Kicking Tail and Taking Names; Letting the Customer Reward Your Employees

11 Dec, 2014 Bob Wilson


Monitoring employee behavior and service ability is a difficult, if not monumental task. Many employees, particularly those engaged in direct customer service,  do not operate within the direct line of sight of their supervisors, so proper hiring selection and training are paramount to making sure employees are doing the intended job. Some systems have evolved to help provide feedback on the customer experience, most notably the toll free "Tell Us How We Did" phone number that appears on many receipts, work orders and bags these days. Still, it strikes me that those systems likely lean heavily to the side of negative feedback, and are not very effective for monitoring and rewarding a job well done. Determining who your superstars are is sometimes a complex process.

That is why I was so intrigued with a letter I received recently. It featured a program for monitoring employee performance and rewarding good service; and the simplicity of the concept blew me away.

The concept is simply this: Let the customers determine and reward stellar performance.

A-List Preferred CardThe letter was from Southwest Airlines, and contained my new Southwest Airlines A-List Preferred Card for 2015. Regular readers know I am a Southwest brand fanatic, and it is largely the only airline I fly domestically. The A-List Preferred program is their top frequent flyer award, and is a perk for those of us who do a significant amount of business with the airline. This year, as I indicated, there was something else included with the annual A-List Preferred Membership Card, and it was not intended for me.

At first glance I thought they may be more free drink awards that the company regularly distributes to it's frequent flyers. That was not the case, however. Upon examination I saw that these coupons had a different purpose. Reading "Thank you for Kicking Tail", they were reward coupons designed for me to give to Southwest employees who provide me excellent service; those who go "above and beyond" in meeting my needs when flying their airline. Each coupon contains my name, instructions for the receiving employee to exchange them online for rewards, and a coded number that no doubt gives the airline the potential to track who gave it to them, and most likely when.

What a simplistically brilliant idea. Let your customers acknowledge and reward excellent service not just by returning to do business again, but by singling out and identifying those top performers in the process.

I must be honest. I am struggling a bit to see how this idea could be deployed within our industry. The vendor-customer dynamic is entirely unique within the world of workers' compensation.

For one thing, we really do not encourage or desire “frequent flying” in our industry. And we may have lost sight of what our actual product is.

The concept simply was that our industry would pay benefits and provide adequate care for workers' injured on the job. We are supposed to help them heal and return to work. While that still happens in many instances, the complexity and processes of the industry have become so daunting that people are getting lost in the system.

For a better visual, picture the workers' compensation industry as a football team, with the sole goal of moving the ball down the field and into the end zone. For many years we played that game with the required 11 man team, working steadily to advance down the gridiron. Today, when the ball snaps, we have 1,000 players and 50 referees on the field, all there to ostensibly help the ball move more efficiently and with less effort. Except that when the ball snaps into the mass of players, confusion ensues and no one can find the damn ball.

In to that environment we ask ourselves, who gets the reward coupon to distribute? And who receives it for a job well done?

The problem is the customer is no longer the injured worker or the employer. For many in the industry the customer is an intermediary to another intermediary. This includes my own company. Of course, any of us could choose as part of our operational strategy to provide a reward program driven by our particular customers. We would probably be better off for the effort.

But imagine if you will, if we could give those coupons to employers and their injured workers. Would adjusters and case managers today be recognized and rewarded by those they serve? I would suggest that for those companies truly focused on the goal of proper treatment and return to function, that their employees would indeed see those slips of recognition. And it would be an excellent tool to help recognize those who reach above and beyond in this effort. Talk about turning lemons into lemonade; it would be the ultimate example of that well worn metaphor. For it to be truly effective, this needs to be employed in a true “Culture of recovery”, and those participating would truly need a “recovery mentality”.  Reward coupons could be both motivator and indicator of quality service – if that is indeed what we want to produce.

As for my particular Southwest recognition coupons, they will first be accompanying me next week on my flight to New Mexico for my fathers' 95th birthday. I still haven't figured out how I am going to get into the cockpit to present one to the pilot in the event of an exceptional landing - at least not without disturbing federal authorities - but I am working on it. The entire program is an excellent concept from a company known to excel in customer service. I am not surprised they thought of it.

After all, monitoring excellent service is only important if excellent service is the actual goal.

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