For the sixth year in a row, job satisfaction has improved in the US, surpassing a 50 percent satisfaction rate since 2005. Despite overall satisfaction, there are areas that increasingly prove problematic for employers, such as promotion policies, performance review processes, and internal recognition. Unsatisfied employees aren’t typically pushing out the best qualities of their employer, leading to problematic external situations.
For a customer service agent, this feeling of unhappiness shouldn’t transfer over to the customer. To create a top-notch customer experience, companies should put their employee’s happiness first. Executives can increase employee happiness by knowing who makes up their employee-base. One of the most important generations in the workforce today is millennials. The group now makes up the largest generation in the United States workforce, 35 percent in fact. To create happy millennials, executives should focus on creating a strong company culture, purposeful jobs, and opportunities for growth.
Creating a Strong Company Culture
Employers may think they know what employees are looking for in a company culture – games, free food, weekly happy hours. What plays an even stronger role in recruitment for a company is a set of core values that encourage innovation and creativity that employees can get behind. It’s not enough to write these values down on paper – C-suite executives must live by these values, and encourage employees do the same when they engage with customers.
Passion also plays a large role in employee happiness – if employees are dedicated to their employer and role at the company, they’ll transfer this passion into a strong work ethic to solve customer issues. This passion for work and creating an innovative culture begins with the C-Suite and continues to all levels of the company. When employees can see their leaders and peers are engaged and happy at work, they’ll too work harder to contribute to company success in their role as a face for the company – in and outside of the workplace.
Amplifying Employee Purpose
A company’s biggest proponent should be its own employees – who better to promote your company’s strong business model and customer service. According to Heather Brunner, CEO and Chairwoman of WordPress, it’s the CEO’s role to increase employee engagement through a power of purpose throughout the company. When employees know they have a true purpose in the company, they’ll work toward becoming true advocates for the brand.
Purpose is also strengthened with a strong set of communication systems in place. Employees feel a sense of purpose when they feel in the loop with the company’s senior executives. A strong company-wide communications plan can be done through executive presentations or sharing emails with an entire staff. Promoting good news within a company excites employees to be part of something larger and take that excitement to their day-to-day conversations with customers.
Implementing a System of Internal Recognition
According to a report by Gallup, 59 percent of millennials are seeking jobs where there is a clear opportunity to grow and learn. How can executives retain, and create, happy employees? Internal promotion. When employees can map out a path for promotion and future career success, they’re more likely to stay with a company, knowing their work is valued. This pride of tenure also provides a sense of reassurance in customer service – it’s encouraging for customers to know they’re speaking with a representative who has been with a brand for a number of years and respects their time.
Voxpro CEO, Dan Kiely, frequently uses the term “operational beauty” to describe an employee’s personal journey toward growth as an individual, both personally and professionally. By having recognition programs in place and highlighting internal promotion, employees tend to work harder, knowing they may have stronger job security and that their work is valued to grow with a company over a period of time.
When employee happiness can carry over to their day-to-day conversations with customers, it will be apparent that agents enjoy their job and company. That excitement will be evident through chat systems, phone calls, and emails. It shouldn’t be taken for granted that feeling of purpose walking into the office every day, wanting to make a difference in your company. When top executives exude excitement, agents will want to do the same down the line for customers.
I agree. A company is more likely to be successful with its customers when its employees feel positive about their work experience and their purpose. This is not an earth-shattering idea, but it’s clear that few companies achieve the results they advocate. When I see companies espousing ideals or prescriptions for effective employee engagement, I often look at the reviews the company receives from its own current and former employees. The commentaries and statistical ratings demonstrate that maintaining strong values doesn’t always produce the outcomes promised or hoped for.
Even at self-described “best-in-class” companies, many employees remain frustrated with paltry benefits, perceived lack of opportunity, low or unfair pay, and feckless leadership. And some are not shy about posting their frank opinions online. These comments, of course, present an opportunity for companies to respond and show not only that they are listening, but that they care – artifacts that often don’t extend beyond the recommendations, or Human Resources Values Statement – well intentioned as they might be. A rare few companies do, but most let the negativity fester in full view of prospective employees who are paying attention.
While it’s vital for employees to be dedicated, loyal, and fulfilled in their daily work, that’s only a partial predictor for overall happiness – albeit an important one. Other predictors include their personal health, and family and financial stability. Many companies have discovered that the ability to execute strategy depends on these and other variables – not just what they provide in the immediate workspace. An employee who has great benefits and loves their job will be less effective if he or she is worrying about securing day care for their child, or not getting evicted from their home or apartment.
Does employee happiness equate to customer happiness? They are no doubt connected, but customer happiness depends on more.
1) The connection between employee happiness and customer happiness can exist, but not if the employee happiness comes from foosball tables, unique benefits and lack of discipline in taking care of the customer. Henry Ford put it well, “There is joy in work. There is no happiness except in the realization that we have accomplished something.”
