Employee Engagement Is Worthwhile But Elusive

There is a buzz now about Employee Engagement in all industries. Thought leaders in Human Resources are centered on the idea that engaged employees are more motivated, effective, and productive, and therefore can do more with less.

And that sounds like a good thing—doesn’t it? I want that. You want that. We all want that.

As a HR software executive, it’s no secret that I have a keen interest in all things Human Resource related and especially those that have the potential to change the way that employees’ are engaged. But what does Employee Engagement really mean? And how do we know when we’ve achieved Employee Engagement? Of course there are companies who provide nap rooms, free meals, and onsite daycare, but are the freebies the key to Employee Engagement? Those are nice perks, but is it really necessary to go over the top with giveaways to employees to get them engaged? Those questions are what I’ve decided to explore.

To begin, I needed a solid working definition of Employee Engagement. While I have heard the term itself for more than a decade, it often is used with varying meanings. It was surprisingly difficult to find a definition that focused on what the employer can do and what the results of Employee Engagement are. So, for the purposes of this blog, I created this definition of Employee Engagement:

Employee engagement is leadership communicating strategy and embedding goals to a receptive, motivated, and well-recognized workforce who in turn creates customer loyalty and satisfaction resulting in exceptional business results.

As my definition suggests, my thoughts on encouraging engagement do not involve giveaways and freebies but rather they center on leadership behaviors.

Principle 1—Good leaders communicate with their employees.

A good leadership team articulates strategic objectives and promotes processes that successfully embed those goals at every level of the organization. The idea here is that managers align goals to specific objectives for each of their direct reports and, at the same time, allow employees to participate in the strategy and planning related to achieving their assigned individual, team, and organizational goals.

Employees must clearly understand what they are supposed to do and what success means to them individually and as a team. They also need know the organization’s goals and more importantly what the organization stands for so they can be aligned with its intentions. This is important so they can reinforce and promote its culture inside and outside of work. Some organizations, such as Southwest Airlines, go so far as developing and promoting compelling customer service stories that intentionally embody and reinforce their culture and customer service philosophy.1 Those of us that have enjoyed Southwest’s unique style of customer service have witnessed how well this philosophy has worked for them.

Principle 2—Empower employees to do the right thing.

Providing an environment where employees are able to exercise judgment in doing their day-to-day jobs is a must-have for an empowered workforce. It’s not enough for your managers to provide leeway for direct reports to do their jobs effectively and efficiently. Employees must feel safe in taking calculated risks, possibly breaking the rules, so long as those decisions result in serving customers better. Top managers and executives must be receptive to upward feedback. Good ideas cannot be ignored. When procedural or system changes are necessary to improve efficiency, accuracy, or customer service, your Engaged Employees should be leading this effort.

One caveat…while encouraging empowerment behaviors, emphasis should be maintained that employees are still responsible for maintaining direct and frank communication with their supervisors and keeping them in the loop at all times. An empowered employee is not an unsupervised employee.

Principle 3—Happy employees are positive and strive to do their best.

How happy are you? Thirty years ago, an employer would not likely ask that question. Today it is more common since happiness has been linked to productivity, so measuring and promoting happiness has been gaining favor with Human Resource practitioners. Tony Hsieh, the CEO and founder of Zappos.com, is going so far as to develop his own “Unified Happiness Theory.” 2 Tony may be uniquely qualified to undertake such a task since his book, Delivering Happiness: A Path to Profits, Passion, and Purpose is a #1 book on the New York Times© Best Seller list.

Happiness is the most subjective of my four Employee Engagement principles, but I have seen that it is an important one. Happy employees are positive employees that strive to do their best work. Here, we are focused on getting employees well-placed in their roles with a good sense of purpose and meaning for the job they do. Employees must be given the needed training and tools to be successful. They also need to be satisfied with their work environment and compensation. It is essential to foster participation in collaborative teams where all are invested in the successful outcomes of the team and are regularly communicating, sharing information, and sharing knowledge.

Happy employees routinely speak highly of the organization to coworkers, potential coworkers, and customers. Surveys are good tools in checking your organization’s progress in this area. Of course, the ultimate test of happiness is retention. If your organization has a retention problem, then you likely have some work to do on the happiness front.

