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The Direct Link Between Employees and Customers

By Sybil Stershic, President, Quality Service Marketing

It’s easy to dismiss respect and recognition as fluff – especially in times like these, where so many people are thankful just to be employed at all – but they’re critical to engaging employees.

As a business professional and consumer, I’ve seen how employees impact customers. What employees experience in their organizations carries over to customer attitudes and intentions. Simply put, employees influence what customers think about your business and determine whether or not they’ll establish and maintain relationships with your company.

Managers who try to cater exclusively to customers while ignoring their employees’ well-being in the process are doomed to fail. Smart managers know they need to pay as much attention to their employees as they do to their customers.

It’s Not Your Products

A few years ago, Forum Corporation conducted a study that asked consumers why they switched companies. Nearly 70% of the reasons given weren’t product-related. Consumers said they switched companies because they felt the attention they got from the company they left was poor – or they hardly got any attention at all. As Guerrilla Marketing guru Jay Conrad Levinson notes: “The majority of business lost is lost due to customers being ignored.”

So it doesn’t matter how much your company is spending on the latest and greatest technology, how innovative your products and services are, or how persuasive you are at getting customers in the door. If your employees don’t take care of them, they won’t be staying long.

The Three Rs

Employees pay close attention to the cues provided by their managers, and they’re quick to ascertain the difference between lip service and true commitment to customers.

Companies may not realize it, but the most powerful message comes from managers whose actions demonstrate the company’s commitment to being attentive and responsive to customers. For example, managers who shy away from customer contact cannot expect their staff to go the extra mile in providing customer care. Any printed or verbal reinforcement will be rendered ineffective if managers don’t “walk the walk.”

These “Three Rs” for gaining employee commitment – Respect your employees; Recognize their efforts; and Reinforce the importance of being customer-focused – are the foundation of an effective internal marketing strategy and the key to employee and customer engagement.

Critical to Engagement

It’s easy to dismiss respect and recognition as fluff – especially in times like these, where so many people are thankful just to be employed at all – but they’re critical to engaging employees. You can find evidence of both in the following questions developed by Gallup to determine the strengths of the workplace:

These are just 5 of the 12 powerful questions that Gallup discovered have strong links to employee productivity, retention, customer satisfaction and profitability.

Management's Commitment

In my former career in banking, I had the opportunity to witness a powerful example of employee respect and recognition. Based on the results of a customer satisfaction survey, the bank rewarded the top-scoring branch with a special breakfast served by senior management.

Instead of just authorizing the branch manager to buy breakfast for the staff, the executive management team brought in and served the morning meal. The bank President poured the juice, the Senior VP of Branch Administration sliced the bagels, and the head of Marketing served the coffee. This special event, which the branch staff enjoyed and talked about with pride for months, was a visible demonstration of management’s strong commitment to customers and staff.

According to John R. Katzenbach, author of Why Pride Matters More Than Money, such highly visible recognition events and celebrations are an integral part of how organizations instill pride in performance and contribute to an emotionally committed workforce. The authors of Firms of Endearment echo the value of recognition: “Yes, a high salary and generous stock options may keep an employee on the payroll, but absent recognition and appreciation, the person will not be bonded with the company. Being unbonded, the employee will not give the company his or her best efforts.”

The reality is that no organization will be successful without the support and engagement of its most valuable internal resource: its satisfied, dedicated employees. If your employees don’t feel valued, neither will your customers.

Sybil Stershic is the President, Quality Service Marketing and the author of Taking Care of the People Who Matter Most: A Guide to Employee-Customer Care. She is also the former Chairman of the American Marketing Association. For more information on QSM, go to www.qualityservicemarketing.com

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