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Employee Engagement: The Not-So-Secret Ingredient in Great Customer Experiences

A growing number of companies are obsessed with customer experience. It’s a clear competitive differentiator, and so teams are spinning up to define the right metrics, re-engineering processes and more. But they are too often overlooking the one lever with the greatest impact on customer experience – employee engagement.

The lack of focus is showing; 70% of service workers are disengaged and the number is growing year over year (Gallup Employee Engagement Index, 2012). And they are expensive – higher turnover means more recruiting and training cost and lower productivity. The average disengaged employee costs their organization 46% of their salary. Companies that want to transform their customer experience need to start close to home, taking steps to engage their employees.

Indeed, successful companies understand the relationship between employees and customers.  According to Bob Thompson, president of Customer Think, “Companies are starting to explore the role of employees in the value chain”. Cultures that value engagement vs. management not only improve customer loyalty, but attract top talent, which creates a virtuous cycle of excellent employees and happy customers. 

Shep Hyken, head of Shepherd Presentations, has his own employee engagement ‘golden rule’, “treat your employees the way you want them to treat your customers”, because, “what’s happening on the inside of an organization is going to be felt on the outside by the customer”. 

While employee engagement is fundamentally about people, technology is a critical enabler – and that’s where Workforce Optimization (WFO) enters the picture. The right WFO solutions will drive transparent goals and data through a single source of truth, put insight at the fingertips of the frontline, and motivate positive change.


No one wants to work in the dark – they want to understand how they are performing versus peers and targets. Companies need to share broader business objectives and help employees understand how their work is connected. According to Aphrodite Brinsmead, Senior Analyst at Ovum Research, “When employees have more responsibility for their performance, they step up.” Transparent organizations also share customer feedback with employees. “It’s critical that employees understand the impact they have on individual customers,” notes Brinsmead.


Many service organizations are swimming in customer data, but only a few analysts at headquarters can access it. If they publish reports to the frontline and back office, the rhythm is infrequent at best. “Organizations need to rethink their approach to customer insight,” says Hyken, “and put it in the hands of people on the frontline that can use it to make a better decision for the customer in the moment.” Employees who have insight into customer needs at their fingertips are empowered to do the right thing and deliver a better experience.


Finally, companies need to ensure their employees are properly motivated to take action. That starts by removing obstacles and providing the tools necessary for the job. “Organizations can engage their people with technology,” says Brinsmead.  In contact centers, for example, the goal is to simplify customer service and guide agents to the right offers and solutions in the moment.“

Companies that make a commitment to engage employees understand that rewards and recognition motivate better performance. Thompson states the importance of understanding “what drives performance to decide what to reward.” Reward the right behaviors with incentives that resonate with employees.

Gamification is one example of recognition that is gaining momentum. 61 percent of adults say that adding gamified elements to daily tasks would make them more fun and rewarding, according to JW Intelligence. Case in point, companies can use gamification to motivate top performing employees to share their ideas and best practices. In a recent study by NICE Systems, only 12 percent of companies actively solicit ideas from frontline employees. If you are seeking ideas to improve the customer experience, motivate the people who are most in touch with customers to contribute.

Transforming Culture

Creative companies step beyond basic performance measurements to tap into the unique skills and talents of their employees. Hyken tells the story of a Kimpton Hotel where management discovered that a restaurant employee had a passion for video production. They encouraged him to create a short video about the hotel. “The employee beamed with pride when talking about this project,” describes Hyken

For companies looking to become more employee-centric, it’s important to remember that turnarounds take time. “The first step in any project is assessing where you currently stand,” says Brinsmead “then you can dig deeper into the individual steps for change.”
Thompson tells the story of Sprint—the telecommunications giant. He said that it took a new CEO and about five years to execute the turnaround but, “They did that by better understanding what employees needed to do their best work. They identified their top performers, ensured their commitment, and connected them with real customer feedback so they could see their impact.”

Hyken suggests companies create a short and memorable mantra, or brand promise. He points to Ritz Carlton as one of the best: “We’re ladies and gentlemen serving ladies and gentlemen.” Or, Miami-based Baptist Health, which describes themselves as a “Destination Employer,” meaning that you’ll love it so much it’s the last place you’ll ever work.

Change is most often stalled by the lack of a “burning platform’. If senior leaders are on fire about customer experience, fan the flames by identifying current employee engagement levels, and draw the connection to customer service. Help your company get equally obsessed with employee engagement.

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