Tips For Communicating With Front Line Staff

There is little doubt that customer service impacts a company's brand identity.  There is also little doubt that happy, satisfied employees translates to happy, satisfied customers.

Effective, two way employee communications is a key factor in ensuring that staff are motivated and effective. However, this sector of the workforce is usually remote from main offices and may experience higher staff turnover than other parts of the business. These factors can have several implications: 

    Training is a constant and on-going challenge
    Staff don't always know where to go for the right information
    Establishing effective feedback channels can be difficult
    Engagement is constantly being built from 'the ground up'

To make the situation even more complicated, staff may be employed indirectly, for example via a franchise, and therefore even harder to reach. 

Top tips to communicate with front line staff:

Simplify the message

Use simple, easy-to-remember, messages.  Make sure that there aren't volumes of messages already 'out there' talking about the same concept, but expressing it in different ways. Boil down the key messages into a few key priorities. Think about: How can you sum this up in one sentence? What language do people typically use?          

This can help focus thinking and simplify what you are trying to communicate. Tom Harvey, Head of Internal Communications at Nationwide, argues that the role of internal communications 'is akin to the narrow part of an hour glass' - there is a vast quantity of information that exists which could be communicated to staff, but only a small amount makes it through the 'narrow part' to be read. The trick is to make certain that the filtered information is that which is most likely to draw interest. 

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Consider an on-screen scrolling news feed to targeted employee groups. Simply write your own headlines, include a quick summary and add click-through hyperlinks to further information as required. As employees see a headline of interest, they can click-through to read the full message or article there and then, or make a mental note to review their news feed history at a later time (e.g. when they are less busy interfacing with customers).

Headlines can be kept discrete if computers are located where customers may be able to see the screens. Employee's can click to shrink a feed down to a discrete notification icon which can be clicked on later. A desktop alert format that can highlight the latest updates or notify staff of breaking news. Concise alert messages can be read and digested in a matter of seconds. Click-through links to further information, allow staff to dig deeper as required. An initial alert notification can contain an appropriate message for customer facing computers.

Reduce information overload 

Staff can feel deluged by information and it can be a major source of workplace stress for them. In addition, an overload of information means staff may be unable to effectively identify and assimilate important information due to excessive background 'noise'. As new forms of communication have grown, internally communicated messages have to compete with more and more traffic; if there is no appeal, internal communications will simply not be read.

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An email aggregation tool can significantly reduce information overload. For nice-to-know and non-urgent information, it allows you to collate such items into an electronic magazine. For example, rather than IT sending an email update about an outage, or marketing sending out product information updates and HR sending their staffing updates out via email, all of these messages can be consolidated into the same magazine by each department as quickly and easily as sending a group email. Magazines can also be themed with distinct branding. For example; product updates, pricing updates and process and service updates Magazines can also be displayed as staff log on to their PCs, meaning there is something to scan as they wait for their computer to start up.

Find ways to 'listen' and gather feedback 

Listening is an essential part of good communication. Effective communication is not a top-down, one-way exercise, but involves listening and demonstrating an inclination to act in response. 'Listening' can be a real challenge in this sector. Staff suggestion schemes can encourage ideas and the best ideas can be singled out for praise in the staff newsletter or at an awards event. Small prizes can be offered to encourage participation. The scheme needs to be well publicized and managed for it to be effective, with evidence that staff contributions are being implemented. Other ways to listen include: attending local team meetings, formalized feedback sessions, open forums and opinion polls. 

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Try delivering a staff survey as a desktop alert.  The initial alert pop up can contain an appropriate customer facing message and staff can chose to defer responding until later. Options allow you to specify how frequently and how often the pop up will reappear as a reminder until the survey is completed. Surveys of this type can be quick and easy for staff to participate in and can cover everything from the effectiveness of operations and processes, to capturing employee's views and customer perceptions. An online discussion forum can provide a virtual meeting place where people can share their ideas, opinions, and feedback. A forum which allows people to post ideas anonymously,can, in some circumstances, be a good means of finding out what staff really think. Choose a discussion forum platform which is highly secure and provide a range of moderation options that allow you to keep a close eye on the conversations taking place. Targeting options can allow you to set up specific secure forums targeted to specific staff interest groups. An electronic magazine can then provide an effective way to advise staff of the actions being taken in response to their feedback. A section in the magazine titled 'Acting on Your Feedback' can contain short features over viewing measures being taken based on staff feedback. Closing the loop on staff feedback back can really help build employee commitment and engagement. 

Provide appropriate support channels

Staff who are working in remote locations, such as branch offices and stores, can often feel cut off from the wider organization. When they have questions or issues it can sometimes be hard to find quick and convenient support.

