To create personal customer connections, employees must be 'one with the technology'

Regardless of how much time and energy you spend developing infrastructure to facilitate positive customer “moments,” or points of contact between members of your organization and your customers, you’ll need to put even more sweat into  ensuring that your people make good use of it. Consider a 2:1 investment ratio of people vs. technology -- for every dollar you spend purchasing a new technology, spend two on the people who’ll use it.

While the investment may be significant, keep in mind that you’re investing directly in the ability to capitalize on the customer moments that drive your revenue. A recent poll by IBOPE/Zogby International demonstrates the growing importance of the customer moment. 83 percent of respondents said they’re willing to spend more on a product or service if they feel a “personal connection” to the company — one fifth said they’d pay 50 percent or more if they felt the company “put the customer first.”

How do you, the CIO, facilitate a personal connection between company and customer? This question is just as easily answered by examining how technology can alienate your customers. When they have to wait, repeat themselves or talk to multiple reps in pursuit of a single answer, you’ve got problems.

You can solve this by investing properly in your employees’ ability to intuitively wield your technology. This may mean training people from non-technical departments on the technical aspects of your system, or training your IT staff on the departmental use of the platforms. The aforementioned 2:1 ratio involves more than training, however. It’s a holistic process that starts with identifying your customer’s and employee’s pain points, and ends with perfectly marrying the technology to your employees. The end-goal should be to enable your people to engage with customers as easily as neighbors in a small town.

If you want that 50 percent greater expenditure from the customer who feels that you put them first, follow the general philosophy of making the technology serve the people, and not the reverse.

When investing in your people’s mastery of your technology, here are a few areas to consider:

  • Socialize it. Social media is indispensable to customer service, so it’s logical to make it part of technology training. Social media enables people to connect in real-time, crowd-source ideas, and share lessons learned. It can also create a sense of camaraderie, and alert you to employees’ frustrations. According to Michael E. Nichols, social learning can foster a culture of experimentation -- your employees may invent uses for your platform that you hadn’t even thought of. 
  • Train your “true believers” first. Start with the people/departments you think are most likely to quickly grasp the platform’s functionality and value. As much of the battle is cultural, a few of the right people tooting your new application’s horn will lend momentum to your initiative.  
  • Demonstrate how it’ll solve their problems. If training doesn’t take place within the context of making their pain points less painful, good luck driving engagement! Side note: This assumes that the user’s needs were taken into account when selecting the technology -- if this isn’t the case, you may be in for a rough ride.
  • Teach to the learner’s needs. People learn in different ways, and have extremely varied levels of comfort with technology. I know it’s hard for IT folks to swallow, but there are highly intelligent and gifted people out there who still can’t figure out email. So be sure your training program takes into account learning style, as well as tech acumen.
  • Provide ongoing support. Training should be a process, not an event. Ideally this doesn’t mean yanking people off to seminars, but rather giving them bite-sized chunks of learning that they can digest periodically without interrupting workflow. As people learn differently, offer a variety of sources -- online forums, video tutorials, webinars, an IM help desk. Also, making your team available for one-on-one instruction may serve a dual purpose of not only helping employees ramp up, but also giving IT staff a chance to connect personally with people in other departments and gain an understanding of their day-to-day challenges. Besides, if your technology is worth its salt, it’ll flex and iterate to the increasingly dynamic business cycle, upping the ante for continual training.
  • Make it a game. According to Lucas Mearian, “That innate ability to solve problems, which comes with the promise of a gaming-style reward of greater social status, will become a standard for solving complex problems that even the greatest supercomputers could not hope to achieve.” We’re not trying to outsolve supercomputers -- just improve customer service -- but the same holds true when it comes to helping employees master what hopefully isn’t terribly complicated technology. Using game dynamics to drive adoption means leveraging what has motivated Homo sapiens since the dawn of time -- self interest and self-aggrandizement. Creating a system of rewards for engagement can win over those who otherwise may resist change to the last breath. Keep it simple though -- more Angry Birds, less Dungeons & Dragons.
  • Protect your people from vendor-produced training manuals at all cost. These are usually confusing, and will create resentment toward you. If you must use them, make it a punishment for those who perform poorly...just kidding! The Constitution outlaws cruel and unusual punishment. Besides, there’s a reason we don’t use caning in school anymore.

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