In our obsessively connected world, there is a lot of discussion about improving customer and employee connections. But is all the talk just hype, or is there an ROI for creating better employee engagement and customer experiences? And how does an organization deliver on such a broad concept?
Research from MIT places a value of $83,000 on employees who are better connected to colleagues (“Information Technology and Worker Productivity”). Forrester Research has identified a 36% improvement in customer satisfaction when connecting employees and customers across a broader range of channels (“Welcome to the Era of Agile Commerce”). And based on findings from The Economist, business executives have bought into the value of connectedness, with 80% believing that better connections not only to people, but also to things, will enhance the customer experience (“The Rise of the Customer-Led Economy”).
But there is a dark side to engagement. Just as highly engaged customers and employees can deliver a compelling ROI, those who are disengaged can wreak havoc on the bottom line. Dissatisfied customers will tell far more people about their experience than will their satisfied counterparts. And some studies suggest that it can take 2 or more highly engaged employees to offset the effects of just 1 toxic employee.
When thinking about getting results, the conventional thinking is that we should connect with those that we have the strongest relationships with. But in his groundbreaking research, Mark Granovetter found that weak ties can often produce better results than those that we know the best, (Inc Magazine, “Forget Friends: You’re 58% More Likely to Get a Job Through Weaker Ties”). Unlike those closest to us, our weaker ties tend to have more to offer both in terms of knowledge and other relationships outside of our circle. The best connected employees know how to connect to customers and other employees that they don’t already have strong ties to.
In more recent research by Max Steén, however, strong ties showed a significant margin over weak ties when it comes to generating new business referrals – both in terms of the number of referrals and the value of those referrals (“The Power of Strong Ties”). The best connected employees know how to work with their strongest relationships to get results.
Successful organizations recognize that there is strength in both strong and weak ties, and they provide the tools and processes to make both possible. Strong ties are important for fast results and depth of relationship. Weak ties are important for diversity of knowledge and volume of influence.
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Creating better relationships is a process – but it’s not like other business processes. Think of it like the wheel of a motorcycle – it is rigid at the core, but flexible around the edges. The rigid core allows a process to hold the weight of the organization and to deliver RIMS (be repeatable, improvable, measurable and scalable). The flexible edge accounts for the human factor – the unique context of every individual that no process or computer can fully account for.
But when trying to improve connections between employees and customers, organizations tend to make two mistakes:
Like a wheel, relationship processes alone cannot carry a company forward. They require an engine (technology) to give them the power to scale. And they require a driver (leadership) to set their direction. Many organizations invest heavily in the engine, without even realizing that they have no wheels or driver! Leadership must embrace a new way of leading; or technology investments, like a car without a driver, will cause more harm than good.
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