Employee Engagement is the Key to Strong Customer Experience

September 26, 201714min

I’m thrilled to be a judge at the 2017 UK Customer Experience (CX) Awards, and I’m looking forward to seeing for myself the accomplishments of these finalists, who are leaders in the field of CX.

The finalists will be making a final push this week to take home a coveted CX Award, and this will be the culmination of a lot of hard work – great CX doesn’t just happen by itself.

Research has been done – by Temkin, Forrester, and others – on what differentiates CX leaders from CX laggards.

One key difference is employee engagement. CX leaders have a clear focus and understanding of the importance of engaged employees.

They ensure employees are engaged and make sure all employees – from the top to the front lines – understand the organization’s CX vision and why it’s important; how they fit into that vision; and how to take ownership of their particular piece of the CX process.

According to Temkin Group’s 2017 Employee Engagement Benchmark study:

CX Leaders Have More Engaged Employees

79 percent of employees working at companies with “significantly above average” Customer Experience in their industry are “highly” or “moderately” engaged, compared with only 49 percent at companies with “average” or “below average” CX.

This means that employees working for CX leaders are more committed to their jobs.

Better Performing Companies Have More Engaged Employees

82 percent of employees at companies with strong financial results are “highly” or “moderately” engaged, as opposed to only 68 percent at under-performing companies.

Highly Engaged Employees Are More Productive

Engaged employees demonstrate a higher commitment to their work across an array of different activities.

Compared to disengaged employees, highly engaged employees are

  • five times more likely to recommend the company’s products and services
  • three times more likely to stay late at work if something needs to be done
  • five times more likely to recommend an improvement at the company
  • almost nine times more likely to recommend that a friend apply for a job within their company

What Exactly Is an Engaged Employee?

Gallup defines engaged employees as the following:

“Engaged workers stand apart from their not-engaged and actively disengaged counterparts because of the discretionary effort they consistently bring to their roles.

“These employees willingly go the extra mile, work with passion, and feel a profound connection to their company. They are the people who will drive innovation and move your business forward.”

In 2016, Gallup conducted its ninth employee engagement meta-analysis, the largest employee engagement study of its kind, and showed once again the connection between employee engagement and key business outcomes.

The study showed that work units in the top quartile in employee engagement outperformed bottom-quartile units by 10 percent in customer loyalty/engagement, 17 percent in productivity, 20 percent in sales, and 21 percent in profitability.

Work units in the top quartile also saw significantly less turnover (24 percent in high-turnover organizations and 59 percent in low-turnover organizations), shrinkage (28 percent), absenteeism (41 percent), fewer safety incidents (70 percent), patient safety incidents (58 percent), and quality defects (40 percent).

In Aon Hewitt’s 2017 Trends in Global Employee Engagement report, it was found that a five-point increase in employee engagement is linked to a three-point increase in revenue growth in the subsequent year.

With employee engagement clearly showing it positively affects the bottom line, it’s surprising that employee engagement remains low.

Gallup reports that only 33 percent of US workers are engaged, and only 15 percent of workers worldwide.

Reasons for this include candidates limited (or none) onboarding activity, no clear development plan to help employees grow, lack of open communication in the organisation, and poor manager-employee relationships.

If your employees are not engaged, how are they going to engage customers?

If you want stronger customer engagement and improved Customer Experience, then creating highly engaged employees is a must.

However, engaging employees doesn’t mean giving some perks and calling it a day – employees want opportunity, autonomy, responsibility, and respect.

Onboard Employees

Not onboarding employees leads to more turnover, and turnover costs companies a lot of money in recruiting and lost productivity thanks to the vacancy.

CBS MoneyWatch notes that it costs companies between 16-20 percent of that employee’s salary to replace them.

Organisational costs of employee turnover are estimated to range between 100 percent and 300 percent of the replaced employee’s salary.

According to the Wynhurst Group, 22 percent of staff turnover occurs in the first 45 days of employment. Also, Talya Bauer PhD notes, more than half of new hires fail within the first 18 months.

Yet according to Bauer, new employees who went through a structured onboarding program were 69 percent more likely to still be with the organisation after three years.

