Create 5-Star Customer Experiences Through Improved Employee Engagement
Rising above the noise in the market and gaining competitive advantage means that company leaders are examining every aspect of their business operations to discover areas of competitive advantage. At the top of the list is the imperative to deliver exceptional customer experiences that will drive repeat business and result in brand affinity. While most companies have implemented practices of carefully measuring customer satisfaction, leading-edge organizations are also looking closely at employee satisfaction to impact their customer experiences. Instinctively, we know that happy employees make for better customer experiences and the research backs this up.
In their book We: How to Increase Performance and Profits through Full Engagement, authors Rudy Karsan and Kevin Kruse make the link between employee engagement and the bottom line. They studied findings from over 10 million worker surveys in 150 countries along with their own experiences leading fast growth companies. Kruse and Karsan say that the discretionary effort given by an engaged employee makes the employee more productive and able to provide better service. As Kruse says, “All of that leads to happier customers, who buy more and refer more often, which drives sales and profits higher, finally resulting in an increase in stock price.”
Employee engagement and the customer experience
I personally witnessed the power of a positive employee experience on customer satisfaction. In a recent working session with a colleague at a popular coffee chain, the barista came by with samples of a new product and cheerfully offered them to us. He was wearing a pin that said, “Culture”. My colleague and I, who were just discussing how culture can be impacted by career development programs, asked about it. This young man quite proudly articulated to us how he had earned the pin from his district manager for embodying the values of this company’s culture. He was recognized in several ways important to customer experiences: how he interacted with customers and how he handled the coffee beans. His face absolutely lit up as he shared this bit of their culture with us and we were hooked. Inspired by his enthusiasm, we took the samples, enjoyed them and promptly bought the product.
My experience further illustrates how engaged and happy employees can organically and naturally sell more product by simply inviting the customer to be a part of their own satisfying experiences. There are many other ways in which engaged employees can help your stand out from the competition.
Here are three key areas of customer satisfaction which are impacted by employee engagement:
#1 Improved product quality
Just as our barista was recognized for the way he handled the coffee beans, happier employees can be instrumental in designing and delivering higher quality products and experiences. Product quality and consistency both impact businesses increasingly measured by customer satisfaction. The popularity of social media sites increasingly demands that companies deliver on their product and service promises, or risk brand damage.
Businesses in every industry are laser-focused on the customer experience, including previously immune sectors such as health care. In a recent article, API Healthcare showed a link between engaged employees, patient satisfaction and the financial performance of hospitals. Engaged employees are less stressed, more productive and have longer tenures, their research showed. All three of these measures of employee happiness lead to better patient care, increased patient satisfaction and improved patient loyalty. In turn, financial outcomes are positively impacted, including faster reimbursement rates by Medicare/Medicaid, which are determined directly by patient satisfaction scores.
#2 Greater innovation and ideation
Engaged employees are more likely to share ideas with each other and with leadership, leading to better company innovation. Gallup research shows that 59 percent of engaged employees say their job brings out the most creative ideas; only 3 percent of disengaged employees said the same thing. Professor Julian Birkinshaw of the London Business School was quoted in a landmark UK study linking employee engagement to innovation:
“Employee engagement is the sine qua non of innovation. In my experience you can have engaged employees who invest their time in multiple directions (such as servicing clients, creating quality products) but you cannot foster true innovation without engaged employees.” Julian Birkinshaw
#3 Increased productivity
Happier and more engaged employees make a positive impact on the company’s bottom line. A Harvard Business Review study found that employees who care more are likely to be more productive. It found a strong correlation between companies that perform well and those that place a greater importance on employee engagement. Because high-performing companies ensure that organizational goals are clearly communicated and linked to objectives for employees, everyone understands the company goals and their own role in achieving them. As a result, those companies perform better.
While quality, innovation and productivity are shown to improve with employee engagement, many companies still struggle to understand and implement the types of programs that will actually improve employee engagement over the long term. The 2019 Deloitte Human Capital Trends Survey shows gaps still exist, despite the attempts by companies to both measure and close those gaps. Employees continue to rate their companies as ineffective in engaging workers, creating a positive work environment and providing meaningful work and growth opportunities.
Prioritizing employee engagement
Addressing these gaps in employee engagement has been on the “to-do” lists of HR leaders for decades. As unemployment has dropped to record lows in much of the US and Europe, employee engagement has become an even higher priority and the search for better programs is leading to some interesting new ideas.
Here are a few key elements proven to increase employee engagement that you can implement today:
#1 Make work meaningful
Wharton professor Adam Grant found that call center employees were 171 percent more productive when they learned how their services were impacting the end customer. This statistic reminds us that every employee in your company can make an impact on your customer experiences, either negatively or positively. Keep the barista and the call center employee in mind when implementing company-wide engagement initiatives.
#2 Know the skills and interests of your employees
Maintaining a skills inventory has been a long-time best practice to improve succession and workforce planning. Newer user interfaces like career interest assessments and microlearning videos get better employee interaction can help improve their understanding what they do best, matching these strengths to the company goals.
#3 Give interest opportunities
Provide opportunities for employees to apply their interests to internal gigs or stretch assignments. Internal gigs or dedicated project teams provide an outlet for employees looking for diverse experiences, skills development and meaningful experiences.
An engaged employee cares more, is less stressed and will contribute to exceptional customer experiences. Whether they’re selling lattes or accurately dispensing medication, engaged employees will be more creative and innovative. Although employee engagement has many variables, connecting work to personal meaning and allowing career exploration and growth are increasingly important for organizations hoping to solve the myriad of talent management challenges. Making even small improvements in your employee engagement today can give your company a distinct competitive advantage and pave the way for better customer experiences.