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It’s said that the way to build a great customer experience is to build an emotional connection, or employee engagement. We all know (or hope we do!) that inanimate objects don’t have feelings. So, it stands to reason that the best way to build emotional connection with customers is through, well, people. And who are those people? Your employees. If your employees don’t feel an emotional connection to their employer, you can bet Julia Roberts’ Golden Globes pantsuit dress that your employees won’t build connections with your customers.

So let’s do some math. The customer experience is how your company makes its customers feel, and your employees drive that experience. Let’s add that to the fact that your company treats employees poorly. What does that equal? Bad customer experience.

The remedy? A great employee experience, or what we call, a great internal brand.

Employee engagement creates a virtuous cycle

According to this infographic detailing findings from two studies done in 2017 by Temkin Group, engaged employees are some of a company’s most valuable assets. Employees trigger a “virtuous cycle,” which drives good customer experience and superior business results. In other words, you can’t be customer-centric unless you have a highly engaged workforce.

According to Forbes contributor Kevin Kruse, employee engagement is the “wonder drug for customer satisfaction.” He’s been a part of numerous studies that show how engagement correlates to decreases in absenteeism, turnover, accidents and defects. And at the same time this engagement can increase customer service, productivity, sales and profits. The suggested causality is that engagement—the emotional commitment one has to his or her organization and its goals—drives higher levels of discretionary effort. In fact, among front-line service employees specifically, the correlation is extraordinarily high, with a correlated coefficient of 0.55. To put that into perspective, Kruse compared checked correlations within medicine. For example, the correlation of chemotherapy and breast cancer survival has a coefficient of 0.03. And the effect of ibuprofen on pain reduction has a coefficient of 0.14!

Defining a great customer and employee experience

So we’ve established that a great employee experience can drive the customer experience. Following that logic, and using some common customer needs, let’s break down what creates a great customer experience and relate them to employee engagement. Great customer experiences have these things in common:

Responsiveness

Just as you wouldn’t make a customer wait for days for a response to a product problem, you shouldn’t make your employees wait either. One way to define a great employee experience is the responsiveness of HR and direct supervisors. Does it take hours, days or weeks for them to get back with employees?

Another way that employers show employees they’re valued is by listening and responding to their concerns. Being heard is a strong source of validation for employees, whether it’s about a policy/procedure or a customer issue. When a manager doesn’t respond to an employee’s calls, emails or texts, he or she sends the message that the employee isn’t important.

Now, granted, responding doesn’t always mean that an employer agrees with the employee on the concern. It might simply be that they recognize the question or query. For many employees, simple recognition is hugely validating.

Another example is responding to feedback from employee surveys. We have a love/hate relationship with employee surveys. We love them when they’re used for their intended purpose. But we hate them when companies don’t act on the findings. After all, the purpose of such surveys is not to measure employee engagement, only to use them as a way to “check in” with employees. No. Employee surveys should be done to improve employee engagement!

Respond quicker with more frequent assessments

To really move the needle on employee engagement, companies need to be evaluating and acting on employee engagement more than once a year. We’ve seen a gradual shift away from the annual employee survey, thankfully. According to Emplify, organizations should be doing quarterly assessments to develop, test and budget for engagement activities that work. By conducting quarterly assessments, you can see in more real-time whether your corrective actions are having a positive impact. And if something’s not working, you can adjust instead of wasting time and money waiting for the next annual survey.

Make life better or easier/solve a problem

A great product shows the customer how it will make his or her life better. And the customer experience (purchasing product, shipment, returns, etc.) should be hassle-free. Similarly, does your organization improve employees’ lives or make it a living hell? Does HR step in and support an employee in the right way when he or she is facing a challenging personal circumstance that’s worming its way into work? Or is there detachment and lack of empathy? Do you have a clear code of conduct that communicates to people your expectations. Or are they muddy and cause confusion?

Studies show that employers that keep the well-being of their employees top-of-mind are more likely to attract and retain top talent. This article shows unconventional benefits can save employees time, reduce their stress, and improve their health and satisfaction at work.

Authenticity/trustworthiness

We’ve all heard the saying, “We want to buy something but we don’t want to be sold.” People who buy something buy it because they feel it’s in their best interests, they trust the company they’re buying from, and more. Similarly, in the workplace, employees want to have the confidence of their employer and boss, be trusted, and know their boss has their back. Yet, many times employees are left in the dark. Consider these examples:

  • An organization that doesn’t share certain information because executives think employees can’t handle the truth.
  • Executives who don’t share financial information with employees because they don’t think they’ll understand.
  • An organization that tells employees their health insurance will be better next year but fails to mention that the health network is severely limited (hey, maybe they won’t notice!).

Make no mistake, a critical driver of employee engagement is trust. According to this article, research by Deloitte shows that more than six in 10 employees (62%) who plan to stay with their current employees reported high levels of trust in their corporate leadership. Yet only 27% of employees who plan to leave express that same trust. And 26% of those who plan to leave their jobs in the next year cited lack of trust in leadership as a key factor. Authentic and transparent communications go a long way toward building this trust.

Make people feel valued, that they matter

Related to trust, no one likes to feel like they’re a number, just another cog in the wheel. A company shows customers they’re important by listening and responding to needs. And by showing them that they know what makes them tick.

In the same way, employers need to understand employees. According to an article in Harvard Business Review, employees most care about their career, community and a cause, and employers need to pay attention:

Career is about the actual work: having a job that provides autonomy, allows you to use your strengths, and promotes your learning and development. It’s at the heart of intrinsic motivation.

Community is about people: feeling respected, cared about, and recognized by others. It drives our sense of connection and belonging.

Cause is about purpose: feeling that you make a meaningful impact, identifying with the organization’s mission, and believing that it does some good in the world.

Putting a worth on employee engagement

In our experience, companies don’t scrutinize the dollars and cents that go into creating new products and tools for customers to use nearly as much as they do employee investments. The customer is king and the employees are princes, when it should be the other way around. It’s not uncommon to hear that a company wants to improve employee engagement, but without increasing costs. Or, worse yet, a company’s only goal for improving engagement is to achieve higher productivity, more output to improve the bottom line. During such times, the saying “They won’t care how much you know until they know how much you care,” comes to mind. Improving only employee productivity is not caring and building emotional connections with your teams.

Much like we don’t expect to give customers our scraps, we shouldn’t expect to give our employees the last of our reserves either. Often, quick and/or cheap fixes don’t solve retention and recruitment issues that have plagued organizations for years.

Summary

Many studies show strong evidence that strong employee relations is a key driver in building a strong customer experience. One can’t exist without the other, or at least not for very long before the cracks start to show. Customers and employees have many of the same needs, including getting a timely response to a question or concern, and to be trusted with information. If you’d like to learn more about how your company can build a great employee experience, contact us.