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Employee Engagement via Digital Transformation

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This item is part of the Special Issue - 05/2020 - Customer Care, click here for more

By:  Joanne Fletcher, Consultant, and Jay Malin, Managing Director, AGENT511

1. Background

Utilities have always been required to balance customer needs and pricing with operational requirements, revenue requirements, and legislative mandates.  These often-competing forces challenge utility leaders to consistently look for opportunities for greater efficiencies, reduced expenses, and enhanced revenue streams. 

Today, utilities are meeting these challenges by taking advantage of digital technology opportunities allowing them to update and transform their infrastructure, their operations, and their business models.  

This article focuses on the softer side of the business--the people side of the business:  the customers and the employees. 

Customers and the employees form a critical relationship important to the success of any organization.   More specifically, customer satisfaction and employee engagement are inextricably intertwined and part of an important feedback loop that can detract from or enhance profitability.

This interaction has been coined the Engagement-Profit Chain by Kevin Kruse[1]  as described in Figure 1.

Figure 1:  The Engagement-Profit Chain

How can utilities operationalize the Engagement-Profit Chain?   How does this industry reshaping impact employees, customers, and their relationship with each other?   What are the opportunities for utilities willing to embrace change in this area?

2. Digitization Supports Customer Initiatives

Gone are the days when the utility only interacted with a customer about bill payment or setting-up or ending service.  Customers have become accustomed to responsive, personalized, and targeted communication.  They want immediate access to information any time of the day or night and prompt resolution to their problems or concerns.   How can a utility meet this elevated expectation of service?  This is where digitization and new technology can help.   Taking advantage of this technology allows a utility to:

  • Offer convenient self-service access to information with options for conducting business and completing transactions at times convenient for the customer.  
  • Provide proactive and targeted communications that anticipate individual needs and help customers manage their time.
  • Enable immediate and responsive access to someone who has the information and authority to help them with any issue or concern. 

New technology also means having the ability to provide immediate and targeted interactions.  Think about a power outage.  The first thing a customer wants to know is that their utility knows they’re experiencing an outage.  Then they want to know how long the outage is likely to last and finally, when their power has been restored.  This information gives customers comfort and allows them to better manage their time.  With today’s technology it’s also possible to send a video to customers of crews working in their area.  This enhanced interaction supports a sense of safe keeping and partnership.  There are numerous other examples of 24x7 digital technologies that engage and efficiently deliver rapid customer service.

3. Digital Customer Service Options Also Enhance Employee Engagement

Even with the proliferation of self-service platforms, many touch points for your customers will still start with one of your employees.  So, while digital customer service options and systems are important for supporting customer engagement and enhancing customer satisfaction, they also provide the enabling foundation for enhanced employee engagement.  Employee engagement goes beyond employee satisfaction.  An emotionally committed employee seeks to help the organization meet its goals. This emotional commitment means engaged employees actually care about their work and the company, leading to better business outcomes.

The work environment and tools you offer make a difference in people’s level of emotional commitment, how they feel about your company, their job, and themselves.1   Allowing employees to use their judgment, encouraging responsibility and decision making, and providing tools to help them do their job better helps employees feel valued and appreciated.  

When customers use self-service options, customers are “filtered” and agents deal with:

  • Less technical savvy customers, and especially the elderly who may need concierge services, thereby creating compassion.
  • Customers who have complex requests, oftentimes regarding billing.  Some are frustrated and really need help agents.  Others are looking for new services and offer new challenges and the ability to upsell customers.
  • Customers who could not leverage technologies – if properly empowered, agents fill the void and may contribute to the solution.

The impact on employee engagement is threefold.  One, employees only deal with the more complex issues requiring keen knowledge, the ability to relate, thoughtful problem solving, and decision-making.[2]  Two, fewer calls present an opportunity for cross-training or other growth opportunities. Three, employees are free to develop new business relationships.

In addition, offering training, and empowering your employees via next-generation channels and tools such as two-way text, social chat, and artificial intelligence help them interact with customers and respond to inquiries knowledgeably and swiftly.  Further, it allows your employees to gain specialization[3] and proactively serve as a premier customer concierge and not just an informational source.  

Digitization and tools that remove more routine or mundane tasks allow employees to get deeply involved in customer interactions requiring more autonomy, decision-making and responsibility for successful problem resolution.  These tools allow employees to handle more complex tasks and engage with customers in more meaningful and impactful ways.  This may self-select a group of more compassionate and patient agents who view themselves as brand ambassadors and advocates for your organization.

