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Engaging customer-facing employees to improve performance

2nd Nov 2010
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Educating and engaging staff within the workplace is key to improving performance. Ian Luxford offers tips to help improve performance, ensure better service for customers: what better way of aligning your strategy with the business plans?

If outstanding customer service is a must for successful businesses today, it’s also one of the biggest challenges they face. Despite cuts in training, owing to the challenging economic climate, employers are still investing in staff within the workplace, as part of an effort to improve their employees’ customer service skills to the best standard and enhance the customer experience.

Many companies focus on enhancing their workforce’s knowledge and expertise of the products or services they are offering, in order to turn them into better customer service representatives. However, the intangible element that actually makes for successful service is employee engagement; employees who are tuned into, and passionate, about what they do.

The most iconic brands around today are not defined by the product they produce or the level of service they are associated with. They succeed because their customer’s experience of them is one that is special and which they can appreciate, enjoy and remember. If a customer is more than happy with the service they receive from a company, then they are very likely use the company again. Furthermore, they will recommend it to others, thus enhancing the company’s reputation. However, if a customer is dissatisfied it is likely that they will not use the company again. They will also tell others about their bad experience, thus damaging the reputation of the company. Hence employee engagement is vital to the survival of a business.

Despite its significance to a company, ‘employee engagement’ is often overlooked by employers as ‘attitude’, and something which cannot be taught. A great customer experience however can only be delivered by someone who really wants to, and a greater knowledge and understanding of the company does not necessarily make its sales representatives care about it passionately.

Employers can only achieve tangible employee engagement by tapping into employees’ emotions and getting them charged-up about the service they are offering. So, how do you achieve this in reality?

Take time when planning an employee engagement programme to assess the basics; who are you attempting to engage, what is their role, what is expected of them and what drives them? Understanding this before you start sets the programme up for success.
The overall objective is for employees to gain insight, which enables them to provide better levels of service. Consider the fundamentals of that experience – what it looks and feels like and how to make the experience real for the people who are learning how to deliver it.

Examples: We created ‘Xcite’, a bespoke programme aimed at improving customer service by exciting store staff with knowledge and options about their customer’s potential purchase, for GAME, the leading video and PC game specialist retailer.
The project started with an assessment of the customer experience and the sales process in stores. Engaging with the retail team established opportunities to improve sales techniques and confidence amongst store staff. The company’s service model was oriented more towards customer service than sales and it was agreed that adopting a stronger, loyalty-orientated culture at store-level could help drive top-line growth.

Similarly, in O2 contact centres, addressing customer retention, started with the experiences that led customers to make the decision to stay and the ways in which customer service advisors knew that they could create this experience – engaging more of them with its delivery led to phenomenal increases in retention performance.

Another key consideration is to personalise the customer experience by allowing employees at all levels to play some part in shaping the way it can be delivered.

The result is a well-developed solution and, more importantly, it makes each individual employee feel valued and gives them a sense of importance. This is integral, because if your staff feel valued and understand how they are helping the customer – then they will be more inclined to do so effectively.

Create a cascade effect within the company so that employees ‘buy into’ the training. People are influenced by their peers and immediate managers far more than they are influenced by their trainers. Therefore, it is important that managers take some of the responsibility for getting the rest of the staff involved and recognise individuals who have already taken the training on board. They can then equip them to engage others by making them part of the facilitation process.

Open people’s minds to the kind of learning they need by creating ‘demand pull’ (generating interest and promoting curiosity about what staff can do to give a great customer experience). People will learn if they want to learn. They will also only engage with a subject if they are able to take actions and feel in control. Blended learning provides numerous opportunities for involvement and interaction.

Communication during this phase is critical to keep reinforcing messages. Let employees know what is expected of them throughout the whole training process and the reasons behind it. Providing skills and knowledge is crucial, but measuring the change and rewarding accordingly is equally important. Positive attitudes spread very quickly when there is overt recognition of people who do the right thing.

Any employee engagement programme should be an ongoing process. It should constantly reward the behaviour that is being encouraged and acknowledge peer-to-peer recognition. Refreshing the programme will also promote continued buy-in and participation. Good programmes will stand the test of time but should evolve to suit both business and employee requirements.

Evidently, to create the ultimate customer experience employee engagement is absolutely essential. Whilst there is no one easy step to achieving this, if it can be accomplished, the benefits to the company and brand are endless.

Ian Luxford is Learning Services Director at Grass Roots

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By lpotton
10th Nov 2010 17:42

This is a very good article and particularly important is the statement it makes about people needing to "want to deliver" good service. You can teach all the skills in the world, but without the desire to serve, it will seem rehearsed and have the opposite to the desired effect.

Taking it a stage further though, each person will have different reasons for wanting to serve. Unfortunately not everyone will simply enjoy the act of helping others and providing service. However everyone has the ability to enjoy delivering excellent service if their personal values are met and their self esteem is raised in the process.

Using the SDI Emotional Intelligence Model.....

A person with "Blue" values (altruistic, caring, helpful) will enjoy the process of delivering service for the pleasure of developing the relationship and simply being helpful.

A person with "Red" values (results and task driven), may perform equally enthusiastically, if they can derive a sense of achievement (eg a high score on a customer survey.........a "blue" would not need this)

A person with "Green" values (justice, order, thoroughness, detail) may enjoy delivering service within a controlled or regulated process, or where quality is measured and affirmed, or where technical details need to be explained.

I think engagement comes on two levels. Corporate strategy using universal motivators such as good communication, involvement etc.

Then..... and this is where a lot of organisations dont quite make it,  line managers really knowing their staff and getting them fired up individually to deliver service, by hitting the right buttons to increase self esteem, via personal values.

This could be, by giving them appropriate products, processes, targets and environment to work in, or merely helping them change the way they see the job, so that it is congruent with their values. For example giving feedback to a "blue" about how they are positively affecting peoples lives, praising a "Red" about how good their scores are and complimenting a  "Green" on how accurately they had explained the product spec !

This link explains this in a bit more detail



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