Customer Service Starts Inside

Customer service is a critical function in every organization, and one that business owners must count on employees to consistently deliver. But how can employees deliver exceptional service if they're not feeling empowered, appreciated, and respected themselves?

We think about improving customer service through additional training or incentives, though getting effective results can often come from something much more human. How your employees feel about their job will directly affect their attitudes, their performance, and ultimately, the experiences customers have with your company. In short, happy employees equal happy customers.

Checking in on employee satisfaction and engagement is not as common as it should be. Studies report that only 20 percent of employees feel valued at work, and 49 percent are not satisfied with their direct supervisors. If an employee is not feeling valued, what would motivate her to go above and beyond?

Employees might be unhappy or disengaged for different reasons. Some are frustrated with bureaucracy in the company, lack of feedback, feelings of exclusion. Getting to the root of employee dissatisfaction can help resolve long-standing problems throughout your organization.

Evaluating and enhancing employee engagement doesn't have to be an expensive corporate endeavor: the process for soliciting feedback can be as simple as asking staff how they feel about their jobs, their bosses, and the organization as a whole. And effecting change often doesn't take more than listening to what your employees have to say and putting their words into action.

Assess the Employee Landscape

Measuring employee satisfaction and engagement can be done in a number of ways—and it's important to find the most effective approach for your staff. Here are a few suggestions:

  • Employee surveys: Surveys can often yield more honest responses since they offer anonymity, but might not be as in-depth since it's a one-sided conversation. Try using open-ended questions rather than only rating questions to get the reason behind the rating.
  • Personal interviews: A one-on-one conversation allows for the most personal and responsive look at an employee's experience. Questions like "If you were in charge, what would you do differently?" empower employees to share solutions to problems that you have not have realized even existed. Consider hiring an outside consultant to perform these interviews, which can often prompt more honest responses.
  • Focus groups: One way to craft a focus group is to include one person from each department. Ask them all what's working and what's not working within the company. Encouraging honest communication between departments can be a valuable way to work out disconnect and help develop a more seamless experience for customers while also helping employees understand how their actions affect other staff members.

Satisfied vs. Engaged

You might find that your employees are satisfied with their jobs and the organization itself, that they are content to keep contributing at the same level. Satisfied employees are not a bad thing, but engaged employees take things one step further.

Being engaged at work means possessing an owner mentality, showing commitment to the company, and doing more than asked. These employees are the ones most likely to deliver the stellar customer service most business owners hope for and tend to seek out opportunities to contribute even more.

Getting employee feedback is just the first step in improving engagement. It's perhaps even more important to take action on the findings. If you are asking employees to open up and share their thoughts, you should be prepared to work on any areas of weakness.

Setting employees up for success is most effective right from the start. Begin with proper onboarding, clearly detail performance expectations, and establish open and regular communication outlets.

While the methods detailed above are great ways to officially solicit employee feedback, the most effective way to keep employees engaged is to check in routinely. An annual review or a meeting with a consultant can seem intimidating to some, but a standing monthly status check with a supervisor is a more approachable way to voice concerns from either end.

Tapping into Employee Intellect

Your employees have a tremendous amount of intelligence that goes well beyond the skills and knowledge needed to do their jobs. They know what's working and what's not working in the company. They know what the kinks are—and what customers are saying. Tapping into employee insights can help feed the bottom line while also improving employee experience.

Engaging in regular communication with your employees benefits everyone. Happy staff are empowered to provide excellent service and help establish your organization as one that puts both customers andemployees first. What are you waiting for?

Randi Busse is founder and president of Workforce Development Group, a coaching and training organization that specializes in improving the customer experience, increasing customer retention, and maximizing revenue. Prior to founding the company in 2008, she worked for almost 10 years as a sales coach at Verizon. She is also the author of Turning Rants Into Raves: Turn Your Customers On Before They Turn On YOU!