If employees feel they have genuine ownership of customer problems, can address them as they arise and are given the knowledge and tools to take action, they’re more likely to make customer focus fundamental to their day to day working routine. They will probably be more productive and happier too.
There has been much talk and many publications which reflect on the link between employee engagement and the customer experience. If employees feel engaged i.e. they believe in their company purpose, feel cared for by leadership AND understand how their job contributes to the customer experience, then they are more likely to be committed to ensuring a better experience is provided to customers. That’s all logical and makes imminent sense.
There is a growing body of evidence to show that this theoretical link, between employee engagement and improved customer experience, can be taken one step further and is also a driver of superior financial performance. Here are some of the compelling numbers:
- Companies that lead in customer experience have 60% more engaged employees [source]
- Companies with highly engaged employees outperform their competitors by 147% [source]
- A 5%increase in employee engagement has been shown to lead to a 3% jump in revenue [source]
- A study from Accumulate found that 65% of lost customers could be directly linked to a disengaged employee [source]
One of the best ways to get employees engaged is to EMPOWER them
Engaged employees tend to be empowered employees. When people are enabled with the resources, authority, and opportunity they are more motivated and much more likely to be engaged. Empowerment coupled with accountability will make employees more suitably focused and drives a better customer experience.
Empowerment is relevant for all employees, not just those who are customer facing given that every employee has an impact, however indirect, on the customer’s journey. Whether a frontline service advisor or a back-of-house IT support person, both roles influence whether a customer has a pleasant in-store experience or one that doesn’t meet their expectations due to a system failure.
Ritz-Carlton has long been used as an example and held up as a standard for employee empowerment. The very foundation of the business was to focus on serving “even the unexpressed wishes” of its guests and doing so through fully-empowered “Ladies and Gentlemen” (as the employees of Ritz-Carlton proudly refer to themselves).
Ritz-Carlton allows any employee in its organization to fix any guest problem, without asking for permission, even if it costs up to $2000 to do so. The amount isn’t what’s important here and such a sum may not be practical in your own business, but the empowerment to spot and resolve a problem before it escalates, is.
“Empowerment is often manifested as the power of our employees to break away from the routine,”
— Herve Humler, President and Chief Operating Officer of The Ritz-Carlton Hotel Company.
Here’s an image that summarises the thinking behind ‘an empowered employee’.
Can you imagine the power of having a workforce, a team, leadership or a colleague who is consistently more productive, using their best judgment, caring for customers (and those around them), spontaneously going the extra mile, proactively recovering negative situations and problem-solving?
“People want guidance, not rhetoric. They need to know what the plan of action is and how it will be implemented. They want to be given the responsibility to help solve the problem and the authority to act on it.”
— Howard Schultz, Starbucks
Most people want to make a valuable difference in what they do; organisations need to be as tuned in to helping them gain the skills, the autonomy, and the authority to do this, as they are in resolving customer pain points.
Here are eight simple ways to empower employees:
- Provide actionable insights to facilitate better and easier decision-making.
‘Put yourself in the customer’s shoes’ – is fundamental here. This isn’t about one-off story-telling, but about gleaning and disseminating on-going insights across the business.
- Encourage relationship-building so that employees develop their empathy for customer’s experiences and their pain points (and high points) encountered along their journey. Employees need to be encouraged to invest time in building ‘personal’ relationships where the customer feels valued. This helps transition the foundation of the experience from transaction to committed and enduring relationships.
- Get employees’ input & involve them – let employees have a voice in the CX, just as customers increasingly are. There needs to be an outlet where employees can freely speak up, be listened to and heard.
- Give purpose not rules – allow employees to operate within a ‘framework’ which can remove the rigidity of stricter policy mechanisms and allow flexibility and interpretation. Policies and procedures should serve to support teams and uphold standards. When employees are faced with a scenario that falls out of the regular or every day, or with a difficult situation without a clear answer, they will then feel empowered to use their judgment and take ownership of the decision.
- Provide the means to ‘self-govern’ – “It’s better to ask forgiveness rather than permission”. Provide the processes and structures so that employees from across departments and areas within the business can collaborate within one ‘team’. Provide them with accountability and autonomy to problem solve, to make decisions to improve individual customers’ interactions and (one step further), proactively innovate.
- Reward for positive customer outcomes – organisations need to reinforce positive customer-oriented behaviours by linking measurement and success to positive (and relevant) customer outcomes. When employees are empowered to make decisions, it creates a direct line of accountability to customer outcomes, which should mean that employees are addressing each situation with a service mindset. Then, celebrating customer successes will, in turn, inspire others.
- Equip and support – surround employees with the right tools and support mechanisms to deliver the best experience for customers. This may mean very different things for someone in finance versus someone in dedicated customer service. A capability and tools audit will help establish the job to be done. This may involve training, coaching, technology, and information so that each employee can best serve customers.
- Keep talking – none of these are fixes are one-off actions. There must be consistent efforts and communication to bind the organisation together behind the customer (and employee) cause.
Employees are a critical driver of customer experience. It is clear that empowered employees positively drive the customer experience and therefore business results.
By creating a culture that gives employees the ability, flexibility, and ownership to act, but within a managed framework, they can meaningfully drive improvements to the customer experience.