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Happy staff equal happy customers – the essential contribution of employees in customer experience

Until quite recently corporate lore held that, of the three primary stakeholders in any business, the shareholder should take precedence over customers and employees. How blinkered that view now seems; and in my last blog I referenced Jack Welch’s view that ‘shareholder value is the dumbest idea in the world’. He’s not the only one to think so. Sir Richard Branson believes that “The way you treat your employees is the way they will treat your customers”.

And Herb Kelleher ex-CEO of SouthWest airlines reckoned: “Your employees come first. And if you treat your employees right, guess what? Your customers come back, and that makes your shareholders happy. Start with employees and the rest follows from that.”moon

The virtuous circle of employee engagement

What these enlightened business leaders understood is the beneficial effect of a happy workforce – especially in a service industry where your brand is represented by your people.

Happy employees are more likely to deliver a good customer experience and create happy customers; happy customers are more likely to be loyal customers; loyal customers are more valuable to your business (they cost less to acquire and tend to buy more). Happy employees are also more likely to stay in their jobs for longer, getting better at what they do and making customers even happier.

5 steps for successful employee engagement

  • Hire for attitude. Train for skills – make sure that you hire employees who have the right mindset. This means being able to live your brand’s core purpose and values. At Southwest airlines one of their core values is a ‘Fun-LUVing Attitude’ (LUV is their stock symbol). They consciously seek out people who want to: have fun; don’t take themselves too seriously; enjoy their work; and are passionate team-players. Having found them, they then teach them how to do the job. The pilots do need a bit of experience but for other roles they are happy to recruit from outside the airline industry, refreshing the employee gene pool and regularly topping customer satisfaction charts.
  • Communicate what you expect of employees – from the outset make sure staff understand what is expected of them. All your employees should know and be reminded regularly of why they come to work. Not at the level of answering the phone or processing forms but the core purpose of their role – as evidenced by the tale of President Kennedy’s visit to NASA in the mid 1960’s. JFK met a man in overalls and asked him “What do you do here?” The man replied, “Earn a living”. He met another man in overalls and asked him the same question. “I’m clearing the garbage”. The President met a third man busily sweeping the floor and asked him what he did. With a smile on his face the man replied, “I’m helping to put a man on the Moon Mr President.”
  • Give your staff freedom to express themselves – individualisation has become a significant theme in customer experience – the recognition that not all customers are the same and that service needs to be personalised as much as possible. The same holds true for employees. The more you constrain their freedom to respond to the circumstances and needs of a particular customer the more you diminish the customer’s experience. Rather than have employees operate from a rigid script, create a framework within which they can take decisions that reflect their personality and the customer’s needs. And, having given them this leeway, back them in the decisions they make. Criticism only undermines confidence.
  • Don’t ask people to do things they don’t want to – If you’ve recruited someone to respond to service enquiries from your customers, don’t then ask them to turn it into a sales call. Customers don’t like being sold to and front-line staff who are good at resolving service enquiries don’t like being salesmen. People who are proficient at service calls will display behaviours (empathy, listening, responsiveness) that are different from those needed for sales (explaining a benefit, controlling a conversation). Keep the two apart.
  • Keep on asking. Keep on telling – constant feedback up and down the chain is an essential for employee engagement. On a regular and frequent basis, tell your staff: how well they are doing; how well the team is doing; how well the company is doing in delivering its financial targets and moving towards its core purpose. Equally, recognise the value in your staff’s ‘grass-roots’ understanding of what your customers want and how your customers think your business is performing. Ask them what are the big three issues their customers are talking about (and feed the information back into process improvement); ask them how they feel about working for your company; make sure you acknowledge their feedback and let them know what you will do as a result. Regular dialogue is the lifeblood of employee engagement.

In their latest report on Human Capital (based on feedback from 3,300 companies worldwide) Deloittes state that ‘culture and engagement is the most important issue companies face around the world’. They go on to suggest that ‘organizations that create a culture defined by meaningful work, deep employee engagement, job and organizational fit, and strong leadership are outperforming their peers.’ Employee engagement is not just a fluffy HR initiative – it’s an essential ingredient of business success.

In my next blog (and last in this series) I’ll be considering how your customer experience programme should be driven by customer-centricity. That may be a statement of the ‘bleeding obvious’ but it’s surprising how often corporates fail to adopt a customer view in shaping their approach to improving customer experience.

Thanks for reading this far and if you have any thoughts or comments I’ll be only too pleased to hear from you.

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