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How curiosity in the contact center leads to better CX

Posted February 25, 2020
Cat curiously peeking out from behind the white background

Curiosity is the key to innovation and employee engagement, according to a 2019 study that polled 1,000 employees in the U.S. and Germany. The researchers, based at George Mason University in Virginia and the University of South Florida, found that workplace creativity expressed itself in two main areas: stress tolerance and openness to new ideas.

Although “creativity” and “innovation” have been business buzzwords for a long time, this study’s results are part of a growing body of empirical evidence that points to the benefits of cultivating curiosity in the workplace. Curious employees tend to be more satisfied with their jobs, create healthier work relationships and be more successful in their roles.

Curiosity doesn’t just happen, though. To be fostered, it requires a concerted effort, particularly by leaders, to encourage and reward employees who exhibit it. And despite common awareness of the benefits of promoting curiosity at work, many executives still fear inefficiency and waste if people take time away from core job functions to pursue less structured activities and different ways of thinking.

Read on to find out why a creative outlook deserves a chance to flourish.

The benefits of curiosity in the workplace

Curiosity isn’t just an innate characteristic people possess. Rather, it’s a behavior that can be learned if practiced with a little encouragement.

A recent Harvard Business Review article highlighted a survey of 3,000 employees in which 92% credited curious people with “bringing new ideas into teams and organizations, and viewed curiosity as a catalyst for job satisfaction, motivation, innovation and high performance.”

From frontline team members to the executive suite, curiosity can boost performance, said Francesca Gino, Harvard Business School professor and author of the HBR article, in an email interview. In a study for a large bank, Gino found that curiosity was the best predictor of the diversity of an employee’s network, which directly benefited their career advancement. Gino and her colleagues were able to raise employee curiosity with a simple intervention: Emailing them twice a week “reminding them to go through their days at work asking ‘why.’”

Another study, specifically of contact center workers that was also featured in Gino’s HBR article, found that curious employees perform better. Those that actively seek out information from their co-workers are able to deliver more creative solutions to customer issues.

Other curiosity researchers, like Alison Horstmeyer, managing principal of coaching and consulting firm Intrinsic Curiosity, have found the same to be true through their research.“When curiosity is nurtured, individuals are more likely to be empathetic, adaptable, inclusive and collaborative, and think divergently,” Horstmeyer says.

How curiosity leads to better customer experience (CX)

Thinking divergently may not seem like an appropriate goal, particularly in the contact center where efficiency and consistency remain top priorities. But solving customer problems — no matter how repetitive — demands the ability to ask questions, listen to detailed answers, then devise a custom solution.

“The way to best use curiosity is to encourage employees to try new things, to ask questions, and to create a culture of learning,” says Lisa Ryan, chief appreciation strategist at Grategy, an employee engagement training organization. “If managers are not open to their employees’ comments, feedback and wanting to experiment with new ways of doing business, then they are probably not going to be very engaged.”

And, as TELUS International has experienced firsthand with their Culture Value Chain, team member engagement serves as powerful fuel for top-line revenue growth. With high engagement comes the ability to innovate, achieve higher customer satisfaction, and ultimately the delivery of stronger financial performance.

The ‘curiosity contradiction’

Even though it’s a proven performance enhancer, a number of organizations are missing an opportunity when it comes to encouraging curiosity. “Many [leaders] actually discourage its expression among employees, pointing to what I refer to as the ‘curiosity contradiction,’” says Horstmeyer.

For example, Horstmeyer points to an INSEAD/SurveyMonkey 23,000-person workplace survey which found that although 83% of senior executives said curiosity was encouraged “a great deal” or “a good amount” at their company, only 52% of responding employees concurred. “This curiosity contradiction can undermine curiosity in organizations, in turn, compromising these firms’ health and sustainability,” Horstmeyer says.

It all comes down to ensuring leadership practices what they preach. Cultivating and enabling curiosity at both an individual and organizational level is a “potent mechanism to activate the organizational dexterity needed to adeptly transform, for example, business challenges into meaningful business opportunities,” says Horstmeyer.

How to promote curiosity in the workplace

So how can leaders not only encourage curiosity in team members, but embed it deeper into the corporate culture and employee experience?

First, it’s critical to hire for curiosity. Ask candidates about their interests outside of work. Some hiring managers may even choose to administer curiosity assessments.

Once on the job, leaders can help sustain curiosity by asking “powerful questions,” says Risa Mish, a professor of management at Cornells S.C. Johnson Graduate School of Management. For instance, a team that always felt underfunded and strapped for cash might ask: “What would we do if we had all the funds in the world? What might we try that we’ve never tried before?”

These questions are open-ended, non-judgmental, simply phrased — and they’re meant to challenge core beliefs and assumptions that have traditionally governed a team. “By encouraging your team to identify and question its own assumptions, you are not only promoting curiosity, but also promoting critical thinking,” Mish says.

Another tried-and-true tactic: Establish a culture of continuous learning and improvement. TELUS International University is one example of enabling team members to pursue a university degree through subsidized classes held on-site in the workplace.

It is also beneficial to provide employees with opportunities to explore passions outside their work-related role. For example, many organizations maintain employee-directed special interest groups (photography, running, billiards, martial arts and others) dedicated to nurturing team members’ unique interests.

And just like any other behavior, to truly encourage curiosity requires aligning incentives. Recognize and reward creativity and curiosity by incorporating it into annual evaluations. In addition to focusing on how well team members perform in their current roles, consider acknowledging employees for learning new skills that can advance their careers.

Employees need to feel like it’s okay to ask questions, take risks and sometimes even fail. Once these behaviors and norms begin to take hold, a curiosity culture will build momentum, and its many related benefits will quickly follow suit.

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