Experience Unveiled: A Conversation with Beekeeper CEO Cristian Grossmann, focused on Frontline EX

Experience Unveiled: A Conversation with Beekeeper CEO Cristian Grossmann, focused on Frontline EX

On this episode of the Experience Unveiled I am joined by Beekeeper CEO Cristian Grossmann to discuss how to best support frontline workers as well as some new frontline-focused research recently published by Beekeeper.

Our discussion covers:

  • An overview of Beekeeper and how it fits into the employee experience technology ecosystem
  • The idea of disconnection with frontline workers and the ramifications this can have. We also chat about the perception disconnect between workers and managers
  • What is causing stress for frontline workers and their managers
  • The solutions and strategies that companies should be looking at to help support a better frontline employee experience
  • Data as a driver to understanding a frontline workforce and prioritizing action
  • Research findings from the Frontline Pulse Report 2024

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Sherril Hanson: Hi everyone. I’m Sherril Hanson, Senior Analyst with The Futurum Group, and I’d like to welcome you to Experience Unveiled. This is a podcast that focuses on customer experience and employee experience. And each episode is going to have a discussion with an industry expert in either one of those areas. And so, today, we’re going to talk about employee experience, and in particular, frontline employee experience. Now, this is a labor segment that has been, I feel at long last, receiving more attention and support. And the pandemic has really brought to light many of the challenges that frontline workers have been facing for years. It’s a large group. It accounts for the majority of the workforce. And it’s very diverse and tight in terms of all the different types of roles and where it’s performed. The issue is, a lot of the technologies that companies use to help support their desk-based or knowledge workers, they’re simply not the right fit for Frontline.

And this results in continued struggles for this group. And things like productivity, efficiency, scheduling, having it be hard to get an easy flexible scheduling, things like that. But there’s also this deeper issue in that they’re often not supported with these technologies and areas that can really make or break an employee experience. And that can include things like how they’re communicated with, how feedback is gathered, do they have the right tools to get feedback from their employees? How are they engaged? How are they recognized? How are they trained?

And so, today on this episode, I am happy to welcome Beekeeper president, Cristian Grossmann, for a chat about this topic of how to best support frontline workers. And Beekeeper also recently released some comprehensive research just on this topic, and we’re going to touch on that as well. So, Cris, thanks so much for being here.

Cristian Grossmann: Sherril, thank you so much for the invitation, and it’s a pleasure to be here.

Sherril Hanson: Yeah. So, let’s dive right in. Beekeeper’s a company that I’ve followed for a while. And this past fall we were able to chat about the company’s frontline intelligence platform. But for those who might be unfamiliar, can you give us a high level view of what Beekeeper is about?

Cristian Grossmann: Yeah, for sure. So, Beekeeper is all about connecting frontline teams with everything that they need in order to do a great job. Because we believe two magical things happen when we do that. One of them is the frontline workers live better lives by making their work life easier. But also the companies that they work for thrive and have better productivity, better engagement, and ultimately, better retention of their workers and results. So, Beekeeper is a mobile application that employees download onto their phones, and it’s a one-stop shop that provides all the information that they need in order to be productive and engaged. We help the companies reach their employees digitalize processes and get everything that needs to be coordinated in order for the frontline workers to be doing what they need to be doing best, which is serving the customers, doing the production line, et cetera.

Sherril Hanson: Right. Right. So, the first topic I wanted to chat about today is this idea of disconnection. Because it’s often the real basis of discontent with workers. And I know that this is a problem around the world for all types of workers, particularly as a lot of companies move towards a hybrid or work from home model. But for those on the frontline, it seems that this is even more challenging. And they’re often not given the appropriate tools for things like communications, or even access, or I should say, easy access to an internet where they get that constant stream of announcements, and talk about company success, and maybe able to join different types of communities. So, that’s one form of disconnect.

