Some business owners may feel baffled at the notion that you should focus just as much, if not more, on your employees rather than your customers. But the truth is that the two are invariably linked, and neglecting your staff could actually result in your customer service taking a nosedive.
Research conducted in November 2016 by the Institute of Customer Service revealed that only one in four (25%) employees in the UK feel actively engaged in their job. Low levels of employee engagement can be damaging to a business on all sorts of levels, ranging from higher staff turnover, decreased productivity, and poorer standards of customer service.
The survey also showed that just 11% of customers would visit the same organisation again following a bad experience. That’s potentially a huge number of people who are taking their business elsewhere, probably to one of your competitors. What is even more worrying is that 43% of customers would “actively warn others against using the organisation”.
So not only are you losing current customers, but you could actually be actively deterring new people from buying from you. After all, a happy customer might tell a friend; but an unhappy customer will tell the world.
But it’s not all bad news. The Institute of Customer Service also found in their survey that there is a strong correlation between employee engagement and customer satisfaction. In fact, 67% of customers said they would buy from a company again if they had a good customer service experience – that’s a number that companies can’t afford to ignore.
Why employee engagement matters in customer service
Employee engagement is essential to the entire business. In fact, it is considered to be one of the key components of a business in the modern world. In 2013, the Harvard Business Review thoroughly studied the concept of employee engagement, and the impact it has on organisations. One of their surveys asked ‘which factors were most likely to bring success’ to a business.
The top answer was ‘high level of customer service’, which gathered 80% of the votes. ‘Effective communication’ came second with 73%, but ‘high level of employee engagement’ came in a close third with 71% of the vote. And they aren’t wrong; data from engagement specialists, Best Companies, shows that businesses with higher levels of employee engagement financially outperform those in the FTSE 100 by 3.5 times.
But why does it matter specifically to customer service? Those who feel more engaged in their role and in the company have a certain sense of pride in their work, and they feel able to do their job freely and professionally, the way they know how. After all, isn’t that why you hired them in the first place?
If your staff feel engaged, happy, comfortable, appreciated, and passionate about their job, then this will naturally become apparent in the way that they deal with customers. They are more likely to go above and beyond to ensure that a problem gets solved, and that the customer walks away satisfied, which means they are more likely to recommend you to someone they know.
So now we’ve established why it is so important, next we’re going to cover how you can make small (and inexpensive!) changes to your business to boost employee engagement. And watch how the positive effects trickle down into your customer service.
1) Open and honest communication
A big concern amongst businesses, especially those that don’t have the biggest budgets behind them, is spending a great deal of cash to boost their employee engagement. But the good news is that most of the things that will have the biggest effect are actually the cheapest, or even free. And this particular tip doesn’t need any investment at all.
Unfortunately it is often the case that junior members of staff aren’t kept up-to-date with company news. Nine times out of 10 this isn’t the fault of senior management; it’s just a consequence of being busy.
Passing on any form of news, whether it’s good or bad, helps your employees feel connected to the business on a far deeper level, and it really can make a tremendous difference. You also get the added benefit of being able to pick their brains for answers when you come up against a problem in the future.
“It’s a cultural thing, really,” says Janine Rupf, Marketing Manager at durhamlane. “If your employees understand the overarching business goal, they understand that such information might be beneficial to the company’s success. If they just want to hit their target or do their job, important information can be lost.”
Speaking of open and honest communication, your employees are more likely to feel engaged with the business if they know where it is headed, and what its goals and visions are for the future. This will make them feel incredibly valued, and it doesn’t even require a lot of effort.
2) Take a look at the benefits you offer
In the past, company benefits extended no further than the amount of annual leave you were given. Nowadays they have become just as important as a salary, and those applying for a job will be sure to check out the company’s benefits scheme before applying.
You don’t have to go as far as multinational corporations such as Google and Netflix, who have made headlines by introducing ‘extreme’ incentives such as unlimited holidays and nap zones in their offices. Not only are these out of the price ranges of SMEs in particular, they also aren’t necessarily what your employees want from a company benefits scheme.
“I think it’s extremely important that as a business you keep your employees motivated and empowered,” says Jason Downes, MD of PowWowNow. “This could be through benefits such as offering flexible working, company socials, healthcare schemes, and childcare vouchers. In turn they are more likely to offer better customer service as they feel valued and rewarded. The key to happy customers is happy employees.”
But the bottom line is, if you aren’t sure what kinds of benefits your employees would appreciate, why don’t you just ask them?
3) Offer internal and external training
If you’re looking to improve your customer service, then some advanced training in this particular area will certainly help, but don’t just draw the line there.
Again, the best thing to do here is open the floor up to your employees and ask them what they would like to learn more about. Not only does this show that you appreciate open and honest communication, which we touched on earlier, but also that you are more than willing to give them what they want in order to advance. It’s important to remember that most people nowadays are looking for a career where they can grow and develop. SMEs in particular will want to place a huge focus on retaining the best talent for their future.
A big concern for many businesses will be the additional cost that comes along with training courses, but it doesn’t have to be expensive. Search on YouTube for tutorials by experts or videos of conferences that have been posted online; watch as a group and then have a discussion afterwards. Encourage departments to teach one another about their specialty, or ask everyone to think about potential gaps in their knowledge that another staff member could fill.
4) Empower your employees
Very few employees enjoy being micro-managed. Whilst everyone needs guidance in their role every now and then not only to perform well but also to progress in their career, there is a lot to be said for letting them make decisions on their own.
As their confidence grows they will feel better equipped to handle all kinds of situations, and they will feel much happier doing so.
“Employee engagement is an extremely important part of the overall company’s customer experience,” says Sharon Clapp, Head of Customer Experience at Investor in Customers.
“And empowering your staff to make decisions is key. Whether it is empowering them by being able to offer small refunds or similar following a complaint, without it needing to be referred up the chain to senior management; enabling open communication so that employees aren’t frightened to share ideas within the company; encouraging self-improvement; giving praise and encouragement; or just by being a flexible company with regards to working hours, working from home, etc.
“All of these will lead to employees who will be keen to see the company succeed; feeling that they are an important part of the company’s journey too. This will lead to increased productivity as well as an improvement in the overall customer service delivered by the company.”
What are your tips to boost employee engagement? Have you seen your customer service improve as a result?
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