Local supervisors and managers play a vital role in providing support to, and communicating with, their teams. They can also ensure that employees have a 'line of sight' between the organization's vision and their jobs. To ensure managers are effective in their role as communicators: 

    Help managers understand how effective communication contributes towards achieving business goals
    Clarify expectations with regard to communication
    Define desired behaviors
    Provide appropriate training tools and support
    Measure effectiveness and, if possible, make communication a key performance indicator

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An online helpdesk tool allows staff, who are experiencing problems, to report an issue or ask a question in an online 'helpdesk' format. Moderators can be assigned to a particular 'helpdesk' and will receive instant desktop alert notifications when new questions are posted. Moderators can answer questions directly or provide direction (via a hyperlink to the intranet, network, or web) to where the correct answer can be found. Each specific question should be tagged and is searchable, meaning past questions and answers can be easily located in an evolving repository of knowledge. A desktop survey can act as an open ended survey template which staff can access at any time in order to provide feedback or just comment on issues or problems they face. Desktop surveys can also provides a means to measure the effectiveness of managers as communicators. Easy answer, multiple choice questions such as...

      My supervisor / manager effectively explains how company initiatives will affect our departments
    My supervisor/ manager is good at speaking in front of groups
    Who did you hear about XXX from?
    Do you understand how your team /role's activities can contribute to XYZ initiative?

...can help you assess how effective managers are at communicating key messages. Benchmarking this capability allows you to set standards, reward good behavior and provide training to those managers who are not performing well. 

Maintain levels of capability and knowledge 

A good knowledge and understanding of products, services and key business processes is essential to developing effective, satisfied staff and delivering good customer service. The next time you roll out a training program, remember, in 30 days people typically forget 80% of what they have learnt if it is not reinforced...

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Any easy way to reinforce training and measure and raise capability is to use an electronic staff quiz.  A staff quiz you can: Reinforce training.  Enhance knowledge (e.g. around key processes) Benchmark and set standards  Influence attitudes with 'scenario' quizzes (e.g. "In situation A do you....?" Create competition. Inspire staff to reach high standards Engage in fun initiatives. Motivate staff with fun competitions and prizes (e.g. include a silly answer in multi-choice questions to make people smile) Measure effectiveness of training (e.g. 6 months after attending training, have behaviors changed?) A desktop alert quiz format  'pops up' on the employee's computer and provides options to complete now or defer until later. You can specify how frequently and how often the quiz will reappear until it is completed.

'Silent Quizzes' that staff can opt into via a hyperlink could also be set up. Embedded hyperlinks allow answers to be researched on the intranet and an optional display of the correct answers and scoring can provide further reinforcement of learning.

Find ways to achieve cut through for urgent messages 

It's getting harder and harder to achieve message penetration with so much "noise." This is particularly an issue for busy, customer facing, staff who use computers only intermittently during the day. For important updates, such as pricing changes, notification of system outages or major business announcements, message cut-through can be a priority.

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A desktop alert is a powerful way to achieve message cut through. Initial pop-up notifications can contain discreet messages if computers are customer facing. However, the employee eventually has to open or respond to the alert to remove it from their computer (unless an expiry date or maximum recurrence option has been specified). Reporting options mean you can report on who has / has not opened the full message and/or clicked links contained in the message. This can be great for compliance requirements such as health and safety and code of conduct messages.

Make senior managers accessible

Research consistently shows that confidence and trust in leadership is a top driver of employee engagement. It is important that employees believe in and relate to senior managers and see how their role fits within and contributes to the wider organization. Find ways to make senior managers more accessible to staff.

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Blogs enable key managers to write about various aspects of the business. Encourage staff to ask questions and seek clarification. A blog can help staff relate to the human side of managers and build engagement and commitment. Enlist the people that staff respect to write blogs, answer questions and provide a credible source of context covering a variety of topics and issues. One example could be to have a successful sales performer blog about "The Secrets of My Success" and a customer service champion to blog about "The Road to Customer Service Excellence".

If face to face opportunities with the CEO are limited, Video can provide an alternative. Staff can still see the commitment and intent in the CEO's eyes and hear the passion/empathy in their voice.

Engage staff by involving them 

Involvement is an important aspect of engagement and commitment to an organization. Find ways to involve staff and allow them to influence some aspects of the business operations. Ensure a process exists for submitting ideas and suggestions, consider company volunteer programs which relate to the business, allow employees to contribute to projects and initiatives being run by the wider organization and provide sufficient and equitable opportunities for staff to become involved in new projects and opportunities.

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A discussion forum can be a powerful way of holding virtual meetings. Staff don't need to be in the same location and they don't even have to say who they are. You can involve people and receive timely and honest feedback. A discussion forum is also exceptionally useful as a brainstorming canvas for focus groups. Get staff involved and keep them engaged.



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