And then the other one that I’ll throw in here is what we often see across the experience space for customer and employees. And that is the disconnect between how managers think things are going and what the reality is. So, I was hoping you could share some of what you have been seeing in terms of this idea of disconnection, both from interacting with customers or prospective customers in addition to… I know that you’ve also collected some data in this area as well.

Cristian Grossmann: Yeah, for sure. I think the frontline disconnect is probably one of those big, big problems that it’s still maybe a very well-kept secret or an underseen blind spot that many frontline industries have. It costs millions and millions of dollars. And as you say, the magnitude of this problem comes also from the fact that it has been there for so long. It’s just the way these industries have operated for decades. So, it’s almost hard to see. And the way I like to think about the frontline disconnect is it has three main dimensions for me. The first one is the one you were alluding to, a cultural and mindset differences.

And what that means is this historically entrenched mindset that the frontline is the frontline, they’re replaceable, they can just be swapped. So, there’s a bit of a disconnect between how companies tend to think about their frontline versus not. It might be a little bit exaggerated, but I would say that’s the gist of this first one. I think the second one in terms of disconnect is also what you mentioned, the disconnect in terms of understanding the needs and what is really happening in the day-to-day. A lot of the conversations we conduct at the headquarter level show very clearly that not many people have spent a lot of time directly in the frontline. And it’s hard to realize how hard it is to really be there in the frontline and do that job.

So, that disconnect of not even understanding what is going on in the frontline, it’s a very big source of frustration. The great thing is in the last couple of months and quarters, I’ve been seeing more and more CEOs that got on the frontline, the CEO of Lufthansa helping on the plane, and then flying around, and serving the customers, or in Starbucks serving coffee and so on. So, I think that’s the type of bridges that we need to build that disconnect. And then the last one is really maybe the most hurtful one in terms of operational disconnect. And as you said, communication is one piece of that, but it goes into, “I cannot see my payslips. I don’t even know how many vacation days I have. I don’t even know when I have to work.” So, access to information, trainings, documentation that they need in order to do a great job.

So, those are the three dimensions I would say from the highest in terms of cultural and mindset differences, the understanding of the needs, and then the operational side. And the outcome is a staggering amount of frontline workers that are changing their jobs because of this disconnect. And that’s one of the first points that I want to highlight from the study that we did. 50% of the industry is walking around every 12 months. I’ll say that again because it’s really important.

Sherril Hanson: That’s pretty big numbers.

Cristian Grossmann: Yeah. Yeah. Imagine half of your company is just walking out the door every 12 months and you need to rehire 50% of them. So, for a SP 500 company, those are hundreds of millions that are getting lost in productivity, time, training the people, finding the people, lost revenues, et cetera. So, it’s a pretty big problem.

Sherril Hanson: Yeah. Yeah. And I looked at the research a bit myself, and I saw that the sub-segments of hospitality and construction. Hospitality, I was not surprised at all. Construction, I was a little bit like, “Huh.” And so, I was wondering if you had any thoughts on why those might be particularly difficult sub-segments in terms of struggles?

Cristian Grossmann: Yes, absolutely. Maybe I take a step back and just share with our audience the scale of the study that we did.

Sherril Hanson: Yeah, that would be helpful. Yeah, I was actually pretty impressed that it drilled down into all those episodes. It was really interesting.

Cristian Grossmann: Yes, absolutely. So, we basically covered and gathered data from over 8,000 frontline workers across people in the frontline, their managers, and people in the headquarters. So, that allow us to have a really nice perspective on how everybody thinks about the different priorities. And that’s where a lot of these disconnects also emerge. It covered six different industries, two continents, mostly in Europe and the US, and these three different roles. So, it’s quite unique, more than 8,000 people. And that allowed us to really get very, very deep insights as you were mentioning, Sherril, on how does these numbers look like by industry or by segment, et cetera.

