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Guest Author: Heather Younger, Customer Fanatix Founder & CEO
Which comes first: the employee or the customer? This is a constant question that businesses of all sizes face as they struggle to balance employee and customer needs. There are plenty of arguments to be made in favor of putting the customer first every time. After all, without customers that are ready and willing to buy, it is impossible to support and maintain a business and the employees that serve that business. Supports of this mentality believe that businesses should focus 100% of efforts on delighting customers if they stand any chance of being successful.
However, we have all heard the “Employee first, customer second” philosophy on growing and maintaining a flourishing business. Supporters of this philosophy believe that companies should put employees first in all situations, and the rest will fall into place.
Why does employee engagement matter to my customers?
My personal experiences in employee engagement have shown me that an effective employee experience strategy directly affects the customer experience. When my clients want to transform their customer experience, they often list off well-known companies that are praised for excellent customer experiences and ask what they can do to achieve the same results.
When I get these types of questions, my answer often surprises clients: It’s very exciting that you’re prepared to move forward with a customer experience strategy, but let’s take a look at your employee experience strategy first.
Companies such as Disney, Southwest Airlines, and Google are top brands, and a driving factor behind their success always comes back to how they treat their employees. These brands and many others like them recognize the inherent value of their people. They all focus on providing an excellent employee experience first and foremost. Why? They know that it will flow over to their customer experience (and to their profits).
“Employees are a company’s greatest asset – they’re your competitive advantage. You want to attract and retain the best; provide them with encouragement, stimulus, and make them feel that they are an integral part of the company’s mission.”
– Anne Mulcahy
Of course, this isn’t a green light to ignore your customers or to stop meeting their needs until you get your relationship with your employees “just right.” Smart business leaders work with both stakeholders simultaneously, focusing on building trust, rapport, and alliances with both to strike an optimal balance.
3 reasons to adopt an employee-first philosophy:
1. Employees will go the extra mile.
Employees who feel cared for and those who feel empowered to make decisions that benefit customers and the organization are much more likely to go the extra mile for customers and the business. These are the types of employees who will go above and beyond to help your clients, whether they are helping them through a sticky issue or delighting them during a routine interaction. This is a clear win for your customer experience strategy.
2. Great employees produce (even more) great employees
What are the chances that a 5-star employee is going to refer a 2-star employee to your organization? Not very likely. Employees who have worked for a significant period of time for an organization and who take ownership in the success of that organization usually refer like-minded people to open positions. These types of employees are deeply committed to the overall success of the company, and this investment will lead them to refer only their most experienced and respected friends and former colleagues to key positions within your organization. This will prove to be a boon to your talent acquisition strategy, and ultimately your customers will reap the benefits.
3. Happy employees drive revenue
Much has been written about how engaged and loyal employees will drive increased revenues for an organization. This is certainly not a new concept, but I think the real question should be why? I would propose that the reason stems from the simple notion of reciprocity. An employee who feels as though his/her employer has provided all of the tangible and intangible benefits that make the relationship one of trust and co-creation tends to want to reciprocate. That employee may then act in a certain way, like selling more goods and services (even if this is not his/her role) to “return the favor.” This is what leads to mutual dependence and influence. Happy employees are also engaged employees, and when employees are engaged and enthusiastic about the product or service they are selling, they generate more sales.
How to Jumpstart Employee Engagement in Your Organization
When you’re thinking about implementing an employee engagement strategy within your organization, especially if nothing similar has existed previously, the task can feel daunting. As with anything, it’s best to break it down into manageable steps with clear actions:
Unite Your Employees in a Shared Vision of Customer Engagement
Once your organization has taken a purposeful and active approach to employee engagement and you’re starting to see positive results, it’s time to help your employees get even more excited about your vision for customer experience. A single person within an organization cannot bring this vision to life. In order to transform your organization’s customer experience delivery, everyone in the organization must take part, from the founder all the way to the newest entry-level hire.
About the Author: Heather R. Younger, J.D., is the founder and CEO of Customer Fanatix. Her organization’s mission is to inspire and train leaders to put their culture and employees first. This includes leadership development training, coaching and facilitation, employee focus group moderation, and consulting with organizations on strategies to improve employee engagement.
Heather is an active member of the organizational development community. She is a member of the Society for Human Resources Management, a DISC® certified trainer and coach, a contributing author for Talent Economy’s Talent Influencer Network, a certified Customer Experience Professional and she has a law degree from the University of Colorado at Boulder School of Law.
This was an excerpt from Heather’s upcoming book, “The 7 Intuitive Laws of Employee Loyalty.”