Stepping up employee engagement to influence a customer-centric culture


 – initiate and drive an internal framework supportive of customer thinking

I know a utility that is constantly reneging on its services to clients in my locality, making life extremely difficult as the service disruption can last weeks. I have stopped calling the big man. Even though he was kind enough to share his contact with me, I realised that having the privilege to call him directly to find out what’s amiss has not changed the picture in any shape or form.

The service is still very abysmal and …. oh yeah, the last time I called him, he flipped. Why was I bothering him with my small matter when he had bigger things to deal with? So poor me; I have to suffer in silence and allow the big man to focus on the big things on his plate.

My only concern, though, is that under the supervision of the big man, a bill is thrust on the side of my door every month. The busy big man sees nothing wrong with that. This attitude begs the question, how well-placed is employee engagement? How do you bring your teams together behind your customer experience agenda?

The point is that your customer experience is influenced to a large extent by the internal dynamics of the organisation. Success is directly linked to the way people think and behave internally. If they are happy with internal goings-on, then they will reciprocate by putting their best foot forward. The contrast to this needs no mention, your guess is as good as mine.

Ultimately, the customer feels the vibes and can tell when things are going right through the barometer of personal interactions with your touchpoints. Note that touchpoints range from physical to digital. Think about this common scenario in any organisation; there is this ‘go-to’ person who gets things done and there is this other guy who has a reputation for unresponsiveness.

The inconsistency here results in underperformance in your organisation’s experience in the eyes of the customer. How do you build a culture of consistency where the customer can attest to the fact that regardless of where they engage with you, the story turns out the same?

How do you arm your employees with the right competencies and tools to enable them to deliver best-in-class services to keep customers aligned with the brand? To begin with, your internal systems must be robust enough to empower your employees to proactively engage customers, empathise with their sentiments, and win their trust.

For example, those who are regularly engaging customers at your touchpoints must have the right skill-set and toolkit to engage customers and be confident enough to address issues intuitively. Using the right tools and resources will help you identify pain points and appropriately address them to achieve consistency across the organisation in your experience quest.

A well-orchestrated experience strategy hones the skills and abilities of employees to drive the customer experience efficiently and effectively. When the internal dynamics are looking good the external customer feels the buzz and responds by rewarding you with their loyalty.

Applying frictionless, data-driven and highly personalised digital experiences is what enhances the employee and customer journeys for better engagement and lifetime loyalty. Consider this, 82 percent of customer experience (CX) leaders predict their budgets will rise in the next 12 months, but where should they invest to achieve the greatest customer lifetime value?

The answer is simple. Creating superior end-to-end customer and employee experiences, or total experiences (TX), is the key to maximising loyalty and advocacy. Here are a few fundamentals to aid us achieve and sustain this. First, cultivate and manage an employee experience agenda sustainably.

Second, conduct staff satisfaction surveys to uncover systemic problems in the organisation. Third, perform employee engagement and service climate surveys more frequently to stay abreast with the pulse both ways. Fourth, conduct internal service surveys to help you measure exact sentiments internally. Fifth, Recognise and reward employees.

Cultivating the employee experience

Experts opine that there are three key benefits of a sustainable employee experience. there is a financial benefit when there is a conscious effort to reduce waste and leverage opportunities to deploy efficient operational strategies.

This will ensure that employees take pride in their work and take ownership of their roles and responsibilities, with a focus on the organisation’s goals. We must prioritise employee well-being by promoting healthy habits like active commuting, healthy eating, and more. This focus on wellness enhances both physical and mental health among employees. Fewer sick days among employees will lead to improved attendance and reduced absenteeism costs.

Managing a positive culture attracts good talent. When employees are offered meaningful work opportunities, recognition, feedback and growth, the organisation records improved retention rates. Employees feel valued and motivated, and are ready to work for an organisation that aligns with their values and goals.

For example, Google encourages its employees to think creatively, take risks and explore new ideas. The company’s “moonshot thinking” philosophy pushes the boundaries of what’s possible with computer software. For example, Google values transparency and encourages this actively.

Employees are motivated with flexibility, free perks, health and happiness benefits, and the ‘150 Feet from Food Rule’. By offering a totally unique way of working, the tech giant has turned its work environment into what seems like a playground. consequently, staff performance is at an all-time high and has remained so for a considerable length of time.

Conducting staff satisfaction surveys

A good reason to understand the perspective of your employees is that they deal with customers variously daily and different scenarios play up in those dealings. Note that in customer engagements at your frontlines, how your employees react depends on their depth of understanding of customer experience.

For example, a single customer can only share his/her experience with your brand. Conversely, employees interact with hundreds of customers and so they tend to deal with hundreds of customer issues, thereby developing a deeper insight into the customer experience. The hearts and minds of employees are directly linked to the experiences they deliver. Simply put, angry employees will typically not be motivated to help customers.

Throwback to my personal experience in a retail store in the heart of London; it resonates with this claim as a store attendant was unashamedly pointing me to the next store because they had better quality items and were more competitive price-wise than his – clearly an embittered employee betraying his paymasters. A high satisfaction rate among your staff will positively impact your wider business in several ways. To begin with, happy employees equal happy customers. If your employees in customer-facing roles are dissatisfied, their impact on the quality of your customer service offering will be negative. The pulse of a great customer experience is felt in the employees’ state of mind when they are engaged with customers.

