A growing body of research shows that an engaged workforce may be the key to better customer experience. Earlier this year, the research company Temkin Group found a correlation between efforts in employee engagement and success in CX. In its 2016 Employee Engagement Benchmark Study, the firm revealed that companies which excel at customer experience have “1.5 times as many engaged employees as do customer experience laggards.”
Indeed, many CX experts now agree that treating your employees well is a necessary first step to providing a better customer experience.
“Customer experience is not a technology problem—it’s a culture problem,” Robert Tas, chief marketing officer of applications vendor Pegasystems, tells Forbes contributor Christine Crandell. According to Tas, a common barrier for better CX is when employees feel that there’s a disconnect between how the company treats them and how they’re expected to treat consumers.
But despite the obvious importance of an engaged workforce, most companies are failing at this challenge. According to the data company Gallup, only 31.5 percent of the U.S. workforce consider itself engaged in work. (In its study, Gallup defines engaged employees as those who are involved in, enthusiastic about and committed to their work and workplace.)
The fact that most employees don’t feel engaged is a problem if you consider the fact that CX is a big priority for companies today. According to Gartner, 89 percent of companies now expect to compete primarily on the basis of the experience they provide customers.
Companies that want to improve their CX strategy should therefore focus on better engagement with their employees. Here are three simple ways to make it happen.
Go beyond numbers and rankings.
The dismal state of employee engagement is not necessarily due to lack of effort on the part of employers. Many companies use tools like surveys and performance ratings to detect problems in the workplace, provide guidance to their employees and to avoid employee churn. Unfortunately, these traditional tools of engaging with employees often fall short.
The problem with these tools is that they often reduce employees into mere data points and eventually become counterproductive. For instance, performance management systems—where employees are given a rating and ranking based on feedback from managers and other employees—have been shown to be “misleading, cumbersome and complex,” according to the online publication strategy+business. In fact, neuroscience research shows that performance rankings discourage thoughtful conversations about the employee’s career and are actually detrimental to that person’s overall performance in the long term.
Companies need to rethink the use of traditional employee engagement tactics and look for methods that allow for a two-way conversation with a workforce.
Engage regularly with your employees.
Most companies are not engaging enough with their employees. Many rely on the annual employee engagement survey to get a pulse of their workforce. This approach has a few drawbacks. For one, the ad-hoc employee survey isn’t conducted with sufficient regularity to build an understanding of what matters to employees.
For employee engagement to help drive customer experience, getting feedback from your own people should be part of the culture. That means doing it often. And companies need to turn this engagement into a conversation. They need to open the feedback loop and share back with employees how their insight is driving change in the organization. Showing employees that their input had results is an important step to ensuring that people are committed to their work.
Treat your employees well.
Of course, it’s not enough to listen to your employees. How you treat them matters, too.
"When employees are satisfied and engaged, the result is deeper customer connections and an elevated customer experience."
One high-profile company treating its employees well is the coffee chain Starbucks. The company is known for providing unique and generous employee perks, including health insurance for part-time staff and free tuition for its entire workforce.
Prioritizing the needs of its employees helps Starbucks build its brand and increase sales. For instance, a 2014 customer study shows that 87 percent of the company’s brand affinity is driven by the way Starbucks treats its employees.
"When we do the right thing for our employees, it's also the right thing for our business," Corey duBrowa, SVP of global communications at Starbucks, recently told AdWeek. "When employees are satisfied and engaged, the result is deeper customer connections and an elevated customer experience."
To provide a better workplace, companies need to first understand what motivates their employees. Build a community of your employees and ask them regularly for feedback. Gain employee intelligence by finding out what truly matters to your workforce. Only by talking to them regularly can you have a deeper understanding of their needs and wants.
Your employees are an important piece in the customer experience puzzle. It’s impossible to have a seamless end-to-end brand experience if your employees don’t have a customer-centric mindset and don’t have the motivation to keep customers happy. Employees are also a critical source of CX insight since they often have ideas on how to improve your products and processes.
Companies that don’t have employee engagement at the top of the priority list will have a hard time pushing the CX agenda forward. When it comes to CX, keeping customers happy and keeping your employees engaged are two sides of the same coin.