How to Appreciate Frontline Employees (So You Can Keep Them)

Frontline bank employee helping a customer

The following post comes from Bright Horizons Marketing Manager, Sean McCarthy.

A young woman was recently talking about her frontline job where colleagues suggested a fix for a customer-service process.  

“We do this every day. We know what works,” she said about moving customers through her area. “But management shut us down without any explanation.

“They never care about frontlines anyway.” Ouch. 

This was more than loss of an important idea. It was a company statement on how management thinks about frontlines’ value on the team. And it’s one they can ill afford to make. 

After decades on the fringes of talent wars, customer frontlines have moved center stage, recognized not as low-skill workers, but valuable discreet-skill workers -- your product authorities, your customer problem solvers, the public faces of your brand. Need to know how valuable? Try stepping on to a sales floor during a new product launch, or firing up a phone line to answer a slew of customer questions.

And the good ones are getting harder (and more expensive) to find. Just look at all the “help wanted” signs. A recent Kronos study showed open positions have increased among both hourly and salaried employees over the last two years. If that’s not enough, it’s taking longer to find and hire these employees. “Extended time-to-hire,” wrote Kronos, “is also driving up cost-per-hire.” Worse, the cost of disengaged frontlines can be measured in customers. As Salesforce put it, “66% of consumers say they’re likely to switch brands if they feel they’re treated like a number rather than an individual.”

It’s causing an urgent and strategic shift in how clients think about and approach these increasingly important hires. Some of the things we’ve learned from our research, and from our clients: 

A new respect for their expertise: Product developers aren’t the only people with good ideas. Frontline employees in the thick of operations know what works – and what doesn’t. And, like anyone, they like to be heard. A study we did a few years ago showed employees prioritized workplaces that listened to them, with 80% agreeing that companies they called their Dream Companies gave them input into matters that affect their work. That translates to retention. And it means that customer-service stories like the one above cost an employer on two fronts: turnover and innovation. 

Reminders that they’re members of your team: Frontlines are the important face of a business. And by expanding benefits beyond corporate offices, smart employers are letting them know they’re worth as much as the folks on the home team. Equitable doesn’t have to mean the same. In our house, we’ve expanded tuition benefits just for people in our child care centers, offering teachers the opportunity to earn their early education degree…for free. The effects are twofold – existing employees who feel valued enough to do their jobs better; and envious employees who skip out on less generous organizations for places that will treat them like they’re one of the team. 

Giving them opportunities to advance: There’s a reason Twitter and LinkedIn feeds like T-Mobile’s are peppered with employees boasting about employer tuition programs – they’re career boosters. And here’s a fun fact about frontlines – they want advancement just like anybody else. For employers, it’s about more than just the undisputed value (in retention and more) up and down the chain; it’s also about a culture of advancement. As Aetna’s Kay Mooney put it: "If five to 10 years down the road, our employees are still only earning $16 an hour," she told Human Resources Executive magazine last year, "we've failed them." 

All of the above add up to one simple foundation – that people at all levels want to be recognized with attention, benefits, and opportunity. Just how much can be interpreted from a Harvard Business Review article with the rather pointed title, “Want Fewer Employees to Quit? Listen to them.” 

If all that’s not enough, just remember a simple fact about modern customer service that goes beyond just the service-profit chain: the good moments often go unnoticed; the bad ones go viral.

Frontline employee in a wood warehouse

The Race for Frontline Employees

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Written by: Bright Horizons Blog Editor

May 23, 2019

About the Author

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The Bright Horizons Blog Editor frequently posts on the real solutions that meaningfully support employees, advance careers, and drive the world’s leading brands. The Editor curates the latest news, trends, and challenges facing HR pros because your time is scarce. Follow the Bright Horizons Blog to receive this insight in your inbox.