Internal Communications & Tech: too much or not enough

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by Guy Chiswick, Managing Director, UK & Ireland, Speakap

It’s been a few days since hundreds of internal communicators and employee engagement managers flocked to London for the smilelondon event. One question that kept popping up during many of the sessions and from many of the attendees was: How can we find the right balance between too much and not enough technology to reach and engage our employees?

This question is something I grapple with on a daily basis. During one of my roundtable sessions on onboarding employees, one of the attendees asked, “How do you help retailers manage if and how employees on shop floors use mobile devices at work?” This also came up in conversations with several internal communications and engagement managers from hospitality and restaurant brands. In some instances, these types of businesses have strict protocols in place that restrict employees from using their mobile devices during their work shifts. These protocols are understandable, for sure, especially when store associates and restaurant employees are the first face that customers see and they need to focus their attention on delivering an excellent customer experience – from start to finish.

However, I wonder in such instances, how do these employees (who are the face of the business to customers) find out about new products that are launching or menu items that may have been discontinued? How do they get that crucial information that is needed to keep their customers happy if they can’t access it instantly from their mobile devices? One answer that I heard from some employee engagement managers is that the company has an operational communications team that works separately (and in conjunction the employee engagement team) to deliver this type of information to the store and/or restaurant managers, who then share the knowledge verbally and in-person to their teams/staff. For many businesses, this may work and still allows the employees to get access to the relevant information needed to do their jobs – albeit in a roundabout way from a different team and in an indirect manner.

In these types of instances, I can’t help but wonder if this is overcomplicating things – both for the companies who want to inform, empower and engage their employees and for the employees who want to gain access to important information, be more productive in their roles and deliver better customer experiences.

There were two stats shown by Clearbox Consulting during the event that I can’t stop thinking about. 72 percent of respondents (internal communicators) said the main purpose of the digital workplace is to share knowledge and 78 percent said the main purpose is to support colleagues in doing their job. This is where I would argue that technology needs to be part of the equation to achieve these two goals. Without it, the quality of communications will suffer and will inevitably lead to fractured, inconsistent messaging and less knowledge and productivity, which could hamper employees’ job performance, which also has a trickle-down effect on the quality of the customer experience.

This sentiment was echoed by Penny Grivea, UK Managing Director at global beauty brand Rituals. Interestingly, she was one of the only speakers at the event who talked about the connection between internal communications, the customer experience and ROIfor the business. More specifically, Penny explained that store managers can use their mobile devices (and the Speakap app) on the shop floor all day, while all other staff cannot use it during the 12 pm to 6 pm peak hours (but can use it before/after and during their breaks).

Why would a retailer want and encourage its employees to use their mobile devices while they’re working? For Penny Grivea and her teams across the Rituals stores, the answer is simple: The tech helps them maximize operational efficiencies and minimize the loss of sales.

Penny isn’t the only one who feels this way. Sam Marshall from Clearbox Consulting made a powerful statement about how they evaluate technology. He said, “The voice of the customer is an extra dimension in how we recommend ESN tools to brands.” That voice of the customer shouldn’t become an afterthought in internal communications and employee engagement programs and goals.

From everything I heard at smilelondon and what I often hear when speaking to retail, hospitality and entertainment brands, there is a real correlation and clear link between delivering a superior employee experience and delivering an excellent customer experience. In fact, I’ve seen first-hand that employees have increased productivity by up to 30 percent due to less duplication of efforts (which is happening because the communications is more targeted and relevant).

The two cannot and should not be kept separate like church and state. Until we start thinking about them as partners, neither will improve to the extent they need to. But at the same time, I also think there isn’t a one-size-fits-all approach and this is where technology and human interaction needs to work together to improve the employee experience.