And to your point, yes, we were shocked to see that hospitality when it comes to restaurants and bars, it’s at 57% turnover year over year. So, 57% of the people that we surveyed had changed jobs in the last 12 months. The number is similar for hotels and resorts also pretty high, 53%. And then you have another group of industries like manufacturing, logistics, construction, retail, somewhere in the high 30s up to 40%. It’s still a lot. It’s a very big chunk of the workforce. And we were definitely shocked by those numbers.

Sherril Hanson: Yeah. Yeah. So, pivoting a bit from the topic of disconnection. I wanted to talk about what is top of mind for frontline workers? What is causing them stress? And I also think it merits chatting about, and you brought this up a bit, the managers of frontline. And from my own research and conversations with people in the space, I find that it’s very often the case that managers are facing so many challenges themselves and are well intended in trying to support their workers. But they simply either don’t have the right tools in place, or even worse, the cultural priority isn’t there. So, I was hoping you could chat about that a bit.

Cristian Grossmann: Yes, absolutely. So, that was one of the areas where we focused asking and understanding what are the topics that are stressing the frontline? Where do they see these points of contention? And I would say the frontline is still in turmoil. So, COVID was, I would say, highly disruptive in so many ways that we saw a great resignation in the blue collar and white collar worlds, followed by this cost of living pressure that our interest rates rising up. And we still see a lot of evidence for blue collar workers, for frontline workers that things continue to be permanently disrupted. And employers who don’t meet those workers’ needs will suffer from low engagement, more poor productivity, higher turnover rates, et cetera. So, I would say on the flip side, there is a great team spirit that can perform wonders on the frontline that if addressed properly, a lot of potential can be unlocked.

So, to mention, a couple of concrete data points that we found on the stress side, the number one thing that stresses workers that we see nowadays continues to be low wage and high inflation. That is, I would say, top of mind for many, many workers. And I would say our message is not, it’s all about just money and you need to pay more. Yes, that can be one of the solutions. But I think there are also other topics that have been raised where simply by listening and addressing them, you can gain a lot as a company to do it. And I’ll give you two concrete examples. One of them is the second top of mind is understaffed shifts and workplace safety. So, those are top of mind for the frontline workers. However, if you go to the headquarters and ask for example, where do you see workplace safety? They rank it only as a priority number seven for them in order to act. And what happens with priority number seven?

Sherril Hanson: There’s that disconnect. That disconnect that we talk about, about how workers think one thing, and they have the reality and the management often doesn’t. Yeah.

Cristian Grossmann: Exactly. So, that’s one I would say relatively quick win for any company to realize, “Wow, that’s what is really aiding my workers. How can we help more with trainings around safety? Making the workplace safer, et cetera.” those are quick wins that maybe don’t cost that much as simply increasing wages, but that have a big, big impact when it comes to relieving and moving away from the stress factors that they’re perceiving.

Sherril Hanson: Yeah. Yeah. So, let’s move a bit more towards, as you started to chat about a more positive topic. And that is what should we be looking towards the future at? What are the top focus areas for 2024? And the overarching solutions, and strategies that might be able to help? And I have my own long list of thoughts in this area. But there’s one particular area that I think just often doesn’t gather or garner enough attention and I’d love your opinion on.

And that is the amount, and you alluded to this at the beginning, the amount of systems and technologies that frontline workers have to interact with. And I know that this is also the case for all types of workers around the world in their day-to-day. But I think it’s a real hidden friction point that can really add up to ongoing frustration and just annoyance honestly at the end of the day. And so, I was hoping you could comment on that in addition to what are some other areas that you think would be really what companies should be putting some focus on this year?

Cristian Grossmann: Absolutely. I think you’re touching on a very, very important point. And it’s also the focus of this podcast, the employee experience and the frontline experience. I think you are mentioning a very, very important friction point that we also see. Because if you think about people that spend all of their time behind a computer, yes, you can have many different solutions. It might mean you have more tabs on your browser, maybe I have half a dozen or even more tabs open. You navigate through that and it’s like, okay. We have to remember in the frontline, the world looks very different. It’s a combination of a little bit of online maybe through your mobile and a lot of offline things that you have to be doing. So, the experience needs to be tailored to that reality.

