Organizations have long recognized that customer feedback can give them a snapshot of their brands' performance. But more savvy business leaders with sound data analytics practices understand that customers can uncover issues in individual employee performance that they can address and improve through targeted training.

Many times the first step to uncover these individual employee requirements is to create robust customer profiles that link all their interactions with the company directly to the individual employee they engaged with. As much as possible, they should also include insight into customers' social channels to determine what they're saying about the company.

While organizations are in possession of a lot of customer information, it's often siloed, preventing brands from having a holistic view of their customers. Lamont Exeter, executive director of learning solutions at TeleTech, recommends that companies link their CRM systems to customers' social channels, which allows brands to connect feedback to a specific transaction. Such a system will help organizations determine which employee was responsible for a specific interaction that led to the feedback and will be instrumental in determining individual training needs.  "Use online feedback," he stresses. Even if a customer isn't giving the feedback directly to an organization, social media chatter can be an extremely valid source of information which not only gives brands data about their own performance, but can help them better understand how employees are faring.

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While mining social for insights is an important step in understanding employee performance, leveraging insights from employees in the contact center about other employees is also critical. Since they're the ones who come into direct contact with customers, frontline employees are in possession of very important insights, notes Tom Stockham, CEO of eXperticity. For example, a contact center agent might be receiving repeated complaints about in-store staff not being aware of email promotions sent to customers. By alerting management about this problem, staff in brick-and-mortar locations can be better informed about ongoing promotions, leading to an improved customer experience and potentially increased sales.

As Stockham notes, customer insights not only uncover training needs, but can also be used to get funding for specific training. "Use insights to uncover holes in your training and get the necessary funding to fix the problem," he stresses.

Getting to the root of the issue

Customers might not always call out individual employees when giving their feedback. However, organizations can take action that helps them narrow down who came in contact with that individual customer and address the needs of that particular employee with very targeted training. One way of doing this is through timely follow-up calls with customers, asking them whether they were happy with the interaction and if there was anything else they needed from the company. Such a proactive approach can help brands obtain feedback even from customers who wouldn't have taken action on their own.

Further, being able to identify the customer gives brands the ability to pinpoint which employee or team was responsible for that experience. One company that has taken this route is 1-800-Got-Junk? As this 1to1 Media article highlights, the junk removal company follows up with each client through an email or phone survey to gather feedback about the experience. Keeping a very detailed log of the whole customer journey helps the organization drill down on opportunities for improvement for specific employees, and has even created a system that publishes individual employees' NPS scores.

One of the keys to 1-800-Got-Junk?'s success is that it doesn't focus solely on the score that customers award the interaction but takes a deep look at the verbatim which can uncover extremely beneficial information. For example, a customer who had an overall good experience which was reflected in the score might comment that an employee was not on time or might even make a recommendation to improve the experience. Business leaders need to heed their customers' advice and use insights to determine improvements that can be made through training. Sometimes, employees themselves might not be aware that their actions could be alienating customers and managers will simply need to draw their attention to practices that need to be changed.

Further, it's essential for brands to keep records of employee training since this can identify issues in a particular session. For example, if customers are calling out employees who received training at the same time for a similar issue, the company might want to revisit the training for that whole group, including individual employees who were not at the receiving end of negative feedback.

Even when customer feedback cannot be linked directly to an individual employee, it can still be extremely beneficial in helping organizations tailor their training to the company's overall needs. Companies should look for trends in customer feedback that indicate when an issue wasn't a one-time problem but is prevalent within the organization. Scott Taber, Four Seasons Hotels and Resorts' vice president of rooms, Americas and 2013 1to1 Media Customer Champion, is using customer feedback to train the hotel's frontline staff to better understand guests. Taber championed the sharing of customer feedback with frontline employees and one of the luxury chain's properties even set up a dedicated office where feedback can be linked to employees and areas of success, but also pinpoints other staff members or issues that require further training and attention, leading to improvement in guest satisfaction.

Wells Fargo Treasury Management is another organization that uses client feedback to improve employee performance through targeted training. George Larribas, the bank's executive vice president and head of client delivery and also a 2013 1to1 Media Customer Champion, notes that after feedback from customer surveys identified a need to change the conversation and be less scripted, the organization embarked on a customer service training program designated to help the customer-facing teams to change their conversation in a way that mirrors customer emotions, for example demonstrate urgency and show patience when this is needed. Not only did the training teach frontliners how to relate personally with clients, it also improved the bank's survey scores.

While customers are more than willing to give feedback to the brands they do business with, these clients don't want to waste time. They want to make sure that the insights they shared were valuable to the company and used to bring about improvements. By using customer feedback to improve their employee training programs, organizations will be showing customers that they appreciate their insights and are using them to improve future experiences both for that individual customer as well as others.