Most of us have heard "the frontline is the bottom line" in reference to a company's employees. In other words, a company's frontline employees are the company, especially if that company is customer-oriented. After all, customers rarely come into contact with the executives of an organisation, so, as the leaders, the Board, Executives and Managers should all strive for a company that is consistent with the “frontline equals the bottom line” philosophy.
This article provides two main points about frontline employees (aka client service or pre-sale consultants): 1) How to recruit the right ones and 2) How to effectively retain them.
1 - How to recruit the right frontline employees
Top frontline recruitment and hiring plans stress improved candidate screening, and interviewing. Each of these steps, when improved, will set the whole process on missile launchers.
Candidate screening: Companies who are using best practises are making “customer service” a priority within their skill sets, which include email writing. For employees who are in direct contact with customers, behavioural attributes are preferred to prior experience. That’s why companies are looking more closely for candidates that have the potential to learn the right attitude. Pre-hire testing and assessments can save substantial time and money, and significantly cut the time it takes to hire by narrowing the applicant pool to those who demonstrate specific skills.
Interview process: Focus more on identifying the behaviours that indicate “customer service” orientation and fit. Simulation and role-play can help qualify job applicants prior to the interview—and offer candidates a chance to experience the job prior to hiring.
2 – How to retain frontline employees
The key to higher retention is finding not only individuals that can do the job, but also individuals that want to do the job and will fit into your corporate culture. According to a survey by Griffith University, three main causes contribute to high staff turnover:
- Low pay
- Poor working conditions
- A lack of career pathways
The first two reasons are general and easy to understand, but the third reason is specific to frontline employees, or client service employees, most of which are energetic, self-motivated and ambitious. Low pay and poor working conditions may discourage them, but a position without room for growth will almost certainly cut their motivation to work.
4 strategies to reduce staff turnover and retain frontline employees
1. Empower frontline employees: All of us have had experiences in which a customer service employee was unable to solve our problem because he or she wasn’t in a position to do so. Empowering your staff does not only benefit the customer; it also benefits the employee. No one relishes being on the receiving end of a customer’s complaint when the situation is beyond his or her control. In fact, this negatively impacts the employee’s attitude and self-satisfaction. By contrast, giving a frontline employee the ability to solve problems puts him in the position of hero. Now he will have higher work self-esteem and feel valued, which will make him work to deserve the pedestal you put him on.
2. Allocate KPIs (key performance indicators): KPIs should not be solely about the bonus employees receive when they exceed expectations; rather, KPIs should help shape career trajectories. In contrast to the numerous layers found at corporate headquarters, frontline service employees are often stuck in flat structures with little room for growth and promotion. Designing KPIs based on skill, and linking them to clear career advancement, motivates employees and improves retention.
3. Celebration, credit and recognition: Hard work can be tolerated, but without recognition, it can only be tolerated for so long. That is where contribution, recognition and appreciation come in. Acknowledgement is one of the simplest, yet most effective ways to create a positive work environment and improving staff performance. Recognition can range from a medal honouring the “employee of the month” to setting aside a special day for employees.
4. Training: Training is one of the most effective ways to make frontline employees feel as if they are part of the big picture. Furthermore, it improves their skill, which ultimately benefits your company.
Today, customer-centric service has become a key business strategy for many companies, especially in this struggling economy, where brand is nailed by service. It is an official battle, indeed. So how prepared is your elite troop to win the frontline, or should I say, the bottom line?
Are you in the process of building or improving your frontline employees? Download now the white paper “Make every hire count.”