Principle 4—Team recognition keeps the team spirit alive and well.

Teamwork is the most important aspect to high productivity: http://richardcangemi1.com/?p=89.

People naturally gravitate toward teamwork, but when the reward system is improperly designed teamwork is quickly snuffed out. Teamwork thrives when recognition is evenly and fairly distributed to all contributors.

Good coaches instinctively listen and recognize players’ contributions. They know that those coaching behaviors foster a loyal, motivated, and productive team environment with individuals working toward a common goals that are aligned to make the team successful. A winning football team’s quarterback and running backs naturally receive recognition as they are performing in highly visible positions. The same goes for salespeople and product engineers since they are recognized by virtue of the exposure that the job that they do affords them. Good coaches and managers fairly share successes with all contributors so everyone is recognized for the outcome of the team effort. Shared recognition is what keeps team spirit alive and well.

My four principles of Employee Engagement are simple enough. It is an elusive but worthwhile goal since achieving the kind of Employee Engagement that results in exceptional business results is easier said than done. Good luck!

Footnotes

1 Kelly, Gary, “Gary’s Greeting: Happy Holidays!,” Spirit,  Dec. 2013, http://www.southwest.com/assets/pdfs/about-southwest/garys-greeting.pdf (accessed 10 Dec. 2013).

2 Max Chafkin, “The Zappos Way of Managing,” Inc., 1 May 2009, http://www.inc.com/magazine/20090501/the-zappos-way-of-managing.html (accessed 6 Dec. 2013).

Super size me Service, please!

According to Merriam Webster’s online dictionary, “Super” is defined as being “of high grade” or the quality of “exhibiting the characteristics of its type to an extreme or excessive degree.” Merriam Webster’s online dictionary also defines “Serve” as “to be a servant.” So, really “Super Service” can be said more powerfully as: extreme servants delivering excessive service.

Wouldn’t it be nice if you could super-size service like you can super-size your lunch and transform your company culture to one of extreme servants delivering excessive service? This is certainly a dream come true for many growing companies. Unfortunately, it isn’t that easy to get to Super Service standards. It is possible however, over time to position your company to Super Service by adopting the following, mostly simple (one not so much), recommendations.

Know the needs and service history of all of your customers.

Starting with the sale, continuing through setup, onboarding, and then ongoing with continuing service, it is essential to document your customers’ service needs and open issues to be able to super serve your customers on a consistent basis. At Mangrove, we use a CRM (Customer Relationship Management) system to store relevant customer information such as sales orders, setup documents, etc., and then document customer encounters to create a customer profile with the institutional knowledge that is essential to serving our clientele with Super Service. When we engage a client, our service person can quickly review the CRM and determine the background information for important customer handling clues, such as: Has the recently called for a similar issue? Is someone else already working this issue? What out-of-the box service commitments do we have with this customer? This CRM allows us to perform as a united team and to collaborate toward developing and sharing a full understanding of our customers’ service needs and service history.

Communicate service expectations clearly and concisely.

In many cases service failures occur when the customer expects one thing, but your firm is doing something different. To be a Super Service organization, you’ll need to consistently manage your customers’ service expectations by documenting your service commitments and then sharing those documented commitments with teammates so you’ll effectively collaborate toward exceeding service expectations as a united team. With every customer exchange, a Super Service organization takes their obligation to communicate an understanding of what the immediate key service objectives are, develop and then communicate a plan to meet those objectives, and then arrive at an agreement of how success will be measured for achieving the previously defined objectives. This protocol of establishing an up-front agreement takes the guesswork out of service and ensures success, as long as you follow through with timely performance of your agreed-to service plan.

Measure your performance and how customers perceive your performance often.

Internal and external measures of your company’s performance are essential to maintaining Super Service levels and to making appropriate changes to improve service levels that aren’t making Super Service grades. At my company, Mangrove Software, we use a variety of tools to measure our performance including monthly department-level score cards, which objectively report our performance against our defined internal service levels and external customer surveys that help us gauge how our customers feel we are doing.

It’s not enough to just fix problems. Do something for the customer’s trouble.

