to position themselves in a more positive light, improve their customer service levels and increase brand awareness in order to stand out from the competition. While this is commendable, it’s easy to forget that creating an exceptional customer experience starts at home, with their employees.
Businesses should be focusing on the ‘internal’ customer experience and making use of collaborative technologies, self-service portals and collectively embracing best practices in the workplace. In this way employees are empowered to engage with their customers in a way that creates the exceptional and memorable experiences that are essential in retaining existing customers and attracting new ones.
Embrace technology to empower employees
The customer’s experience, whether a technology or non-technology company, is undeniably aligned with technology itself as it is driven by the Internet of Things (IoT) and underscored by the phenomenon of mobility. Driven by social media and mobile technologies, the customer now has multiple ways to connect with businesses and discuss the service received, so employees need to be equipped to deal with these new methods of customer interaction. But how do you drive employees to create “wow” experiences for your customers? It’s time to think like your employees.
Currently we are dealing with a new generation of employees, or ‘millennials’, as society calls them. This generation is tuned more toward a mobile-first approach, rather than desktop-first approach. Whether it’s CRM or ERP software, most of today’s applications are designed desktop-first and this needs to change. The millennial employee thinks about mobile and mobility first, and other areas second. This means we have to create an accessible and user-friendly support system for our employees. This will enable them to have all of the information and tools necessary to help customers in a meaningful and satisfying way. There are many inefficiencies in today’s workplace that hinder the way they collaborate and perform.
The core areas of the business – finance, HR, resources, customer data – are still, for the most part, separate and operated in isolation. The software and systems used are multi-layered or disparate, and for each activity that needs to be performed, an employee must log in to a different system. This impacts productivity. Here, businesses need to ask: do we have a business intelligence facility? Are we able to track, capture and analyse data so that customer-facing employees have the relevant data when they need it? Is this data immediately accessible in a meaningful way?
Embracing technology to communicate with employees
We’ve moved beyond the days of company-wide emails to disseminate information and gather responses, instead there are now various technology tools that create social media platform for companies to exchange ideas, get solutions and suggestions on that social media platform. Tools like Slack and Yammer can enhance collaboration, without clogging the company email server and employees can connect with colleagues without having to leave their desks.
Given that work is a priority for everyone, it’s time for organisations to consider checks, balances and measures to address personal issues with employees and to make internal work-related administrative tasks easier with Employee Self Service (ESS) platforms. For example, a company could implement a Smart Service Desk which forms a central point of contact for service for any support-related queries or requests. Because this has to be managed and monitored, it becomes more proactive rather than reactive for support staff. Other ESS measures include automated leave processes, allowing employees to apply for leave, without having to resort to paper trails and be subjected to delays. Time, that employees are not spending on internal tasks, can be spent on customer-facing tasks instead.
Embracing technology to engage with employees
We have reached a point where ignoring the internal customer experience is at an organisation’s own peril. It’s critical for businesses to realise that each time an employee interfaces with a customer, they do so as a representative of the company and each interaction essentially places the company’s reputation at stake. With technology being so readily available, it’s easy to spread negative perceptions and whether the negative comment comes from a customer or an employee, the impact on reputation is the same. With this in mind, companies have to start thinking about making the best possible internal experience so that employees are equipped to handle customers better.
It’s undeniable that the workplace in the next few years is going to change drastically. Driven by a new generation of technology-focused employees, traditional processes within HR and administration will need to change to address this generation. Mobility and analytics will take more importance, and business-related intelligence can then be used by employees to deliver memorable customer experiences. This can only start with a solid foundation that comes from internal IT infrastructure and business processes that empower and engage employees.
Marketing matters: from IBM to Kyndryl
Prior to joining Kyndryl as Chief Marketing Officer, Maria had a 25-year career at IBM, most recently as the tech giant’s CMO where she oversaw all marketing professionals and activities across North America, Canada and Latin America. She has held senior global marketing positions in a variety of disciplines and business units across IBM, most notably strategic initiatives in Smarter Cities and Watson Customer Engagement, as well as leading teams in services, business analytics, and mobile and industry solutions. She is known for her work with teams to leverage data, analytics and cloud technologies to build deeper engagements with customers and partners.
With a passion for marketing, business and people, and a recognized expert in data-driven marketing and brand engagement, Maria talks to Business Chief about her new role, her leadership style and what success means to her.
You've recently moved from IBM to Kyndryl, joining as CMO. Tell us about this exciting new role?
I’m Chief Marketing Officer for Kyndryl, the independent company that will be created following the separation from IBM of its Managed Infrastructure Services business, expected to occur by the end of 2021. My role is to plan, develop, and execute Kyndryl's marketing and advertising initiatives. This includes building a company culture and brand identity on which we base our marketing and advertising strategy.
We have an amazing opportunity ahead at Kyndryl to create a company brand that will stand apart in the market by leading with our people first. Once we are an independent company, each Kyndryl employee will advance the vital systems that power human progress. Our people are devoted, restless, empathetic, and anticipatory – key qualities needed as we build on existing customer relationships and cultivate new ones. Our people are at the heart of this business and I am deeply hopeful and excited for our future.
What experiences have helped prepare you for this new opportunity?
I’ve had a very rich and diverse career history at IBM that has lasted 25+ years. I started out in sales but landed explored opportunities at IBM in different roles, business units, geographies, and functions. Marketing and business are my passions and I landed on Marketing because it allowed me to utilize both my left and right brain, bringing together art and science. In college, I was no tonly a business major, but an art major. I love marketing because I can leverage my extensive knowledge of business, while also being able to think openly and creatively.
The opportunities I was given during my time at IBM and my natural curiosity have led me to the path I’m on now and there’s no better next career step than a once-in-a-lifetime-opportunity to help launch a company. The core of my role at Kyndryl is to create a culture centered on our people and growing up in my career at IBM has allowed me to see first-hand how to prioritize people and ensure they are at the heart of progress in everything Kyndryl will do.
How would you describe your leadership style?
I believe that people aren't your greatest assets, they are your only assets. My platform and background for leadership has always been grounded in authenticity to who I am and centered on diversity and inclusion. I immigrated to the US from Chile when I was 10 years old and so I know the power and beauty that comes from leaning into what makes you different from other people, and that's what I want every person in my marketing organization to feel – the value in bringing their most authentic self to work every day. The way our employees feel when they show up for themselves authentically is how they will also show up for our customers, and strong relationships drive growth.
I think this is especially true in light of a world forever changed by the pandemic. Living through such an unprecedented time has reinforced that we are all humans. We can't lead or care for one another without empathy and I think leaders everywhere have been reminded of this.
What’s the best leadership advice you’ve received?
When I was growing up as an immigrant in North Carolina, I often wanted to be just like everyone else. But my mother always told me: Be unique, be memorable – you have an authentic view and experience of the world that no one else will ever have, so don't try to be anyone else but you.
What does success look like to you?
I think the concept of success is multi-faceted. From a career perspective, being in a job where you're respected and appreciated, and where you can see how your contributions are providing value by motivating your teams to be better – that's success! From a personal perspective, there is no greater accomplishment than investing in the next generation. I love mentoring younger professionals – they are the future. I want my legacy as a leader to include providing value in work culture, but also in leaving a personal impact on the lives of professionals who will carry the workforce forward. Finding a position in life with a job and company that offers me a chance at all of that is what success looks like to me.
What advice would you give to your younger self just starting out in the industry?
I've always been a naturally curious person and it's easy for me to over-commit to projects that pique my interest. I've learned over years of practice how to manage that, so to my younger self I’d say… prioritize the things that are most important, and then become amazing at those things.