2) aligned with the first point, companies that empower their workers to think and act like owners, drive both employee and customer happiness. Industry leaders, like Southwest Airlines, Capital One and BHP Billiton, and hundreds of private companies empower employees to think and act like owners, driving and participating in the profitable growth of the company. These Forbes and Harvard Business Review articles provide more background: https://hbr.org/2018/01/more-than-a-paycheck
Good leaders of high performing teams understand the role of safety. Good leaders are not only good connectors with people, they also create environments for willing contribution and high performance. Not surprisingly an engaged team performs better than a disengaged team. But in reality tough conversations are still an essential ingredient in engaged teams as tough conversations are very effective at stopping cultural drift and performance drift.
Along with Passion and Purpose, I’d recommend adding Commitment – to the organization itself, to the company’s products and services, to customers, and to fellow employees. This is true employee ambassadorship, which transcends satisfaction and and engagement because it doesn’t rely on superficial attitudes, fit and productivity.
There have been a number of professional and academic studies, in multiple industries, linking employee attitudes and behaviors with the value customers perceive in their experiences.. Through targeted research, and resultant training, communication, process, and reward and recognition programs, what we define as ambassadorship formalizes the direction in which employee engagement has been trending toward for years. Simply, the trend is optimizing and connecting employee commitment to the organization and its goals, to the company’s unique value proposition, and to the customer. This creates a state where all employees are focused on, and tasked with, delivering customer value as part of their job description, irrespective of location, function or level.
In other words, though there needs to be coordination and management of initiatives through HR and a CXO/CCO, everyone in the company, from the file clerk to the CEO, has this day-to-day responsibility embedded within their job descriptions..
This raises a classic chicken-and-egg question: Does focusing on the employee, and the emotions inherent to creating and sustaining a positive employee experience, generate as much benefit for the organization as enhancing the customer experience? There is ongoing debate about which should be the priority. Several entire books, in fact, have been written on this subject (such as The Customer Comes Second by Hal Rosenbluth and Diane Peters, and Firms of Endearment by Sheth, Sisodia, and Wolfe). There is general agreement that both developing employee ambassadors and customer advocates should receive high priority and emphasis if an enterprise is going to be successful. What building ambassadorship does mandate, however, is that having employees focus on the customer will definitely drive more positive experiences and stronger loyalty behavior for both stakeholder groups.
A recent article by a major employee research and engagement consulting organization reported on results of their national workforce tracking poll, the highlight of which was that employee engagement had risen 1.2% between January and February, 2015 (to 32.9%) and that this new level was the highest engagement rate reported in the past three years.
The consulting organization went on to conclude from these findings that “Recent trends suggest that improvements in engagement coincide with improvement in unemployment and underemployment,” with the bottom line statement that “A decline in the percentage of unemployed and underemployed Americans may have some influence on the percentage of engaged workers. As the job market for skilled employees becomes more competitive, it is possible that companies are putting more effort into engaging their current workers.”
At best, this conclusion feels like a major s-t-r-e-t-c-h of correlation analysis results.
This same organization believes that “Employee engagement is a leading indicator of future business success….”; and, to the degree that engagement level can impact staff turnover and productivity, both key contributors to profitability, this is a fair statement. However, when this organization, and others in the employee engagement research, training and consultation space, makes claims that engagement, in and of itself, contributes to customer value and loyalty behavior, two important questions need to be asked. Those question are: 1) Really? and, 2) Where’s the consistent proof for individual companies?
Whenever encountering white papers that conflate the connection between employee engagement and happy customers, the above questions need to be asked. Further, there is no specific connection to the emotional drivers of employee experience. Emotions, understood on an accepted negative to positive hierarchy , are critical to understanding experience and behavior
Just as satisfaction has little proven connection to customer behavior, employee engagement was not specifically designed to drive customer behavior nor was it designed to enhance the employee’s experience. To build on this statement, let’s begin by looking at the results of satisfaction on downstream customer action. Beyond extremely macro connection to sales, customer satisfaction (as expressed through the ACSI) has been shown to have little direct connection to purchase behavior, to the tune of 0.0% to 0.1% correlation. Many companies are still measuring customer sat in hopes that learning about its drivers will help build customer loyalty behavior, but satisfaction isn’t contemporary regarding longitudinal experience, decision-making, or reflective of what is going on in the customer’s real, emotional world.
As discussed on multiple occasions, and as proven in our own research ‘employee engagement’ has many meanings and interpretations, but relatively little of it has to do, at least by conceptual definition, specifically with impact on customer behavior. Typically, there is little or no mention/inclusion of ‘customer’ or ‘customer focus’ elements either in measurement or analysis of employee engagement. Though there is proof that customer experience, and resultant behavior, is impacted by engagement, it is more tangential and inferential than purposeful in nature.