You’re sometimes using gloves, maybe you have some protective equipment, you’re standing on your feet. It’s not like you have all the time to just go and look for information. So, everything has to be optimized for speed, for efficiency, and to make sure that we deliver the right thing at the right time. And nowadays, as you mentioned also at the beginning, you have bulletin boards with some paper announcements on it. You might have an old intranet that nobody has access to. And if you have access, it’s not mobile optimized that you have to scroll and zoom in 10 times until you find something. And then you have all of this oral communication that is always happening of he told me, I told you, radio, et cetera.

So, that’s the reality of the frontline. And creating a frontline experience that is simple, that is appealing, and that employees really enjoy is not easy. And it requires a lot of thinking, strategic thinking of how do you bring all of those point solutions into one simple place so that the frontline workers can very efficiently maybe overcoming the language barriers, be able to access their teams, their managers, the most important processes that they need to know. And do that in a fashion that doesn’t disrupt their day-to-day if they’re talking to our customer, if they’re working in the production line. All of that needs to be encompassed. And as you say, it’s one of those very well hidden secrets, and probably many of the people in the headquarters don’t even know how big of a struggle it is to have that fragmented landscape in the front lines. That is, again, another drag when it comes to productivity.

Sherril Hanson: Anything else in that area that you would throw into the mix of what people should really be perhaps putting some focus on in 2024?

Cristian Grossmann: Yeah, I think in 2024, it’s certainly looking at our report, there are also a lot of quick wins that one can do with technology. So, for example, one of the main motivators for the frontline that we’ve found is they actually crave A, to have a friendly and fun environment. That doesn’t cost much. It’s more of a cultural thing. And that can be also supported through technology, trainings, et cetera.

Second one is they simply like to get the job done. They are proud of the jobs that they do. If it’s building a house, building a wall, creating a great experience for your guests in a hotel, they really enjoy that. So, the more one can free them up from the admin stuff and allow them to do just that, the better it is. And then the third one is, we see frontline workers create for development for trainings to grow faster. That’s also one of the main reasons why they were swapping jobs actually at a higher rate. So, those are all things that company need to be thinking about for 2024. It doesn’t cost much, and it’s more of a addressing the needs of the frontline that is really craving and asking for this.

Sherril Hanson: Yeah. Yeah. And you touched on something that’s interesting and it’s figuring out… I mean you’ve done this research, but I’m just thinking here. I’m hoping that companies are doing this outreach themselves in a way with tools that are easy for frontline workers to give their feedback on in whatever channel. Meeting them where they are as they talk about in the experience space so that they can tell people what’s working, what’s not working, what are the priorities?

So, to start to wrap up, we’re facing a year with a lot of, I think, underlying current of uncertainty in a few different fronts still. And it’s a bit to be determined on how that might trickle down to the employee experience, investments that people are willing to make. And I talk to a lot of technology vendors and end users, and I know you do too. And I’ve seen the tie between many types of employee experience, technologies, and return on investment. And that’s going to be really important this year. But I also know that there’s a lot of work to be done on, I think, adoption and bringing to light some of these issues. And so, I wanted to ask, what gives you optimism, Chris, about the year ahead? And what are you most excited about potentially seeing come to fruition in the field of frontline experience?

Cristian Grossmann: Yeah, for sure. So, we are, as a company, entering ’24 with a lot of optimism. We just had our best quarter ever at the end of last year. So, we’re really feeling that pull from the market that we see companies really wanting to invest in the frontline experience. And when it comes to experience, it’s not just about feel good and do good, but actually really unleashing that potential that the frontline has by making their lives easier, making their job more efficient, removing friction points. So, all of those things that aggregate towards a bigger frontline experience with a very strong focus on productivity and engagement, that’s actually what makes us feel really excited about 2024 and what is ahead of time.

