This article was originally published in CustomerThink.
By Doug Taylor, Senior Director, HighPoint Global
When C-suite executives look at improving their organizations, they often focus on how to increase customer engagement. They gather data and create metrics to measure that data. They spend time and resources on plans to improve customer engagement and satisfaction, often believing that if they can find that magic bullet or formula for increasing customer engagement, the overall health of their organization will improve.
Often, the secret formula for increasing customer engagement is not hidden in data: it is sitting all around them. The key to improving customer engagement is improving employee engagement. After all, employees are a company’s front line. They are the representatives who interact with customers and have the opportunity to develop relationships that lead to strong customer engagement. Trying to reach customers without working through employees is a flawed strategy.
Creating and coaching a workforce that understands and buys into a company’s mission is critical to an organization’s success. This is an evolved mindset about employees and work. In the past, organizations often viewed their employees as expenses, rather than assets to be invested in to improve overall profitability for the company.
In addition to employees being viewed as valuable and individual assets, rather than resources, executives are also recognizing that employees need to be led rather than managed. These changes are indicative of a transformational mindset, rather than a traditional one. These shifts in thinking enable employee engagement to rise. As employee engagement improves, companies often see a corresponding upswing in overall company health.
What is the difference between employee satisfaction and employee engagement?
While the two phrases may sometimes be used interchangeably, they actually refer to very different things. “Employee satisfaction” refers to whether employees are happy at work.
“Employee engagement” goes beyond satisfaction. If employees are engaged, it means that they are willing to invest themselves in the job they do and put in the effort even if the boss isn’t watching over their shoulder. They are deeply and personally committed to their work and the mission of the company they work for. They understand that the work they do matters in fulfilling that mission.
While employee satisfaction certainly contributes to employee engagement—engaged employees are usually happy employees—the converse is not always true. Happy employees are not necessary engaged employees.
How can I measure employee engagement?
There are certainly informal ways to gauge this; if you work in a traditional office environment, you can take a quick spin around the floor and just observe what’s going on. You can have lunch in a common space and listen. But measuring engagement means going deeper than observation.
Some executives and managers use formal surveys to measure engagement. One popular survey is the Gallup 12. The survey consists of 12 questions worded in very distinct ways that ask employees about the nature of the work they do. The questions correspond to increasing levels of engagement at work. For example, the first question asks employees if they have the materials and equipment they need to do their work right. The seventh question asks if they if their opinions seem to count at work. Those two questions point to two very different levels of engagement: simply showing up and using the tools at hand to get the job done vs. having an opinion about what you are doing and knowing that your opinion matters.
Who makes up my workforce?
Employee engagement also means knowing who is working in your offices. When you look at your workforce, remember that it is composed of individuals with specific needs and wants. To obtain the best engagement possible, you need to respect and respond to those needs and wants.
This doesn’t necessarily mean turning the breakroom into an arcade or offering a Google-style cafeteria (remember—that’s employee satisfaction). But it does mean critically examining your workforce to see what motivates individuals or individual groups.
Workforces are now composed of four distinct generations — traditionalists, baby boomers, gen Xers, and millennials. All generations provide a service and receive a wage, but there are real differences in the type of work they want to produce and the environment they prefer. This can make engagement challenging. For example, traditionalists may want stability and familiarity in their work tasks. Millennials, who tend to thrive on innovation, may want to be able to take risks in the work that they do. You have to be flexible enough to provide for these inherent differences.
One consistent desire across all generations is the expectation of fair pay and good benefits. But simply meeting that expectation won’t increase engagement. Employees want more. They want to do challenging work that is valued, contribute to a mission, grow professionally, and feel empowered to make decisions that help create and shape a company’s future. Leaders who are focused on engagement will realize this and will provide employees with a culture and workplace that fosters their creativity, ambition, and desire to contribute.
How can I improve employee engagement?
Once you’ve shifted to a transformational mindset, know your workforce, and have engagement survey data, it’s time to put a plan together—with your employees. As with finding a solution to any problem, you’ll want to start with some brainstorming. Ask your team, “How did we get here?” Figure out if there is an environment, product, or policy that is keeping engagement low. What do employees want? Why aren’t they getting it?
For example, perhaps employees feel that they don’t have the tools to do their job. If customers call about missing functionality for a web-based product, and employees can’t help them, they are missing an important tool in their toolbox.
Similarly, maybe customer service representatives are given feedback by customers about how to improve products. If they have no way to pass that feedback along, they may feel that that their opinions aren’t being heard—especially if they hear the same feedback on call after call.
Once you and the team have determined the problem and brainstormed possible solutions—such as fixing a product or instituting a digital suggestion box—it’s time to choose one of those solutions and experiment. Start small; try the solution with a focus group, instead of your entire staff, to be sure that it works. Then schedule a time to come together and debrief. Did it work? Did it meet employees’ needs? Would it work in the long term? Based on the answers, refine your solution and try again.
As you are ideating and implementing solutions, word will spread among employees that your work culture is changing. Employees will feel encouraged to speak up and become a part of the team, knowing that their voices will be heard and that they can have an influence on their workplace. Experience and engagement will improve, and as employees become more engaged at work, they will better serve customers.
Changing employee experience and engagement starts at the top. Remember, the goal isn’t just happy employees. It’s engaged employees. Executives who see the big picture will see the best return on their investment.