How do customers view a business? What influences their (buying) decisions and how can businesses create loyal customers who even actively recommend the products or services of a business to a third party? The targeted control and improvement of the customer’s perception of a company in all interactions is a key lever for business success. The current term for this is “customer experience (management)” and it is often seen primarily as a digital challenge. In most cases, customer interactions, however, continue to be impacted by the direct contact with the employees of a business. These frontline workers are central to the customer satisfaction and customer brand perception.
At the interface between top management and frontline employees, a task and role that is critical to the success of a business has thus arisen in modern organisations: the frontline manager. Frontline managers lead teams with direct customer contact. In more and more companies, there are fewer and fewer levels of management, which means that frontline managers become the link between the strategic approaches of the top level management and the tactical execution at the level of subordinate employees. These managers must thus be well versed not only in the field, for which they are responsible, but they should also possess excellent people and communication skills. They are all-rounders that affect the company’s success in a crucial manner.
Tactically astute and with a lot of teamwork, they are asked to ensure that the objectives of each employee match the strategic and often significantly wider objectives of senior management as well as the entire company – not an easy task. They need to understand, translate and distribute company specific information for their teams. As such, one unfortunately has to ask oneself whether competent frontline managers even have access to the resources that are required for a successful completion of their duties in more and more companies.
Highly Challenged with Little Support
In order to get a better understanding of the phenomenon of frontline managers, Harvard Business Review Analytic Services has hence conducted a survey among its members in February 2014. Therein, 77 per cent of respondents indicated that frontline managers play an essential role in relation to the implementation of corporate objectives. However, only 33 per cent of those surveyed assumed that these managers also possessed the skills required to competently make decisions in the interests of the company. Just 12 per cent were able to confirm that their company invested sufficient resources into the training and development of this very important manager.
How can this be? After all, 78 per cent of respondents confirmed that frontline managers contribute to high customer satisfaction, while 63 per cent also saw the task of frontline managers in the improvement of product quality. In the following contexts, the importance of these managers was repeatedly stressed as well:
- In achieving high levels of productivity
- In ensuring open communication channels and a high level of employee engagement
- With regard to the spirit of innovation and the innovative capacity of a company
Although frontline managers are of such high importance, only 21 per cent of respondents trusted in the strategic thinking skills of their managers. Many managers also did not know how they could develop the talents of their employees. Their leadership style was often uninspired, which in turn could adversely affect employee motivation and the commitment of their subordinates.
More Support and Room for Making Mistakes
Hence, the numbers speak a very clear language. It is obvious that many frontline managers do not possess the leadership skills that are necessary for the company’s success to a sufficient degree. Therefore, many companies are asked to rethink their approach, which should lead to frontline managers themselves receiving more support. As such, it is especially important that mistakes do not lead to harsh criticism, but are considered a valuable (learning) experience. Frontline managers must make mistakes in order to grow as a person and into their new role as a leader with new abilities. Top management is therefore asked to take a more active role in supporting frontline managers in the future.