When you use employee input to shape your business processes, you gain their buy-in and full commitment because they own it and feel part of the solution. In a study conducted by Forrester Consulting on behalf of client Peakon (a software business), it was estimated that voluntary staff turnover was reduced by 10 percent after three years with Peakon due to their awareness of how leadership acted on their feedback from surveys.

Knowing that you are taking direct steps to improve their experience at work will have a positive impact on overall employee morale. A targeted satisfaction survey is an effective way to better understand the factors dictating the levels of employee satisfaction.

Employee engagement and service climate

Employee satisfaction surveys are a series of questions that provide insights into how people experience their work environment, and how positively they feel about the work environment. An engagement survey, on the other hand, delves further and examines the overarching mood and morale in your company.

It enables you to identify any issues and make the necessary adjustments to keep your employees happy. However, this doesn’t mean sacrificing a focus on customers. Here it draws attention to employees’ shared practices and perceptions, procedures, and behaviours that are supported and rewarded by the organisation concerning customer service.

According to the researcher Khan (1990), employee engagement is defined as the “simultaneous employment and expression of a person’s preferred self in tasks behaviours that promote connections to work and others, personal presence ((physical cognitive and emotion) and active full performance”.

Here’s why the employee engagement survey is different from the staff satisfaction survey. A satisfaction survey is very focused as it measures only how happy an employee is at work. This, however, can be misleading as an employee can be happy at work without being engaged with your company’s mission and values.  An engagement survey looks at how invested an employee is in the company, factoring in the whole span of their day-to-day working life.

When workers are engaged they are generally more valuable as they show higher levels of dedication to the organisation they work for. Identifying the drivers of employee satisfaction and then measuring employee engagement is the way to go. I watched this video on social media once where a young man in a moving company had to journey some miles to start work at a client’s house the next day.

Because he didn’t have a means of transport nor the means to get there, he decided to walk all night to make the journey. He got there in good time and was able to do the work; however, his determination and dedication are what caught everyone’s attention.

Internal service surveys

One area you need to respond to very quickly on your internal CX is underperforming departments; as these become a nuisance, the longer they plague your organisation. Even more concerning is that they can cost you customers. Long processing times, cumbersome and unnecessary red tape, and general unresponsiveness internally will ultimately reflect on your frontline failure to serve customers effectively. The solution is simple, move away from hearsay and gossip as a method of gathering important information and focus on a more disciplined and actionable approach.

Dave Fish (2021) recommends some key steps to help us address these pitfalls as they enable you to bring teams together and focus on your external CX measure simultaneously. Step 1: Determine what matters in your culture – Each culture is unique in terms of what constitutes a good customer experience.

Therefore, by introducing a few key questions in your survey you are well-placed to address the following domains; Ease of doing business with, domain competence – having the skill-set as a department to render internal services effectively, empathy – how (internal) customers are treated where there is a conscious effort to understand their needs.

It is suggested that you can also draw in questions such as trust, quality, value, range of services and relationships. The caveat here is not to try and address too many questions at a go. Focus on what matters to your organisation, and the way to get this right is through a series of workgroup discussions with different parts of the organisation.

This way you get buy-in on what metric works best for you. Getting the hang of who is doing well and who is not doing well in delivering services will help throw more light on workflows as well as areas for investment and coaching to improve performance. Ultimately, this, in turn, will help your organisation deliver a better experience to those who are paying the bills, your customers.

Recognise and reward employees

It is a common human need to want to be appreciated and valued. When an individual is rewarded or receives recognition, this individual is motivated to strive for greater accomplishments. This fact affirms the claim that a strong reward and recognition regime can have a significant effect on employee behaviour and performance. When an employee is recognised it makes them more engaged and willing to support the vision unreservedly. Ultimately this contributes to employee satisfaction and retention. It is all about creating a culture of appreciation and building a consistent reward and recognition programme that works for all your teams.

My personal experience is worth sharing here. Years ago, in my days as an IT professional, I was given recognition as an in-house expert of sorts on one of the system software that supported our corporate applications. This was a Unix Operating System software that was not very user-friendly. Fortunately for me, during the implementation, I happened to be working with the main consultant so I picked a trick or two. Later on, this knowledge I had acquired came in handy. One of our expatriates travelled to our remote site and did something silly; thus, holding the system up.

The experts were contacted but it turned out that none of them was reachable then. So in desperation, they asked who could be available to resolve it and I was the one who was sought out for. Fortunately, the scenario that was playing up was one that I had mastered so I quickly provided the solution to resolve what had turned out to be a crisis. That was my moment of truth. My reward for this “great” feat was a promotion and an opportunity to attend a course abroad to improve my skills in the area in question.  Subsequently, I immersed myself in mastering all the troubleshooting techniques.

The Writer is Head of Training Development & Research

Service Excellence Foundation, and Management Consultant (Change and Customer Experience). He can be reached on 059 175 7205,

 [email protected]  

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