The Center for Strategy Research, Inc. Vol 7 Issue 4   May 2011

Hello!

Your employees know a lot – an awful lot – regarding what your customers need and want. But you need to ask them, and in a systematic way, if you hope to uncover this golden information.

Read on for more…


Julie Brown
President

Mark Palmerino
Executive Vice President



There’s Gold in Them Thar Employees
Our last newsletter, Can You Hear Me Now?,” explored the value of giving your C-Suite executives up close, ongoing exposure to the voice of your customers. We used the popular television show Undercover Boss as a lead-in and described the show’s format of placing a senior executive “undercover” in the front lines so that he or she could see what customers actually experience.

One of our readers responded with a thoughtful e-mail in which he pointed out another benefit to the television program, one that was as important as the voice of the customer… the voice of the employee.

Here’s an excerpt of what he sent to us:

“Knowing your employees — the jobs they do, the struggles they have, their dedication to the company, and even the insight they have about customers when they deal directly with customers — is of inestimable value. […] Employees, particularly if they deal directly with customers, know an awful lot about customers.”

It’s a great point, and one we couldn’t agree with more – your employees are a terrific source of information regarding your business. And yet, while we as market researchers are diligent about listening to the customer and the marketplace, we often forget about this equally important source of information.

Certainly, many companies research their own employees “as clients,” to get a better sense of the organization, the work environment and the jobs themselves. What we’re talking about here, however, is mining employee perspective and experience for an additional view of the marketplace. Failure to do this can leave important insights on the table.

Here, then, are three ways employees can help you learn more about your own marketplace:
  1. Understanding where you’re headed.

    Recently, one of our clients – a large bank – merged with another large bank. Neither wanted its customers to have the impression that it was being “taken over;” the objective was to create a new brand that built on the strengths of the previous two.

    Much research was done – with several types of clients (corporate, retail, small business, etc.) – regarding the proposed new name, logo, tagline, positioning and brand. The bank knew as well that the intended brand promise would have to be carried out by the newly combined staff; senior management needed to know if there were internal barriers regarding the delivery of the promise.

    With that in mind, employees were asked to respond to questions such as, “We want this to be the brand promise, what does it mean to you? How would you deliver on that promise? What challenges/obstacles do you see in delivering on it?”

    In the end, the bank was able to ascertain where the gaps were and establish a prioritized list of actions for successfully transitioning towards its intended future position.
  1. Understanding what’s not working

    Customer research does an excellent job of pointing to weaknesses in a product or the delivery of a service. The limitation here, however, is that customers only experience part of the picture. They see their baggage arrive at their destination (hopefully) but not the operational processes that make it happen. They receive their insurance checks in the mail but have no insight regarding what goes on in the insurance company’s back office.

    Employees, by contrast, do. They live the logistics and systems that tie directly to your ability to deliver on your brand promise. They understand how the machinery works and they know where it may be straining.

    If your company sells shoes, for example, and promises two-day delivery on your entire inventory, you ought to know if there are difficulties in sourcing certain sizes and brands in such a short amount of time. It may be “possible,” but only an on-the-ground employee can speak to the burden that delivering on such a promise may cause.
  1. Understanding unmet needs in the marketplace

    Here as well, of course, customers are a valuable source of information. But the advantage of asking employees is that they have a much broader range of experience across many, many customer interactions. This allows them to more easily identify trends or uncover holes in your offerings.

    Former customers in particular, who may have stopped doing business with you because of a perceived shortcoming in your offering, are notoriously difficult to track down when trying to isolate a product or service weakness. Prospective customers, who may have tried to make a purchase and been dissuaded from doing so by some real or perceived issue with your products or services, are another constituency that can be difficult to locate and engage. Your employees, however, have seen customers leave and are often quite aware of the reasons why.

    But they need to be asked. And asked in a structured way if you hope to gain actionable insights for improvement.
Here’s the Twist: Employees, like customers, see your operations in action. And whether working on the front line or toiling away behind the scenes, they know what it takes to deliver on your brand promise and meet the needs of your customers. Don’t make the mistake of neglecting to tap into this golden resource.

After all, and as our esteemed reader pointed out in his e-mail to us, “employees know an awful lot about customers.”

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As discussed above, the voice of the employee is a valuable, often overlooked source of vital market information. Keep these three suggestions in mind when tapping into this resource:

  1. Make sure you’re talking to the real front line. In many industries there is an intermediary involved between the company and the end customer. In insurance, for example, most policies are sold through brokers, or in the workplace through employers, not directly to consumers.

    In these cases, the folks with the most knowledge about the marketplace are not actually part of your organization. Make sure you involve them as well in your “voice of the employee” research. At the very least, don’t lose sight of the fact that employees don’t have the direct access to customers that these intermediaries do, and therefore their information may not be as reliable.
  1. Be aware of “employee bias.” Your employees’ interests and those of your company may not always be aligned. A waitress, for example, may prefer higher prices (because they result in larger tips), whereas your brand strategy may stress value. The point is, taking employee suggestions at face value can lead you in the wrong direction, and therefore, we don’t recommend that employee feedback be substituted for customer research entirely.
  1. Be aware of “methodology bias.” We’ve mentioned in past issues our experiences and concerns that focus group settings often introduce specific methodology biases into research results, such as “groupthink,” overly dominant personalities driving discussions and conclusions, and participants saying what they want others to hear, not what they really think.

    These challenges become more apparent and pervasive when it comes to employee research, as employees tend to be circumspect about what they share in front of colleagues, particularly those with whom they work every day, to whom they report, and with whom they might be vying for the next big promotion.

    For this reason, we advise that at least some, and in ideal cases all, employee research be conducted in as private a setting as possible. One-on-one telephone interviews (from an office, home, or other location where the participant can’t be overheard), or interviews conducted in-person in closed offices, can be much more effective at eliciting the employee’s true voice.


 

There’s Gold in Them Thar Employees

Mixology (Putting research into practice)

Twist and Shout

About Us


All of us at CSR are pleased to announce that our colleague Jennifer Lacy has been promoted to Senior Vice President of Operations. With this promotion, Jennifer will be taking on greater responsibility for senior management of all CSR operations, and become more directly involved in client engagements and relationships across the company.

Jennifer has worked for CSR in the past in many roles. Early in her career, she worked with CSR as an interviewer, coder, and analyst, subsequently being promoted to Research Manager, a position she held with us for many years. After leaving CSR to return to her home state of New Jersey, where she headed up the custom research team for The New York Times advertising department, she returned to the Boston area and worked for CSR in a client relationship development capacity. Since November of 2010, she has been involved with executive management of many of our key B2B and B2C client engagements across a variety of industries, including Business Services, Consumer Packaged Goods, Pharmaceutical and Health Care, Financial Services, Media, Tech and Telecomm.

As a result of Jennifer’s long and varied tenure at CSR, she is expert at leveraging CSR’s unique qualitative-into-quantitative research approach to support our clients’ business needs, including thought leadership, new product development, market segmentation, positioning, message and concept testing, branding and customer satisfaction and loyalty.

For more information about Jennifer, you can access her Public Profile on Linked In.



“Do Lipton employees take coffee breaks?”

— Stephen Wright



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The Center for Strategy Research, Inc. (CSR) is a research firm. The “Twist” to what we offer is this: We combine open-ended questioning with our proprietary technology to create quantifiable data. As a result, our clients gain more actionable and valuable insights from their research efforts.

 
Understanding What People Really Think


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