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Shifting the mind-set of your workforce

Capita’s recent ‘innovation breakfast’ explored how, in an era of ever-accelerating technology, you can engage the front line of your workforce to change customer behaviours and create competitive advantage.

We’ve summarised some of the main points that came out of the discussion.

  • Is it about additional skills?
  • Is it about giving them a ‘digital mind-set’?
  • Is it about diversity?
  • And how does that fit with the fact that the UK is the only developed country in the world where engagement is actually in decline?

These were some of the questions tackled with a view to helping Capita customer management clients identify how to empower their workforce to grow their business.

Gi Fernando and Nick Himowicz of digital transformation company Freeformers, and Sally Earnshaw from performance improvement specialists Blue Sky, shared their experience and learnings.

How does your workforce feel today?

Gi Fernando began by saying that, in a period of such rapid change, people can often feel dislocated from the world around them. Front line workers are no different. Helping them feel reconnected and able to face the challenges of a digital future isn’t merely about topping up their skills. Changes in behaviour won’t come without changes in mind-set too. If you want your teams to use technology in a way that creates actual competitive advantage, you need to give them a different kind of power – one that can create an actual change in behaviour among the customers themselves. Often it’s not the app but the adoption that’s the problem. If your customers need to be ‘reskilled’ to get round that issue, you’d sure better reskill your workforce first.

Or, as ‘father of the Internet’ Vint Cerf was quoted as saying, “new technology destroys old jobs and creates new ones, but it is not always clear that the people whose jobs are destroyed are capable of doing those new ones, and therein lies the challenge of training them”.

Why jobs at Facebook don’t last, and that’s a good thing

In a video excerpt from Freeformers’ Digital Heroes Series, which provides content to inspire young people in the future of work, Facebook’s head of programme management, Matt Trainer, spoke about change in his business. It was so rapid that a job you might spend two years training for could have ceased to exist by the time you get to the company. Yet this is something Facebook employees celebrate. They spend time looking for ways to make their own role unnecessary (largely through automation) so they can go on to do something else, and drive the company and their own careers forward.

Helping your front line make the change

So how can workforces be encouraged to embrace this shift? Well, it helps to think of creativity not as a state, but as a muscle, according to Nick Himowicz. Exercise it, stretch it, push it harder and it will grow. One Freeformer strategy, shared with Capita’s guests that morning, was to liken business creativity to the world of mobile applications. They’re rarely built from scratch. They come about by compiling the building blocks of APIs – Application Programming Interfaces – each one acting as a Lego brick of capability. The trick is in mixing their distinctive talents and functionality to generate something new.

Apply that approach to business and – as a quick workshop among the attendees proved – within five minutes you have half a dozen new business ideas on the table, all unexpected.

Recent technological history is a sad trail of dying formats; vinyl, CD, even DVD. We are moving from an era of the stored to the streamed, and in the Google age, knowledge is no different, concluded Himowicz. That will be a change essential to understand and seize on when shaping the skills of employees in coming years.

You can’t change behaviour without changing skills, and you can’t change skills without changing mind-set. It’s mind-set that matters.

And in no area of business can forging those skills be as important as the customer service industry, affirmed Blue Sky’s Sally Earnshaw. One in six UK workers are in service, 734,000 of them in contact centres, and in one year they will handle 42 billion minutes of inbound calls… that’s a barely fathomable number of interactions.

Yet while organisations may line up behind the banner of ever better customer service, the truth is that half the names in the Institute of Customer Service’s top ten have held those spots for a decade. No one is coming to chase them. In fact, in the area of employee engagement, the UK ranks 18th in the world, and is the only developed nation where engagement is on the decline.

You might say it’s difficult to have a massive amount of control while working within contact centres, but if you give me autonomy what I can control is the outcome for the customer - to do what is right for them. So while it may not look like it, there is a huge potential for autonomy within UK contact centres.

Because when you analyse CSAT results within those centres, the skills we traditionally expect will deliver top scores often have less impact than predicted. A polite intro, offering an apology, asking ‘is there anything else I can help you with’... they’re all standards in the customer service lexicon but do virtually nothing to shift the dial, confirmed Earnshaw. These are hygiene factors that today’s customers simply expect as a given.

So what generates engagement within a workforce?

According to Sally Earnshaw it’s:

  • A sense of purpose - wanting to work for a company that not only stands for something, but has leaders who demonstrate they hold to those beliefs and enact them.
  • Autonomy - create a world where your people know its ok to break the rules in pursuit of a ‘greater good’ for the customer.
  • Mastery - not only acquiring new and better skills, but knowing what good looks like.

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