4. Satisfied Customers and Engaged Employees help the Bottom Line

Anytime a transaction can be automated there is an opportunity for savings.  Implementation of self-serve options not only enhances customer satisfaction it allows the organization to gain efficiencies and cost savings.  An electronic payment means an employee does not have to open an envelope and process a payment and stub through a remittance processor.  Or perhaps it translates to less work for a cashier in the office.  A proactive call or text about a service disruption means one less call into the call center asking about the event status.

Figure 3:  the impact of technology on customer service

While each of these transactions individually may not translate to observable efficiencies or savings, when they become more frequent the impact on the organization and its processes may be huge. 

Employee engagement impacts organizational performance and the bottom line in two key ways. Engaged employees are those who are supported by the organization with systems and tools to help them do their job well.  Being provided the tools to work autonomously on complex issues allows employees to find meaning in their work and believe they make a contribution to the organization.  Employees are more likely to stay in an organization where they believe they are contributing in a meaningful way.[4]  This is often not the case in front-line customer service organizations and supporting an employees’ sense of well-being, value, and importance are crucial for retaining your workforce, especially in today’s tight labor market.

And, according to Towers Perrin research, companies with engaged workers have 6% higher net profit margins, and according to Kenexa research, companies with engaged employees have five times higher shareholder returns over five years.

5. Closing

By leveraging intelligent digital communication technologies, such as self-service customer care, varied digital channels, predictive analytics, and proactive messaging companies increase efficiency, generate revenue, improve customer satisfaction and support employee engagement.   Research supports that employee satisfaction and customer satisfaction are an unending loop.1 They feed on each other and ultimately lead to the kind of loyalty that supports your organization’s stability and growth. 

Engagement platforms bridge the technology gap in the customer journey and help organizations fulfill their promises to customers and to employees by empowering their workforce and creating more meaningful customer interactions. 


[1] Kevin Kruse, “What is Employee Engagement, Forbes, April 4, 2012, https://www.forbes.com/sites/kevinkruse/2012/06/22/employee-engagement-w....

[2] Solomon Markos, “Employee Engagement: The Key to Improving Performance”, International Journal of Business and Management, Vol. 5, No. 12; December 2010, pp. 89-96, http://www.ccsenet.org/journal/index.php/ijbm/article/view/6745

[3] https://www.sparkcentral.com/blog/why-specialized-agents-are-the-future-...

[4] Ron Hanscom and Helen Poitevin, Gartner, “Measuring Employee Engagement: Past, Present, Future,” September 2019.

Jay Malin's picture

Thank Jay for the Post!

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Discussions

Matt Chester's picture
Matt Chester on Jun 8, 2020 12:35 pm GMT

The impact on employee engagement is threefold.  One, employees only deal with the more complex issues requiring keen knowledge, the ability to relate, thoughtful problem solving, and decision-making.[2]  Two, fewer calls present an opportunity for cross-training or other growth opportunities. Three, employees are free to develop new business relationships.

How do you think these goals need to be balanced with the portion of the customer base who may still want direct lines / communications with customer service reps? It's obviously great and efficient to have digital tools reduce call volume, but I wonder the impact on maybe the less technologically inclined customers who could express frustration about how hard it might be to get to talk to an actual employee

Joanne Fletcher's picture
Joanne Fletcher on Jul 31, 2020 10:16 pm GMT

Good point Matt!  In our zeal to adopt new technology and automate our business it may be easy to overlook the fundamental common bond we all share.   We are human beings with a need for connection and socialization.  Successful utility businesses balance their customer outreach efforts using a variety of vehicles to appeal to the low-tech as well as the tech-savvy customer.  Technology and innovation cannot replace the personal, human touch.  There will always be customers who want or need a higher level of attention or handholding.  Organizations will need to place a value on this type of interaction so employees know that successful efforts handling these types of customer interactions are as important as meeting other operating metrics.  Feeling good about the work you do and helping to meet your organization's goals contribute to employee engagement.

Matt Chester's picture
Matt Chester on Aug 3, 2020 11:38 am GMT

Organizations will need to place a value on this type of interaction so employees know that successful efforts handling these types of customer interactions are as important as meeting other operating metrics.  Feeling good about the work you do and helping to meet your organization's goals contribute to employee engagement.

This is an interesting point, Joanne-- that the benefits of more direct communication isn't just beneficial for the customer but for the employee as well. Do you find that there issues when customer service reps get pulled from from the 'face to face' and into the more backend (answering emails, working on automated tools, etc.)? I would think perhaps these different aspects would be best served by different people who have the optimal skillsets rather than have the same people work all of those different aspects

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