And I think for companies, it’s important to what we were discussing, to think about how do I move away from that jungle of point solutions that I have on top of my frontline workforce that is just dragging their energy and making everything be slower and painful, et cetera. We’ve heard stories of our customers that had to wait up to an hour queuing up to the manager’s office simply to go and ask for their payroll or for the vacation balance. So, those are things that are completely hidden and people typically don’t hear about them that are dragging the energy and the patience of everybody working there. So, I think as companies go into ’24, thinking holistically about this frontline experience is one of the best ways to unlock the potential of the workforce.

Sherril Hanson: One of the other things I wanted to discuss before our time was up was your thoughts on if companies are starting to be a bit more mature in how they are using their data to support employee experience. I know that’s something we talked about in October a bit. And it’s not just the collection of data, but getting the insights layered into it and getting to that action piece to fix things more quickly, or to better yet be proactive to know where a problem might be brewing. So, I wanted to chat about that before we wrapped up.

Cristian Grossmann: Absolutely. That’s an excellent point, Sherril. Because I think with all of these buzz that we have been hearing about AI, and data, and how to use it, and ChatGPT, et cetera, I think the frontline is always a little bit lagging behind when it comes to those technologies. Because a lot of the examples that we see from AI and data nowadays are still very office worker focused. Like writing a summary about something, cranking some numbers in a spreadsheet, immersing the spreadsheet and creating an analysis, et cetera. And I think we are starting to see, and the launch of our frontline intelligence platform showed it, that there is a lot of interest and pull from the market for these type of solutions.

Because it goes exactly in the direction of, “How do I allow my managers to focus their time on what they can do best, which is coach the team and help them perform better? Rather than be, I would say, tangled up in administrative topics and trying to figure out things just by anecdotal data.” So, providing a simple way of digesting the data already with pointers of what do I need to be paying attention to with a sentiment analysis tool that we, for example, launched, what are the most important topics that I need to be addressing with our frontline workers, that helps them relieve and leverage the data in a much better way. So, definitely one of the bigger trends that we’re seeing for ’24.

Sherril Hanson: Well, Cris, this has been a great discussion and I do agree that this year, I think, there’s going to be a lot of progress made in that area, and being able to help human resources and operations be more proactive in terms of their employee experience rather than reactive. So, thank you so much for taking the time to chat. I am going to look forward to seeing what else Beekeeper has in store for 2024. I know you had a pretty exciting year last year.

Cristian Grossmann: Thank you so much for your time, for your audience. We’re firm believers that HR and operations must be proactive and really leading the way. So, we’re excited about the way forward for 2024.

Sherril Hanson: So, Cris, thanks again. And I did want to let the audience know that we’ll be putting a link to this research that Beekeeper did on the launch page of The Futurum Group website, where we house our webcast so that you’ll be able to access that report. It’s called The Frontline Workforce Pulse Report 2024. So, thanks everyone for watching. And be sure to subscribe, rate, and review the podcast on whatever platform you choose. And watch for the next episode of Experience Unveiled.

Author Information

As a detail-oriented researcher, Sherril is expert at discovering, gathering and compiling industry and market data to create clear, actionable market and competitive intelligence. With deep experience in market analysis and segmentation she is a consummate collaborator with strong communication skills adept at supporting and forming relationships with cross-functional teams in all levels of organizations.

She brings more than 20 years of experience in technology research and marketing; prior to her current role, she was a Research Analyst at Omdia, authoring market and ecosystem reports on Artificial Intelligence, Robotics, and User Interface technologies. Sherril was previously Manager of Market Research at Intrado Life and Safety, providing competitive analysis and intelligence, business development support, and analyst relations.

Sherril holds a Master of Business Administration in Marketing from University of Colorado, Boulder and a Bachelor of Arts in Psychology from Rutgers University.


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