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While meeting financial goals this holiday season is a huge priority, making more sales isn't the only thing companies should be focusing on. In fact, as the holidays bring an influx of customer interactions to a variety of industries, most business leaders should be acutely aware of how they treat their employees during this time.
Customers and employees alike will be stressed as the pace is fast and the end-of-year to-do list is endless. Company leaders need to ensure that employee empowerment and engagement is at the top of their to-do lists.
Success depends on the morale of the employee – they're your first line of contact with the customer. After conducting a two-year internal study of employee engagement at 360 retail organizations, we discovered a clear link between employees' engagement and customer satisfaction. Those companies that were placed in the top quartile of employee engagement were three times more likely to earn top scores in customer satisfaction. The secret to engagement, however, was not superficial activities, but authentic efforts on behalf of leadership and managers to provide meaning to employees.
Focusing on employee engagement isn't just placing some version of a teamwork poster on the wall or simply saying "Good job" and patting an employee on the back at the end of the day. Although it's a good start, if this is where your effort ends, it will most likely elicit cynicism and a dismissive attitude. True employee engagement is a business management tool and an investment in the one asset in your company that can deliver exceptional experiences: your people.
Here are five ways to begin to engage employees and boost morale as we enter into the 2013 holiday season:
1. Get employees involved
Include employees in valuable discussions about strategy and ask for their input. If they have a great idea, acknowledge them for it – especially to higher-ups. Some of the best ideas come from the people who interact directly with clients and customers.
2. Establish rituals
Establish rituals, like a weekly team meeting focusing on goals and positive reinforcement, or a quick daily rundown to serve as a real-time reminder that what your employees are doing is making an impact. Regular interactions will empower employees to stay sharp and on target, and it will remind them they're on a team. When a team works together to achieve greater goals, it can be incredibly satisfying – and a confidence booster for everyone who helped.
3. Brand pride
Remind your employees of why they should be proud of the brand they're representing. What does your company do differently? Why are you so special? If you can't explain it to your employees, how do you expect them to explain it to the customers? If you give employees a reason to brag instead of complain, you're on the right track.
4. Let your employees shine
If you're witnessing a situation – perhaps a customer is confused or there's a slightly heated discussion taking place, let your employees handle it. This is what you train them for. If they feel as though they're being micromanaged, they'll be resentful. As long as it looks as if they have the situation under control, why not show your employees that you trust and value their abilities?
5. Recognize and reward
Remember to continue to recognize and reward employees who deliver outstanding customer experiences. If a customer came up to tell you what a great job an employee did, let that employee know – and let your boss know. If you thought they handled a dispute well, tell them what exactly you liked about their method of resolving the issue. Be specific. Don't just pat them on the back and tell them they did a good job.
Take your employee engagement task seriously. At the end of the day, every company is the sum of its employees' decisions. Your brand's equity is equal to the millions of decisions made every day by thousands of employees while you are not around. Would they choose to delight customers or not? Your commitment to engaging them will determine the answer.
Lior Arussy (@LiorStrativity) is the founder and president of Strativity Group a Hackensack, N.J.-based firm that helps companies around the world become more customer-centric. Mr. Arussy is the author of several books on customer experience, employee engagement and experience innovation, including Exceptionalize It!