Employee Engagement Is More Important Than the Customer
Failure to engage your staff effectively is the first step down the bad-service rabbit hole.
Opinions expressed by Entrepreneur contributors are their own.
Problems don't begin with customers. They start with you and your employees. When customers expect a fantastic experience but receive a third-rate one, you can lose them forever.
Brand harmony can fulfill customers' expectations and stop uninspired in-store experiences. The best way to understand what consumers want is to play both sides: You need to be your own customer.
For the past few years, our company's team members have used and perfected our product in our retail locations. We learned that being your own customer -- having your leaders and your employees interact with each other as customers and associates -- helps you experience the customer journey and validate your product's quality and capabilities. You'll get more value from using your product frequently than you will from digging through data to find empirical answers to engagement problems.
It's an open-ended cycle: Have leadership engage your employees, and your employees will engage your customers. Although 90 percent of leaders think an employee engagement strategy impacts the bottom line, a mere 25 percent develop one. Customer experience starts the minute people come in contact with your brand -- and employees. First-impression failure is the first step down the bad-service rabbit hole.
Related: How to Inspire Innovation Among Employees
While online retailers have disrupted the traditional model for in-store sales, they can't replicate the in-person brand experience. When your employees know all aspects of your product and process, they're much better positioned to over deliver during this first interaction.
When we began frequently using our product, we stumbled upon things that didn't completely satisfy us -- as customers or brand representatives. Companies generate twice the amount of revenue when they have engaged employees who are on the same page. And if everybody is a product expert, you don't have to worry when your designated product guy has the day off.
Here are five ways you can more effectively engage your internal customers:
1. Give and receive feedback on a regular basis.
Some companies only give employees feedback every six months. How can you expect employees to remember what they did well or poorly half a year ago -- or remain engaged with the leaders who didn't give the feedback earlier? Shorten feedback loops to increase employee engagement. Forty-three percent of highly engaged employees get feedback at least once a week, compared to 18 percent of employees with low engagement.
2. Communicate your goals.
Your company culture needs transparency and communication. How can your employees help you achieve your aims if they don't know them?
I once attended what I thought would be a follow-up meeting with a potential client's decision makers to introduce our company's technology. The company actually wanted me to install the product and have the system up and running by the end of my visit. Meanwhile, my support team didn't realize I'd need downloads and licenses. If my employees had been briefed on my goals with the potential client, they would've been standing by to help. I failed to give my external customers a first-rate experience because I hadn't given my internal customers one.
Related: How Small Teams Can Achieve Big Results
3. Listen to your employees.
Employees are on the front line of customer interaction, so they'll likely see things you don't. Your workers are valuable sources of information for retail success. Ask for their thoughts and ideas. Make sure you hear, discuss and consider what they have to say.
4. Celebrate achievements.
Few things will engage employees more than a handwritten note from a leader to commemorate even small or personal achievements. If your employees matter to you (and they should), make sure they know.
5. Turn the statistics around.
Studies show that more than one in 10 employees are completely disengaged at work. You have an opportunity to use the statistics to your advantage. Take control of the customer-facing side of your business with brand coordinators, giving them the tools they need to manage the engagement of all company employees.
Retailers frequently lack branding and operational harmony. Combat this by investing in employee engagement from the leadership side. When you learn from your business, you'll improve your customers' experience -- and your bottom line.
Related: How Smart Companies Get Employees to Brag About the Business