Having meaningful work is one of the biggest challenges for many people at the bottom of the employment ladder. In Outliers: The Story of Success, Malcolm Gladwell documented the multigenerational effect of meaningful work.
The children of people who had meaningful work turned out to be more successful and advanced further in their careers than children of people stuck in less-rewarding occupations.
Meaningful work, according to Gladwell, has three attributes:
- There is a clear relationship between work and reward;
- The work has a degree of complexity; and
- The work is autonomous.
That describes a great deal of the front office. CRM can play an important role in helping people to derive meaning in their work lives, but the evidence suggests we may not be as successful as we could be leveraging modern CRM. More on this shortly.
This mirrors nicely what I saw in a recent book, The Good Jobs Strategy: How the Smartest Companies Invest in Employees to Lower Costs and Boost Profits. Businesses that invest in employees through things like training and adequate technology support can outcompete their market peers, it says.
Author Zeynep Ton of the MIT Sloan School of Management took on one of the toughest environments in which to make profits: low-end retail.
Let the Machines Do It
The retail space is full of companies competing on price, and the conventional wisdom is that you can’t have low prices without low wages, or without business models that understaff and thus more or less guarantee customer dissatisfaction.
Conventional wisdom often is based on little more than opinion — and when the light of research shines on it, you might discover that what you thought was right just ain’t necessarily true.
Ton found examples of low-end retail companies that see training and supporting employees as a secret of their success. The examples are illuminating, if only because these companies don’t have employees who work full-time but nevertheless receive federal assistance, like food stamps.
If you are only familiar with the Walmart model of keeping wages low so that a retailer can provide low prices, this will come as a welcome surprise. However, keep in mind that technology alone isn’t pixie dust; it won’t make a difference by itself.
What interests me about Ton’s book is how well it dovetails with other recent MIT Sloan research, such as McAfee and Brynjolfsson’s The Second Machine Age and Race Against the Machine.
All of these books support the idea of running a lean enterprise. Where Ton talks about the importance of providing meaningful work and jobs with dignity, McAfee and Brynjolfsson speak about the importance of letting people leverage machines to do the rote and brute force work of getting things like information — leaving them free to focus on higher value-add, like applying the information. That’s a sure recipe for supporting items one through three above.
Map the Customer’s Journey
To my mind, this is where the CRM discussion centers today. We might talk about a digital revolution or customer experience, and they are important, but they don’t get to root causes.
The root of everything, in my mind, is understanding and supporting customer moments of truth — or, if you prefer, customer-facing business processes. Aiming at customer experience without first understanding what of importance the customer has to face will leave you wide of the mark.
Aiming at the digital technologies that everyone is going to buy this year simply leaves you open to another spin on the hype cycle as you buy something and then forget why you needed it (if you ever knew).
We need both of those categories, but not until we figure out the business processes we need to support for our customers. In this light, the technology that I think is most valuable going forward is one we don’t talk much about: journey mapping.
A journey is just a fancy way of talking about a business process, but with the advantage that it orients us to the customer instead of the vendor. At least it has the potential to.
A well-documented journey map is the first step. It provides the root causes of everything a vendor should do for its customers. A journey map tells you what the customer experiences, thus allowing you to plan it out accurately.
Similarly, with a documented experience it becomes a lot easier to pick the right digital technology to use in achieving your ends, which might short-circuit the hype cycle.
Going into the second half of the year, understanding these realities will form the framework for everything we do — from building more realistic experiences to selecting the right tools for the job. It also will provide us with meaningful work.