The recent Customer Experience World conference speakers noted an evolution in focus from customer engagement and satisfaction to employee engagement and satisfaction. One presenter even simplified it to the point of saying that the people in a business fulfil one of two functions: They’re either serving the customer, or they’re supporting someone who is serving the customer.

The thinking that we should deliver engaged and satisfied employees and the rest will follow suit, is not exactly new. It has, however, taken a long time for the narrative in South Africa to move towards employees – much longer than we would have expected. The movement in focus started with the customer, and grew in momentum as the strength of local competition grew. In fact, until recently our core business at Genex Insights centred on market insights, customer insights and stakeholder insights. However, local organisations are now starting to require the capability to measure and profile, and create happiness and satisfaction for employees.

The ability to profile customers will come in handy when we start to profile agents and create matches along qualitative metrics like personality and emotionality, as opposed to sentiment, which is what we traditionally tracked. We measured sentiment through surveys where we asked people to tell us how they felt. In this latest evolution we want to use technology that enables us to monitor conversations in real time, even without asking conscious input from the employee or customer. The implication is that the every-so-often employee engagement survey is already less relevant than it once was.

The emotionality of an agent will become evident when we understand all his or her written, and spoken communication produced in the contact centre. We will be able to build an emotionality profile for a particular agent, contact centre or group through analysis of these already-existing communications. Based on this profile, contact centre management would be able to interpret an agent’s emotionality and take appropriate action.

Employees are already telling us how they feel through how they engage and the language that they use. Analysing this data – their existing emails, recorded phone calls and letters they have written – and combining it with insight into their personalities, could bring us to the point where we match the agent and the customer based on their personalities. If a client’s need is for practicality, we can conceivably make sure he is not put into contact with an excitable agent. But before that becomes possible, organisations need to look at the unstructured data in their contact centres to help them understand what is already happening on the ground in real time. They need to know what people are talking about in contact centres and what the tone is.

In practical terms, the interpretation of existing, unstructured data creates the ability to escalate those conversations that reach certain emotional thresholds, for example. Or, if an agent is having a bad day and his tone of voice shows a particularly high level of passive aggression, the manager can give that agent a day off the phones to ensure that this emotionality does not negatively affect the customer experience. The data will tell us what the thresholds are and give us the opportunity to take action in real time.

It’s a watershed time for customer service in South Africa. There is now a growing awareness that service is actually all about employees. Because the employee is the one who delivers customer experience. On one level it really is that simple.