The timely fixing of a customer’s complaint is essential to good service, but it’s just not enough to qualify for Super Service. To be a Super Servant, you must mend the relationship and rebuild trust that has been damaged by the service failure. Often the customer accommodation doesn’t have to be extravagant or excessive. Your customer will feel better if you simply recognize their inconvenience. It is always reasonable to credit charges for services failures, but often a small denomination gift card is more personal, powerful, and effective.

Follow up.

A few days after the dust settles, follow up with an email and a phone call. These follow-up communications are needed to reinforce your commitment to service and will help to strengthen your customer’s perception of being valuable to your firm. The intention is to convey these few things in this email and phone call:

  • A sincere apology and the accommodation provided, if a credit was issued. Personal gift cards should be handled in a separate communication.
  • An explanation of what went wrong, how the issue was resolved, and why it won’t happen again in the future.
  • Thanks for their patience, trust, and continued patronage.

Learn from your failures.

View every service failure as an opportunity to learn how to provide your clientele better service. Many customer service issues are symptoms of issues elsewhere in the organization and can and should be avoided with some planning and better, more concise communication. Empower your frontline service people to document service failures and then hold your leadership team accountable to identify the root cause of the service failures and create the needed policy, product, documentation, and/or service changes required mitigate these issues and keep them from happening again.

Put your money where your mouth is.

This is by far the most difficult recommendation to implement, but it is the one that can have the greatest immediate impact toward culturing Super Service. Give your customers control over a portion of your fees that will be earned by you based on your service performance, and then directly align your service team’s compensation with customers’ payment of these at-risk fees. This concept of having some percentage of your fees at risk where your firm earns its keep based meeting periodic measures of service-levels and/or quality expectations forces your service team into some important Super Service behaviors. For this program to work, your service team must define service expectations with the customer upfront and then manage to them with periodic and meaningful performance reviews with the client. This alignment between your customers’ expectations, service needs, and service, along with customer-controlled incentives to serve, is a very powerful tool toward being Super Service organization.

How to keep a Customer when things go wrong.

Remember how hard it was to score that customer, right? What do you do when Murphy’s Law kicks in and you now have an unhappy, or even furious, customer on your hands? How do you retain them?

Most people recognize that mistakes happen and things can and will go wrong. Your company will be judged most critically on your ability and finesse in managing these challenging situations.

Empower your customer-facing associates to follow these five simple rules, and I believe that you will find good success in turning the unhappy customer into a loyal advocate.

  1. Communicate often, maybe hourly depending on the nature of the issue. Answer and return calls promptly. Be patient and listen to them vent. The customer will often provide you with valuable clues on how they expect you to resolve the situation. Acknowledge your mistake (only if you made one), apologize sincerely for their trouble, and steer the conversation toward the plan to get their issues resolved.
  2. Only make promises that you are sure you can keep. The client is already upset, so it’s not the time to add fuel to their fire. Empathize, and don’t over promise. If you are not sure of a fix timeline, then don’t provide one with certainty. If it is an involved process to resolve their issues, then take extra time and precautions to fix it properly the first time. While you are working diligently on the resolution, always refer back to Rule Number 1.
  3. Cut out the red tape internally to avoid additional inconvenience for the customer. Be your customer’s advocate internally. Good news travels fast, and bad news travel faster. In the age of social media, industry forums, and complaint advocacy websites, even the smallest of customer issues can put your company and your personal reputation at risk for bad publicity. Enlist help from your supervisors, other departments, and co-workers and make a good case for why this customer takes priority over current work.  Avoid solutions where the customer incurs extra work or additional charges.
  4. Do something for the customer’s trouble. The accommodation doesn’t have to be extravagant or excessive. Most often your customer will feel better if you simply recognize their inconvenience. It is always reasonable to credit charges for ineffective products or services, but often a small denomination gift card is more personal, powerful, and effective.
  5. Follow-up. A few days after the dust settles, follow-up with an email and a phone call. These follow-up communications are needed to reinforce your commitment to service and will help to strengthen your customer’s perception of their value to your firm. The intention is to a convey these few things in this email and phone call:
    • A sincere apology and the accommodation provided if a credit was issued. Personal gift cards should be handled in a separate communication.
    • An explanation of what went wrong, how the issue was resolved, and why it won’t happen again in the future.
    • Thanks for their patience, trust, and continued patronage.