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Frontline Worker Experience: Interview with Dr. Benjamin Granger

Frontline Worker Experience Interview with Dr. Benjamin Granger

The News: Southwest Airlines has been using Qualtrics CrossXM to gain an understanding of employee engagement and well-being. Keeping informed of employee sentiment on an ongoing basis has allowed Southwest to better understand and address employees’ needs as they change so that appropriate action and support can be given. CrossXM has also given visibility into how employee experience (EX) and CX affect each other. More information is found in this press release on the Qualtrics site.

Frontline Worker Experience: Interview with Dr. Benjamin Granger

Analyst Take: Experience management provider Qualtrics has been using its technology to tie together EX and CX for quite some time and has been a vocal force in the industry on this topic. There has been a rise in focus on frontline workers lately and rightly so. Many of the issues that frontline workers face – lack of connection and belonging, subpar communications, and not having their voice heard – have always been there, but the pandemic has exposed them in a more meaningful way, and companies are responding.

I was able to talk with Dr. Benjamin Granger, Qualtrics chief workplace psychologist, to discuss frontline worker trends and challenges and what companies such as Southwest Airlines are doing to address them. Dr. Granger also serves as Head of the EX Advisory Service for Qualtrics and plays a lead role in much of the research that Qualtrics does around EX.

Accelerating Focus on Frontline

Qualtrics serves customers across all major industries and has seen an acceleration of efforts in the frontline worker space.

“Customer interactions are increasingly digital. In the case of travel, people can book a ticket online, check in their bags and get their boarding pass without interacting with a human. So, when customers do have an interaction with an employee, it’s a frontline worker. These people are often the face of the company and that interaction between them and the customer is critical, which is why it’s so important that that employee base is supported,” said Granger.

There are a lot of factors in play when looking at EX, and for frontline workers, it can often be more complicated. There is often geographic distance between them and corporate offices. The flexibility that many desk workers benefit from is hard to give to frontline workers who physically need to be at their place of work. Making sure companies have a pulse on how their employees are feeling and what their needs are is crucial, and companies should be looking at factors such as:

  • Do they have the tools they need to do their job successfully?
  • Are they paid well enough to want to stay?
  • Do they have the flexibility they need?
  • What is the sentiment around communication and transparency?
  • Are employees feeling recognized and appreciated?
  • What can be improved?

Power in Asking Questions, Communicating, and Celebrating the Positive

A critical part of employees feeling supported is feeling heard.

“There’s a lot of power in asking people questions. When you look at the dynamic of this with senior leaders, either one to one or in a small group, or even something more scalable like an organizational survey, having that outreach is so important. And we saw evidence during 2020/2021 that one of the biggest predictors of employee engagement was actually whether people felt heard and were they being listened to in that time of crisis,” said Granger.

Southwest started using Qualtrics’ XM for People Teams in 2020, during just this time period. There was an incredible amount of change going on in the travel industry at that point, and the airline knew it was critical to stay connected to their employees and gather employee feedback. The company has focused on making sure employees are getting the right amount of information on the most effective channels. This effort is important as 90% of their employees are not desk-based but frontline. Employees are asked about which channels are being used so that leadership can best meet their communication preferences.

Additionally, Southwest has worked to recognize employees who go above and beyond and has put systems in place to capture not only negatives but also feedback on great experiences so that these behaviors can be celebrated.

“Communication is critical,” explained Granger. “It’s an important factor in bridging that gap that often exists between how leadership feels the experience is for their employees and what employees actually think. There is almost always about a 30%-40% point gap here, both in how experience is being viewed and how leadership action is being viewed. Leadership needs to be aware of this and communicate that they are taking this seriously and outline the actions that are being taken. Often, we find that companies are really working to fix these issues, but their communications strategy is lacking so employees don’t have full awareness of these efforts. Both those that have already been done, and those that are in planning stages.”

Meeting Employees Where They Are

There is a lot of talk in the experience space about meeting your customers and your employees where they are. I asked Dr. Granger his thoughts on what that meant.

“From an idealistic sense, I think it means trying to understand the experience of the employee in terms of what those critical touch points are. Really getting a good picture of the moments that can make or break an employee’s experience with their company. From a more tactical perspective, it is looking at the physical location of employees, particularly those on the front line and making it easy for them to continue to stay connected and have their voices heard. Technology is advancing quickly and this could mean having something like a physical kiosk, or a mobile device. But with technology like Qualtrics has, it can also mean passively collecting employee signals even if they are not connected to a technology, but looking at trends in aggregate across channels employees are using,” says Granger.

It is ideal to have feedback become something that is in the flow of a work experience rather than an added action or responsibility, and it can also speed along the feedback loop. Qualtrics has been seeing higher adoption of mobile devices and apps in the retail market, where employees can easily use a device that they typically always have on them. This can be used for feedback both for specific issues that come up, such as not being able to find something in the store and they can easily be directed to it, as well as larger macro issues that can be communicated about and handled more quickly.

I had a great conversation with Dr. Granger, and it is interesting to see the perspective of the specialized feedback needs of the frontline worker. Qualtrics seems to be putting a bit more emphasis on this, as also evidenced by its latest partnership announcement with WorkJam, which will combine Qualtrics’ conversational AI with WorkJam’s super app that supports frontline workers. Joint customers will be able to leverage those conversational intelligence capabilities to analyze unstructured feedback that is coming into WorkJam though sources such as its employee communications and training modules.

Disclosure: The Futurum Group is a research and advisory firm that engages or has engaged in research, analysis, and advisory services with many technology companies, including those mentioned in this article. The author does not hold any equity positions with any company mentioned in this article.

Analysis and opinions expressed herein are specific to the analyst individually and data and other information that might have been provided for validation, not those of The Futurum Group as a whole.

Other insights from The Futurum Group:

CX Wins for Amelia, Yoobic, RingCentral, Qualtrics, and Veeva

Qualtrics Broadens XM for Healthcare With New Solution

Qualtrics Uses AI to Generate Automated Summaries for Video Feedback

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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