I’ve seen suggestion boxes in lots of different places. In my university’s library, at the school cafeteria, even at the grocery story. In today’s customer-experience-focused world, these old suggestion boxes seem utterly outmoded. Web surveys and detailed analytics have made suggestion boxes look like dinosaurs. And it doesn’t help that the anonymous feedback often had less to do with the service and more to do with inside jokes – no more tacos on Tuesday or Jim snores when he sleeps at his desk.

I think the reason we stopped looking at suggestions in the box was the outcome. What we weren’t considering is what they represent.  I would argue that suggestions in the box (particularly if they are not anonymous) may be a key indicator of employee engagement, one that can help us understand team member buy-in between yearly (or less frequent) formal surveys.

Here’s the thought. Employee suggestions represent someone who is willing to put in extra effort. If that effort applies to the content or the process of the support workflow, then the team member is more engaged than someone who does not make suggestions. This act of going above and beyond the required work is one of the hallmarks of employee engagement.

And in the support world, we don’t have a lot of opportunities to gauge employee engagement. We know that it is important though, and there have been a number of recent articles written on employee engagement. Some authors suggest that our approach to measuring employee engagement is far from perfect. Most cutting-edge organizations use surveys to measure how engaged team members are. There are several flaws to this method, including:

  1. We can only survey so often
  2. Surveys measure outcomes, not behaviors
  3. A bad day or week can skew a yearly measure

So, employee engagement experts suggest a different approach where we look at leading indicators (behaviors) that will predict employee engagement after a survey (the outcome we care about). Ryan Fuller, in his HBR article (https://hbr.org/2014/11/a-primer-on-measuring-employee-engagement), suggests several potential leading indicators of employee engagement:

  • The amount of work that occurs outside of normal working hours (e.g., evenings and weekends).
  • The number of network connections and time spent with people outside of immediate team or region
  • The percentage of participation in ad-hoc meetings and initiatives vs. recurring meetings and processes
  • Time spent collaborating directly with customers outside of normal scope of work

The problem for those of us in the support industry is that most of our front-line team members don’t have the opportunity to exhibit any of these behaviors. Team members are scheduled for certain hours and many of them attend meetings only when the schedule allows. These leading indicators just don’t fit, but the idea behind them does. The degree to which team members are willing to go beyond the job that they have is the leading indicator.

So, what is our proxy for a willingness to go above and beyond? How about suggestions about the support process or improvements to products/services?

It’s a rebuilt suggestion box. Sure, it’s easy to game the system (stuffing the suggestion box), but there are ways to make it less so. Some suggestions are:

  1. Don’t tell the team you are measuring the number of suggestions, just encourage them to make them
  2. Only count suggestions that you could potentially act on
  3. Don’t make suggestions anonymous

So, perhaps we can revamp our suggestion box and use it in a new way, to indicate employee engagement. And let’s keep Taco Tuesday, please.

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