Employee engagement principles are easy to understand, at least on a theoretical level. Employees that feel valued for their inputs (knowledge, skills, experience, work ethic, ideas, feedback, performance etc.) are more likely to have higher engagement levels. They go beyond the basic service deliverables and as a consequence they deliver positive customer experiences that add value to their customers’ everyday lives. From a practical point of view, how can we encourage our employees to feel valued? Here’s a few ‘carrots’ to consider.
Preventative maintenance for employee mental wellbeing:
Some of the work we do involves heartache and sorrow brought on by tragedies, events, cradle to grave disabilities and social disadvantages, to name a few. As we become habituated or used to life’s tragedies, we risk underestimating the residual effect it has on our frontline employees’ mental resilience and ability to move from one situation to another in quick succession. In our endeavour to help others in need, we need to look after the employees that are providing these critical services. Providing space and time for employees to download, debrief or just sit quietly to process how their day/week/month has gone is one way of showing that we value our employees and the emotional effort that they use every single day. Providing external professional or in-house expert assistance on-site is a positive, preventative measure. Employees will not take up the use of external assistance providers until it is too late and it is often used as an absolute last resort in the middle of a crisis. If our ‘people are our greatest asset’ then treat them that way. We look after our plant and equipment by conducting preventative maintenance so why not extend this to our ‘human capital’?
Humanising your customers:
To understand customer needs on an emotional level, think about customer sensitising activities that can include spending a day with them, organising a fundraiser, attending an awareness workshop about their area of disadvantage, inviting a customer to come and talk to your employees about what their struggles and barriers are and how they see your service helping them, sharing customer success stories, wall of fame, and the list goes on. Placing a face to our customers is especially important for employees who do not interact with them on a daily basis.
Make customers the centre of your universe:
Encourage employees to talk constructively about your customers…all the time. Be mindful of our customers when we evaluate the effectiveness and efficiency of our internal business processes. Put customers first on the agenda of every meeting; discuss their feedback. Welcome criticism with the attitude of making life better for them and build the capacity for employees to feel great about the service that they have just delivered. Nothing taps into discretionary effort more than intrinsic rewards.
If there is something we can learn from the retail industry, then this is it. Mystery shoppers are mock ‘clients’ who engage your services to assess the service levels, usually against a checklist. They collect feedback and report back to your organisation with their experience. Your employees are unaware of who they are and in doing so, constructive feedback can be collected in an objective manner. While this may look like a stick rather than a carrot, its intention is to collect objective data on customer service levels as well as organisational customer issues. For example, the way that brochures are displayed and used in your service area may not add value to the customer experience; the design of the customer area may not accommodate their needs or be too cluttered or too clinical, the music when you are put on hold/transferred is too loud, etc. It’s about casting an objective eye over the all-important first impression of the organisation and building your understanding of what your customers really value.
As part of their role, rotate employees through quality circles. Instead of management being solely responsible for reporting on customer satisfaction levels, they become part of the reporting process. They will see and experience the data and information first hand and (surprise surprise!) they are usually the best people to get involved in continuous improvement initiatives. This form of peer reporting shifts the focus from blame placing to problem solving and uncovers a whole new way of discussing our customers between our employees. If led appropriately, this provides improvements at an individual, process and systemic level.
The success of our engagement strategies to improve customer service levels must be measured against employees’ perceived levels of feeling valued. Taking regular temperature checks on these perceptions gives us information to inform our next decisions. So in reality, our perception of how much we value our employees really doesn’t matter. It’s what our employees perceive that really counts. If we can challenge ourselves and integrate this into our thinking, we are more likely to see results for our customers and our employees.
Former Senior HR Consultant