The Gatehouse Blog

Why IC is also about giving your customers a voice within your organisation

When it comes to business performance, companies often communicate more about hard numbers than how customers feel about the business. Office Depot’s Internal Communication Manager Anne Griffiths believes IC can play a key role in changing the culture of an organisation and ultimately driving a better customer experience.

Office Depot provides business products and services to a wide range of companies from small and medium-sized enterprises through to large, global corporations. Our recent internal communication audit conducted by Gatehouse told us that employees wanted to know more about customer insight and feedback in order to do their jobs to the best of their potential.

With that in mind, my team has been trying to refocus more of our internal communications around our customer experience, with three simple aims: helping our business 1) know more about our customers 2) talk more about our customers 3) act more in response to our customers’ needs.

Essentially, it’s about bringing the voice of our customers to life for our employees, and reinforcing the connection that colleagues feel between their roles and the customer experience. As a result, our team has been focusing on five priorities.

Developing a close relationship with the marketing team

One of them is to build a closer relationship with the market research team. At Office Depot, the IC function sits within the HR department.Valuable customer insight and feedback can be kept close to the chest of the Marketing/Customer Insight department and not shared with other colleagues whose every day decisions impact on customers. This information is not just relevant to senior decision makers, it’s also very valid for frontline staff – how customers feel about how their calls are being dealt with in our call centres or how polite and helpful our delivery drivers are perceived to be.

We’ve worked to develop a greater connection with them. This has given us access to all kinds of nuggets of information, which help humanise our customers for our staff: their shopping preferences, their economic background, their consumer behaviours, etc. The more we can share that kind of information, the more power employees have to actually influence the customer experience themselves.

Ultimately, we’d like to be able to make all this information accessible to employees on an online hub.

Giving customers an honest and credible voice within your business

Customer case studies are a powerful way of motivating staff, as long as you let your customers tell their story. As communications people, we need to fight the urge to try and push our messages through a third party, and actually allow customers to say it as they see it. Honest case studies can give you a real glimpse into how customers interact with your company and perceive your offering. It can be an eye-opener!

We’ve been capturing a number of sound bites and interviews from customers for our staff video channel, and there’s a section of our internal magazine dedicated to customer case studies. Some of them have since been used externally by the marketing team.

We’ve also held speed dating events with some of our most valuable customers. Our market research team has been increasingly focusing on the needs of those priority accounts, as they bring the lion share of our sales and profits. Colleagues were selected from key departments – logistics, customer services, pricing, merchandising, e-commerce, etc.

Two employees at a time sat with groups of customers for 10 minutes sessions, during which time they could ask all kinds of questions about their particular areas. At the end of each session, the employees would rotate around to the next table with another group of customers.

It’s been a great way to engage with our customers, who really appreciated being listened to and discussing their experience; and it’s given our employees a chance to have in-depth conversations with customers and understand what aspects of our products, service, pricing, etc. they should be concentrating on in their roles.

The employees who were there went back and communicated individually to their teams. As an internal communications team, we took the headlines from these events and shared them with the whole business.

Celebrating colleagues who deliver the right customer experience

When employees have gone an extra mile for a customer and received fantastic feedback, we should shout about them!

There are a number of things you can do to identify good stories. When someone in our sales force wins an account, they can fill in a form that tells us what account they’ve won, how they went about it, what’s made the customer choose us over our competitors. Our internal ‘Stars of Customer Feedback’ scheme also regularly feeds back information on who’s delivered a great customer experience.

We’ve just started producing some fun ‘Day in the Life’ videos, where we profile the people behind some of our essential frontline roles. The aim is to show the critical impact that they have on our customer experience, as well as generating internal pride in what they do. All of those videos are available on our video channel, and our different channels (our internal magazine, our Weekly Bulletin, etc.) cross reference this.

Positioning company decisions with the customer at the heart

When it comes to announcing new products or investments, we explain how customers are the rationale for these business decisions. For example, we’ll refer to customer insight which tells us how customers are looking for a different type of product or a faster service.

Measuring the customer experience

Business performance shouldn’t just be about the hard numbers. It should also be about what your customers are saying about you. What percentage of them are likely to recommend your services? What proportion would buy from you again? How many would rate their experience with your company as excellent? Which departments score particularly well on the service they provide? I believe this should be communicated as part of your business dashboard/key metrics.

This is a chance to hold a mirror up to your organisation and give honest feedback – as opposed to just telling colleagues where your business is doing a great job. You’re also helping to reveal where customers are being let down by your company so that fixes can be made.

The more we put out there about what our customers are saying about us, the more hunger we’re creating within our employees to ask those questions: “What would customers think about this new service?”, “Why don’t we find out how customers might feel if we took this approach?” It’s really positive – to me it shows that as an IC manager, you have a chance to truly influence the culture of your organisation.

Anne Griffiths has 7 years of experience in internal communications and has worked across the public, the private and the voluntary sectors. She joined Office Depot three years ago and manages IC for the UK & Ireland arm of Office Depot’s global corporation.