Educating and Empowering the Workforce of the Future

Employee Engagement
Employee Engagement
By investing in the career development of each employee, companies cultivate success, planting the seeds that allow their workforce to grow alongside the organization.

If customers are the sunlight companies need to prosper and succeed, employees are the roots that keep these businesses grounded as they continue to grow. Employees are the reason companies can connect with customers, for they supply the services that set the stage for success. Yet, while employees have the power to nurture the customer experience and the organization's goals, the threat of disengagement constantly looms like a dark cloud.

"When something isn't working very well, eventually we all decide to 'give up' because the effort isn't worth the return," says Chris Townsend, senior marketing director at Imaginatik. "And thus, many people disengage from their work, putting in the minimum effort necessary to avoid trouble, but little more."

For many employees, dissatisfaction overpowers their desire to perform their jobs at optimal capacity. Their motivation fades as they lose sight of their place within the company and how their actions contribute to the organization's overall mission. Humans have an innate desire to be part of something larger than them, but many companies fail to provide the guidance these employees need to improve their skills and provide superior customer service. But, since customer loyalty and employee satisfaction traditionally go hand-in-hand, companies that fail to serve their employees also fail their customers by default.

"Disengaged employees provide low-quality service, aren't as friendly to the customer as they can be, and don't strive to fully resolve the customer's issue," says Stefan Captijn, product marketing director for business applications at Genesys. "This may impact first-contact resolution, meaning the customer has to contact the organization multiple times. This increases customer effort and negatively impacts loyalty and word of mouth."

Guiding Employees on the Path to Empowerment

For many employees, the pressure to be productive drives efforts, cutting into their training schedules and leaving them without the knowledge necessary to rectify customer issues. When they lack the proper training, employees fail to serve customers to the fullest extent, thus becoming dissatisfied and disengaged in their work. Companies must ensure they are currently enabling and empowering their employees to help customers solve problems effectively and efficiently upon first contact by providing them with the information and skills necessary to keep them up-to-date on how to handle pressing struggles.

Roger Woolley, vice president of marketing solutions at Verint, notes that today's customers are typically savvier than the agent on the phone, often knowing more than the agent when they call for support. To remain or improve their success strategies, companies must enable their workforce, provide a clear framework for career development, offering training options, and create work-from-home opportunities in an effort to promote a healthy work/life balance.

As Ken Thompson, Ph.D., co-author of It's My Company Too! How Entangled Companies Move beyond Employee Engagement for Remarkable Results, says companies that treat their customers well will develop the competitive advantage. "Engaged employees are like Olympic athletes-totally focused on thinking about what they're doing, trying to improve things, and working toward their goal," he says. "They become even more emotionally linked."

Although employee engagement requires the tools for success, companies must also elevate a culture of collaboration and a sense of shared purpose. Companies must make sure employees understand their roles within the organization, what they bring to the company, how they support the brand's values and objectives, and how they fit into the company's wider strategy. Executives must routinely sit down with employees across the organization to gather feedback, encourage openness, and facilitate collaboration so they may cultivate an interdependent culture that promotes engagement with fellow colleagues and the company as a whole, creating a happier, more welcoming workplace in the process.

PeopleMetrics' recent eBook release, The Seven Practices of a Customer-Centric Organization, highlights the importance of considering employee feedback and perspective when improving the customer experience. Because these employees interact with customers on a daily basis, they bring unique insight to the table, for they know what customers need and how to deliver these services effectively. However, 88 percent of CEOs agree that they must collect customer and employee feedback, offering employees greater importance within the organization while properly aligning the company's customer-centric goals.

The Basics Behind the Bring Your Own Device Culture

While mobile continues to grow in popularity outside the enterprise, this emerging channel also appears to be gaining momentum within organizations that encourage the "Bring Your Own Device" (BYOD) culture. Employees are allowed to bring and use their personal mobile device for whatever tasks require mobile communication. Such technology offers companies the chance to engage with employees by leveraging SMS, push notifications, and email to communicate quickly and efficiently to improve performance, collaboration, and the customer experience.

"Companies that take a value-based approach to mobile engagement and employee entanglement will discover ways that not only improve the bottom line, but also make individual employees more successful," says Steve French, vice president of product management and marketing at OpenMarket. "Mobile is an extraordinary channel for delivering smarter communication through technology that is more intuitive, personal, and relevant."

For many service-based companies, mobile allows field professionals to receive alerts about no-show appointments so they can prevent wasted time and ensure all effort goes toward available customers. This ultimately results in improved productivity and collaboration, thereby increasing engagement, boosting the customer experience, and reducing support costs.

Small Businesses, Big Ideas on Employee Education

In many instances, small businesses fall behind their larger counterparts because they lack the resources necessary to remain ahead of the game. However, where they lack in funds and manpower, these companies more than make up for with ingenuity. For Tasty Catering and Nick's Pizza & Pub, two establishments in the Chicago area, small starts grew into big ideas for improving employee engagement.

For Tom Walter, chief culture officer and co-founder of Tasty Catering, culture change came when two young employees expressed their dissatisfaction. "One day, in 2005, two young superstars-age 24 and 23-appeared at my desk and said, 'Change or we are leaving,'" Walter explains. "I asked them change from what to what? They said to eliminate command and control and go build an employee-generated culture."

By brining every employee together, Walter and his colleagues generated a list of 10 core values for every employee to live by and uphold. The entire staff met every Monday afternoon to discuss and establish these core values as a team, defining culture statements that are posted throughout the building, constantly reaffirming this team-building behavior and mindset so each employee remains engaged with the company's overall mission and success.

For Nick Sarillo, author of A Slice of the Pie: How to Build a Big Little Business and owner of Nick's Pizza & Pub, the desire to improve employee engagement came from "the great success of making a lot of money, but still feeling empty." Sarillo wanted to prevent employee churn and boost satisfaction by allowing his staff to learn new skills and achieve new goals.

By establishing The Nick's University, a leadership education business, employees approach each basic food services task, such as hosting and serving, as a class. While they are typically hired for one particular job, employees are encouraged to learn new skills so they may expand their job profile and work in other areas of the establishment. These courses build engagement, cultivate skills, and enhance employee satisfaction, for they have opportunities for promotion and salary increases.