Have you ever visited a retail store excited about finding the right item for you—only to walk out feeling like the workers were more interested in themselves than in helping you to have a great customer experience? You’re not alone. More than half of consumers have scrapped a planned purchase or transaction because of bad service, according to American Express.

The cost of poor service is a very real one, but the answer isn’t lower prices or flashy advertisements: it’s an engaged employee population.

How advocacy, retention, and productivity are linked

Engaged employees bring a host of benefits to the table. When you think about a great customer service experience, the best ones come from those workers that have adequate training, a motivated work ethic, and some degree of enthusiasm or advocacy for what they are selling.

Engaged workers embody all three of those components.

  1. Productivity: Data from IBM and Globoforce show that workers with a positive engagement/experience are likely to give more effort than their peers.
  2. Retention: Gallup research highlights the impact of engagement on employee retention. Expect up to 65% lower turnover for “low-turnover” industries, and 25% less for “high-turnover” industries.
  3. Advocacy: Highly engaged teams saw a 25-point bump in customer satisfaction ratings (Aon Hewitt).

These components are deeply connected, and any one of them in their own right would be a valuable outcome. However, they are also synergistic, creating a result that is greater than the sum of its parts.

So, we know that engaged employees bring powerful performance outcomes, but how do we get there from here?

Listening to employee feedback is critical to driving individual performance

Research shows a significant amount of innovation that happens in organizations doesn’t happen from some far-removed executive proclamation but through the micro-innovations, that frontline workers implement every day.

In the book The Idea-Driven Organization (Berrett-Koehler Publishers, 2014), the authors tell a story about a bar that was struggling with customer service issues. The management turned to the staff for ideas and immediately realized there was a common theme. Specifically, customers were tired of waiting for service while staff went to deposit empty bottles downstairs. Additionally, staff were not happy with the arrangement because it meant carrying heavy loads down narrow, dark staircases all night long, which in turn, meant they were not prioritizing customer service.

The fix turned out to be surprisingly simple: the owners built a chute at the back of the bar so bottles could be dropped down into containers in the basement. Not only did it improve the safety and happiness of the staff, but customers were happier because they were served more quickly and there were no unsightly piles of trash behind the bar waiting to be discarded.

This is just one example of the power of listening to employees, but it demonstrates just how much value can come from their ideas. Now, consider this important question: do you think those workers were more engaged when their leaders listened to their ideas and concerns? You better believe it.

The power of listening to employee concerns and addressing them is a virtuous cycle. Listening and acting helps to create a more stable, engaged workforce. That, in turn, leads to better performance outcomes, happier customers and higher profitability. While poor customer experiences are a reality of the world we live in, turning to these principles to lead your workforce can greatly decrease the chances that those bad experiences happen at your organization.    

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