How our frontline personnel feel and behave undoubtedly has a knock-on effect on how our customers feel about the rest of their day, as well as our organisation and brand as a whole.

Yesterday, I was running late. I had a dental appointment before work, and had to run out of the house without breakfast. Having got stuck in traffic, I finally arrived only three minutes late for my appointment. Following a further delay while people in front of me paid for treatment, my three minutes late had turned into six. At the desk, the receptionist rolled her eyes. “Name”, she barked. “You’re very late. The dentist won’t see you.”

And that was the tipping point of my day. Where I had been flustered, I was now fuming. I arrived at work angry, greeting my colleagues grumpily. In situations like this, what is it about the culture of an organisation – in this case the dental practice – that deems this approach to customers as acceptable?

By contrast, take a look at this Facebook post:

Nigel Purse

A friend had just received her first grocery delivery from Morrisons. Apparently, Simon – on realising the buzzer wasn’t working – called Michelle on her mobile to make sure he made the delivery. The combination of a welcome gift and a staff member who goes out of his way to deliver had impressed Michelle, and she started her day with a spring in her step.

Paul Beesley’s article for Customer Experience Magazine, When employee engagement delivers great customer service, identifies that employee engagement and customer excellence are intrinsically linked. He cites Pret a Manger as an example of when a team is clear on their roles, work together in unison and receive support and encouragement from managers, not only will customer expectation be met but it will be exceeded.

But while some businesses have already made the connection between staff engagement and great customer service, others are yet to realise the link. A recent study conducted by The Oxford Group highlights the gaps in how managers are building and maintaining relationships with employees. Their research shows that breakdown in communication has the potential to negatively affect productivity, performance and staff retention.

For example, the survey found that UK bosses have lost the trust of more than 60% of employees. And nearly one in three employees surveyed said there is a lack of communication from their bosses about what their company is aiming for, with 10% going as far to say there is no real clarity about how they can best serve their company.

Conversations to inspire better relationships

To improve the quality of relationships, my advice is that managers need to become better communicators – and they can make an important start on this process by mastering five conversations with their direct reports.

Through decades of work with all types of organisation, my colleagues and I have identified five essential conversations that managers should have with staff. By being aware and taking positive action, managers will shift their mind-set over time and have greater power to influence trust and motivation, reaping the benefits of better business and individual performance.
The five conversations are:

    1. Establishing a trusting relationship:
      “What would you like to know about me that would help us work better together?”
    2. Agreeing mutual expectations, based on mutual understanding and dependency:
      “Tell me about what you are seeking to achieve and why, and what expectations you have of me in helping you to achieve it?”
    3. Showing genuine appreciation – use the art of appreciative inquiry to understand and build on strengths. Learning how to praise in the moment with sincerity.
    4. Challenge unhelpful behaviour. Using ‘non-violent communication’ principles, managers take ownership of the emotions caused by the behaviour, articulate the effect that behaviour has them and make a request for a change – and in doing so they can reduce the ‘threat’ felt by the other person and increase the likelihood of acceptance.
    5. Building for the future – being aware of and understanding employee’s aspirations and working out how these can be achieved. It can start with a simple:
      “Where do you want to be 1-2 years from now?”

Lasting outcomes

The simplicity of these conversations gives them their power when approached with a positive intent and genuine integrity. So by placing a programme of ‘learning how and why to have conversations’ at the heart of an employee engagement strategy, line managers will understand the background to engagement and learn a simple yet powerful agenda for holding conversations.

The result…their team’s commitment and engagement increases, leading to rapid and measurable improvements in performance with the result being more people like Simon at Morrrisons rather than the dentists’ receptionist.

Nigel PurseBy Nigel Purse
Founder of The Oxford Group and author of 5 Conversations: How to Transform Trust, Engagement and Performance at Work.

Nigel Purse graduated from Oxford University with a degree in Modern History. He founded the Oxford Group in 1986, following a career in HR at BP and working in Leadership Development at Mars Inc. Nigel has grown The Oxford Group from a one-man business to a global Learning & Development firm working for many of the world’s most respected organizations, with 250 employees worldwide. Nigel heads The Oxford Group’s work in designing and delivering global Leadership and Management Development programmes.


Twitter: @The_OxfordGroup>


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