Onboarding is not just about orienting new employees to the company’s policies and procedures – it also involves helping employees understand their job, performance expectations, and the culture; introducing them to co-workers and management; and connecting them with sources that will enable them to do their jobs well.

Consider these onboarding best practices:

  • Prepare new employees before their first day
  • Ensure their first day on the job is special.
  • Ensure new employees clearly understand what is expected of them through clearly defining objectives, roles and responsibilities.
  • Provide an onboarding plan and monitor it over time to ensure success.

Help Employees Grow Through Meaningful Employee Development Programs

  • Work with employees to create a plan for their personal and professional growth.

Check in frequently and monitor progress. Offering more feedback, providing more reviews, and recognising employees for a job well-done will make them feel more valued, and as a result they will be more motivated to do their best work.

  • Offer employees coaching and mentoring so they feel that they are being supported and respected.
  • Encourage them to take ownership for their development.
  • Provide training to employees. Don’t just provide hard-skill training – include soft-skill training, too.

Also consider cross-departmental training, which provides two key benefits: employees learn how different parts of the organisation work together, and they can connect with other employees to build camaraderie.

Encourage other training activities like outside class attendance and membership of professional associations.

Training helps give employees more autonomy – they have different methods and tools at their disposal to do things well on their own. Effective training affects the bottom line.

The American Society for Training and Development (ASTD) found that companies which provide comprehensive training have 218 percent higher revenue per employee than those with less comprehensive training, enjoy a 24 percent higher profit margin than those who spend less on training, and generate a six percent higher shareholder return.

  • Search out the right managers and hold them accountable for their employees’ engagement. Poor manager/employee relationships are usually cited in studies as a top cause of employee turnover.

The best managers understand that their success and the organisation’s success rely on employees’ achievements.

Yet not everyone is a great manager. Organisations’ ability to select people who have this talent is key.

Give Employees a Sense of Purpose

A recent Harvard Business Review article said only a small percentage of employees understand their company’s strategy and direction.

It cites research that says even in high-performing companies with “clearly articulated public strategies”, only 29 percent of their employees can correctly identify their company’s strategy out of six choices.

That’s seven out of 10 employees who are not aligned with their company’s strategic direction.

How can an organisation perform optimally with only 30 percent of its people rowing in the same direction?

Senior leadership should help employees understand where they are going and give them tools on how to get there.

They can do this by:

  • Developing a clear, agreed-on vision and strategy, where all employees can contribute to its formation so they feel they are a part of the decisions being made.
  • Translating the vision and strategy into clear, understandable goals and measurements. This gives employees a sense of ownership and passion to reach goals, resulting in business outcomes being met.
  • Making sure employees have the talent, information, and resources to enable them to perform at their best.
  • Creating an environment of open and clear communication. That includes providing feedback, and keeping employees informed and excited about the vision and the mission.
  • Providing meaningful incentives, rewards, and recognition that serve to set an example for other employees and encourage staff to go over and above expectations. Incentives, rewards, and recognition should be tied to a company’s business objectives.

Create an Effective Voice of the Employee (VoE) Program

Research shows that happy employees translate directly into more loyal, satisfied customers and increased revenue.

VoE measures employee engagement, which shows how motivated, involved, and productive employees are.

These factors, in turn, directly affect employee turnover rates, product and service quality, customer loyalty, and overall profitability.

Organisations must be willing to listen to their employees and implement actionable insights identified from this feedback.

Best practices include:

  • Use multiple channels – online feedback, surveys, social media, interviews etc. – to find out what motivates or troubles employees. Use the right tools to collect the right data. Data should be specific, relevant, and actionable for any team. And data should be proven to influence key performance metrics.
  • Extract actionable insights from the data and route them to the right people who can take action.
  • Complete the loop by communicating with employees on the actions that have been taken.

Sue Duris

Sue Duris

Sue Duris is the Director of Marketing and Customer Experience at M4 Communications, a California-based marketing and customer experience consultancy that helps technology organizations in the US and EMEA create successful customer experiences. Her focus is in building voice of the customer, customer journey mapping, and loyalty and advocacy programs that drive growth.




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