Are We Planning for a Great Customer Experience?

It is often said that creating great customer experiences has to be in the DNA of an organisation – a culture of great people, recruited for the right roles, following a clear vision focussed on the customer.  And why wouldn’t you want that?  The numbers just make sense.


Even for the most sceptical of doubters the mists must be starting to clear, exposing a link between engaged employees, great customer experiences and financial results.  That most valuable asset, the engaged front-line employee, however is hard to find - and so are companies that give great customer experiences.  


Einstein's definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.  We know that to engage the front-line they need to feel that their job is worthwhile, that they are fulfilling a valuable role and they make a difference - yet instead we work them hard, micro-manage them and treat them as dispensable resource.  That is insane.


But there are a group of people out there that could make a vast difference.  At the heart of most customer operations some of the brightest and most energetic people work in the planning and workforce management (WFM) teams - we are in the right place, with the right skills, and the right voice to lead the step change; yet still, despite the evidence, we persist with an old story and old habits.



The business objectives of planners used to be easy – deliver resource with the right skill, at the right time, in the right quantity to hit a service level and do it as efficiently as possible.  The planners had two measures of success – service level and cost per something and they achieved these measures through carefully managing handling times, scheduling efficiency, productivity and adherence.  But the companies with the best returns have moved beyond these measures - they focus on the outcome for the customer.  Customer Satisfaction as a key metric has now made it on to the balanced scorecard of most companies but has it changed things?


I have been thinking this question over recently and, as part of the WFM and Planning community, I had a feeling that we have not reached the tipping point where we are creating engaging front-line experiences.  As a result our front-line aren't delivering great customer experiences.  So I did some really unscientific sentiment analysis - looking at the last three months of topics on the LinkedIn planning groups – what were people talking about?  34% of discussions were about efficiency, only 3% were about employee experience.  That doesn't feel right.


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That got me thinking some more – what features are the major WFM vendors selling right now?  Having recently been through a major tender I had a strong sense that it would be similarly biased.  After further similarly unscientific analysis I confirmed that for the five biggest vendors their brochures mentioned efficiency features 30% of the time and employee experience 12%.


Although we have an understanding of what a brave new world could look like, we are still playing out an old story.  Old habits keep pulling us back to the comfort zone - a focus on efficiency.



Efficiency is a valid strategic outcome but it is at odds with giving a great customer experience.  No-one wants an operation to be inefficient – your front-line doesn’t want to be bored at work, but neither do they want to be constantly under pressure.  If efficiency is your key concern you can't sustainably unlock the benefits of customer experience. 

So, if we focus on efficiency what happens?

  • We allow no breathing space for the things that make a difference.  Great customer experience brands allow their front-line people to take as long as needed to resolve an issue to the customer's satisfaction, they encourage them to feedback on broken systems and processes and make things better every single day.
  • We micro-manage people’s time – if we treat our people like children why should we expect them to behave like adults?  If you doggedly focus on adherence and productivity I can guarantee that your people are gaming the system - and they will be better at it than you.
  • Every little bump in the road feels like an alpine summit.  Queues take hours, even days to clear, absenteeism goes up, attrition goes up, we pay inflated rates for overtime and so on.
  • People suffer, the smiles disappear from their faces and the customers can feel it.  A great customer experience is a moment between two humans where the customer feels they have been engaged with, listened to and understood – all the goodwill that comes from that relationship, however brief, is the cost of efficiency.


Basically, we become "inefficiently efficient".  The dashboard looks good and bonuses are paid out but we are eroding our future one interaction at a time as our people and our customers decide to move on to somewhere a little less......."tight".



Planning sits at the forefront of every customer operation; our systems and processes are the ones that the front-line use every day - we impact their lives.  As planners we need to take the lead - it is our responsibility to change our tired, old habits and kick-start a new way of thinking that will turn our companies around.

  • Learn don’t teach.  Leave our desks, speak to people and use our analytical skills to find the sweet spot for our organisations.  What can we do to create the space to ensure that human interaction will be one that the customer remembers and refers to their friends?
  • Think Outside-In.  Stop fine-tuning the old algorithms and think like a customer.  What will make the customer come back time and again to spend money with you – let’s park the inwardly focussed maths and start our new planning models right there.
  • Create the new paradigm.  We can own this change and create the new future.  When we build a business case let’s start from customer experience and find new ways to make it pay – productivity and adherence are important but they are also an old story.

You can be the text-book coach, trainer and leader but if your people feel stressed, micro-managed and dispensable they will not create great customer experiences.  Happy, trusted employees, however, are a thing to behold – they work harder, they don’t leave the company, they support the vision an they create great moments for customers.  And those customers keep coming back for more. 


So what does that mean for planners?  As Karl Albrecht said, “If you’re not serving the customer, you’d better be serving someone who is.” 


As planners and leaders can we all look ourselves in the mirror and say that we are doing this?