2009 Gartner & 1to1 Customer Award Winners: Organizational Transformation

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Customer Experience
Customer Experience
Gold: Oriental Trading Company | Silver: eHarmony | Bronze: E.ON UK

Oriental Trading Company Stirs Passion in Employees

Sam Taylor likes to keep it simple when it comes to his corporate philosophy: Take care of your employees, let the employees take care of customers, and let your customers spread the word. "Everything else will take care of itself," says Taylor, CEO of Oriental Trading Company, a provider of party supplies, crafts, and toys.

When he joined Oriental Trading Company in May 2008 he saw a culture instead focused on products. He immediately conducted an employee engagement survey and held focus groups with 12 employees at a time. Scores were low, uncovering a need to empower the staff. "We weren't taking care of the employees as well as we could have," he says. "We had a lot of the folks at lower levels who had great ideas and they would float them up, but they never heard back."

An integral part of Taylor's employee engagement strategy was to shift employees' focus to the customer. First he wanted to find out exactly what customers were buying. He held a series of focus groups with consumers like busy moms and teachers, and lapsed customers who hadn't purchased in more than a year. The goal was to learn about their needs. "Employees don't know how to take care of customers if they don't fully understand their mind-set and needs," Taylor says.

To communicate those needs and motivate employees, Taylor started weekly cross-functional meetings. The company also added Bazaarvoice's Ratings & Reviews to its website, to help stir passion in employees when they see positive reviews. Taylor said the reviews helped to break down the walls in the organization and gave employees a way to facilitate discussion about customers and to voice customer concerns. "They read those reviews and develop a personal relationship with the customers," he says.

To further break down departmental silos, Taylor launched an internal blog as a communications vehicle across departments and established a cross-functional team that works collaboratively to find solutions to negative customer reviews. Each week a team comprising employees from inventory, product development, quality assurance, merchandising, customer service, and e-commerce meets to discuss low-rated products and create remedies. The team began opening boxes of products at the warehouse and comparing them to negative customer reviews and the impact became clear. Once employees saw the issues, they started working across departments to fix them. "Overall we needed to address some of the quality issues," Taylor says. "It takes everyone working together to do that."

Since launching Ratings & Reviews in November 2008, customers have posted more than 86,000 reviews on 20,000 products. In February, when Taylor conducted another employee engagement study, he had 100 percent participation-a rate Gallup said it hasn't seen in three years. Taylor credits the help of engagement ambassadors in talking to employees to encourage them to participate. In addition, the open-ended questions received 200 pages of feedback, and the survey indicated a 7 percent increase in employee engagement. Not surprised, Taylor says "I knew if we did a better job of [empowering employees] we'd see engagement scores rise."

eHarmony Becomes a Better Listener

You've probably seen the success stories on TV: happy couples telling how they fell in love after going on eHarmony.

Their stories make great advertising, but the matchmaking site also wanted to leverage these customer anecdotes as a way to continuously improve customer service and to grow as a company.

This meant finding a better way to listen to customers and act on that feedback. However, the organization didn't have the processes or technologies in place to do so. "We were doing a good job at addressing customer issues, but it didn't help the whole company understand what customers were facing as they went through the process," says Scott Ackerman, vice president of customer care at eHarmony.

Already in the midst of a proactive customer care initiative launched in 2006, eHarmony embarked on a voice of the customer (VOC) program in 2007 to achieve this goal. The company uses applications from RightNow Technologies to administer surveys following every email and phone interaction. A dedicated team reviews those comments and shares them with the agents and other employees in a celebratory way.

Additionally, a cross-section of employees listens to live customer calls and Ackerman regularly holds focus groups with agents to obtain feedback. Plus, every employee is required to participate in VOC meetings at least four times per year. "In the beginningthey said, 'I have to go to these?' Now they are excited to come," he says.

Agents are now armed with more qualitative customer insight, so they're better prepared to deliver world-class customer care, Ackerman says. The 2009 metrics confirm that the initiative works. The customer satisfaction rate for phone-based customer care grew to 97 percent, phone abandonment is less than 3 percent, and employee retention rates have tripled since 2006, which equates to a turnover rate of less than 3 percent. "We've come a long way," Ackerman says.

E.ON U.K. Pleases Tough Customers

Often the toughest customers to please are internal customers. The Business Services group of E.ON UK knows this firsthand. The group provides E.ON UK's 17,000 employees with such internal shared services as IT, HR, facilities management, and travel services-areas that are often fertile grounds for complaints. "There was this kind of victim mentality that existed in the organization," says Derek Parkin, managing director of Business Services and CIO of E.ON UK, the second largest electricity generator in the UK.

Using Net Promoter Score (NPS) to have "customers" (i.e., E.ON UK employees) rate their Business Services colleagues, company executives discovered excessive levels of dissatisfaction among employee-customers. So E.ON UK set out in mid-2008 to transform the Business Services organization, with the goal of delivering excellent service to achieve greater employee satisfaction.

Working with Strativity Group, the Business Services group analyzed the existing experience across all touchpoints, created a customer experience team to facilitate the transformation, and developed appropriate customer-centric metrics for each department. They also developed feedback processes, implemented NPS reporting, introduced a complaint resolution process, and delivered a colleague-engagement plan.

To help gain credibility for the transformation, Parkin's team had distributed a survey to E.ON UK employees to quantify the need for service. What captured the attention of E.ON UK's executive team most was the gap in the perception of the service level the Business Services employees thought they were delivering versus what employee-customers said they were receiving.

The transformation has helped E.ON UK demonstrate how important employees are to the service provider. Measuring NPS now helps to rally the Business Services staff around the goal of excellence; individual performance ratings identify who is delivering quality service. For the first time, Business Services has actionable feedback and can deliver that in real time to managers. There are also measurable differences in employees' behavior and in their relationships with the employee-customers they serve. The most recent Net Promoter Score, based on surveying 3,000 employee-customers, was 54-up from 30 prior to embarking on the transformation.

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