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How to turn employee feedback into actionable insight

Posted November 12, 2019
employee hand putting card in suggestion box

Did you know Amazon Prime started as an employee’s qualm about the mechanics of the ecommerce giant’s free shipping offer? Charlie Ward, a principal engineer at Amazon, found the company’s former shipping program (Super Saver Shipping) to be painfully complex both on the back-end and as a customer.

“I’m a one-click addict. I hate having to go through the order pipeline and choose everything again and again and again. And … I couldn’t use one click with Super Saver Free Shipping,” Ward told tech news site Recode in May 2019. “Wouldn’t it be great if customers just gave us a chunk of change at the beginning of the year and we calculated zero for their shipping charges the rest of that year?”

Ward’s suggestion led to the creation of the Amazon Prime subscription service, one of the most significant retail innovations in the internet age.

It’s just one of the many examples of the power of employee feedback. When companies give the people most intimately acquainted with their products and services the opportunity to share their ideas, incredible things can happen.

Most organizations recognize that the best input comes from those on the frontline, and many actively solicit feedback from employees through surveys and one-to-one conversation. But there’s an important difference between asking for employee feedback and elevating employee voices: Employees who truly feel heard are those whose feedback was turned into actionable insights.

Translating employee feedback into action

Ward’s Amazon Prime idea happened because he was given the space to submit a proposal and elaborate on his idea.

It’s a lot easier to translate feedback into action when you have the right processes in place to elevate employee insights. TELUS International, for example, created a program called iSuggest, which captures insight from frontline team members about ways to improve elements in both the employee and customer experience (CX). Team members submit an idea which is assessed by the business process excellence team, and if it has legs, a plan is devised to execute it using Lean Six Sigma methodology. Even if the idea isn’t used, the original team member is kept in the loop about the status of their feedback. Not only does the program result in improvements to the business, but team members feel heard and are more engaged.

As the iSuggest program indicates, turning employee feedback into action requires an environment that fosters continuous feedback in the first place. Here are some additional tips for laying the right groundwork.

Ask for direct feedback

If your company has a specific pain point, it can be helpful to request the input of employees to determine a creative solution. There’s a good chance the answer to the problem lies with a team member outside the initial scope.

For instance, British Airways was looking for ways to reduce emissions and cut fuel bills. They put the idea to their entire staff via an online suggestion box and had more than 200 eclectic ideas submitted from an equally varied mix of team members. One of the ideas — descaling the toilet pipes on planes and making them lighter — has saved the airline an estimated £600,000 ($775,000) annually.

Enabling a spectrum of team members from every segment of the business to weigh in can ultimately drive innovative thinking that impacts more than just one of your business’s verticals. In some cases, it might make sense to incentivize your team with a reward or bonus for the best ideas. This could be a monetary reward, or as simple as highlighting the employee as a part of the company’s internal communications.

Let your employees teach

Few things engage someone like giving them an opportunity to share their expertise and turn their feedback into a teachable moment. American restaurant chain, The Cheesecake Factory, has an initiative called “Wow Stories” where it shares CX stories across the company about employees going above and beyond for customers. In addition to the corporate culture benefits of recognizing team members for their achievements, the stories are functional lessons for other employees.

Collaborative, peer-training sessions can also be a good way to engage employees and elevate their voices. According to Inc, entertainment company Cirque du Soleil hosts “Cirque Jams” where “a team stemming from different departments come together to explore and experiment in work that goes beyond their role and responsibilities.” It creates a space for the cross-pollination of ideas.

Make feedback real-time

Part of finding the right formula to capitalize on employee feedback is to select a tool for soliciting feedback based on your type of business. Sometimes it makes sense to use a quarterly survey across all segments of the organizations. Other times it’s an open suggestion box like British Airways, or even a more sophisticated platform like TELUS International’s iSuggest program.

Whichever method you choose, keeping employees in the loop about their feedback can help them feel engaged and heard. Even if an employee’s idea isn’t going to be actioned, help them understand why. These conversations can go a long way to help acknowledge the time and energy they invested in bringing forward a suggestion.

There’s an undeniable link between a caring culture and engagement — and engagement drives successful CX. Making employees feel engaged by showing them their feedback is critical to success is a ‘win-win-win’ situation for the company, the employee, and ultimately, the customer.

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