Front Line Employees Hold the Key to Long Term Growth

The strong correlation between Long Term Growth and Employee Satisfaction

I’d like to start this post by asking three quick questions. They all relate to important issues that affect your business.

  1. When was the last time you were delighted when you did business with a service company?
  2. What role did an employee of that company play in the delightful experience?
  3. Do you think you could make a guess about that employee’s attitudes toward his or her job based on what happened?

Even though great service is a rarity these days, we’ve all had at least one experience with a company that really knows how to take care of its customers. In fact, I distinctly remember a small dry cleaner in an area where I used to work. I was so happy with the service, I’d drive halfway across town to give them my business, passing other dry cleaner’s shops in the process.

Why did I go out of my way to deal with them? The employees went out of their way for me. Once, they even made a special, after hours delivery to my house when I needed something in a hurry. They also welcomed me and called me by name whenever I stopped by. That made me feel like they really appreciated my business.

If you place people first, then good customer service and profitability will follow. 

“Employee behaviors and attitudes , even more than leadership principles and ideals, communicate most directly to customers just what the company stands for.”  Fred Reichheld, Loyalty Rules!

When you get right down to it, employees have the power to start a chain reaction that leads to success. Here’s how it goes in reverse. Customer Loyalty drives long-term growth. Customer delight drives loyalty. Appreciation and interest drive customer delight. And guess who’s in the best position to show your customers that you really care about them? That’s right. Front line employees.

Not everyone understands the connection

Despite the obvious importance of employee satisfaction, the great recession has resulted in many companies not placing nearly enough emphasis on developing and retaining employees. Consider these survey results:

  • 84% of employees feel that their workplace is headed in the wrong direction according to a November 2011 survey by Right Management
  • According to a June 2011 study from Mercer, one in two US employees are either actively looking for work or have mentally ‘checked out’

“Diminished loyalty and widespread apathy can undermine business performance, particularly as companies increasingly look to their workforces to drive productivity gains and spur innovation,” said Mindy Fox, a senior partner at Mercer.

Of course, great leaders have always known that taking care of their employees is important. The companies that have continued to make employee satisfaction a priority will come out of the current economic environment stronger and will ultimately put a lot of  distance between themselves and the competition.

If your employees are happy, customers see that, and they respond by giving you more of their business.

Innovation and “Stealing Shamelessly”

Creating an innovative culture starts with creating an open culture. An open culture is accepting of ideas regardless of their source – other companies, industries, people – and is willing to implement what they have learned to improve their own performance. A great illustration of this concept from the greatest innovator of our time, Steve Jobs . . . . he obviously had no issue with learning from the best of the best:

“Picasso had a saying – ‘good artists copy, great artists steal’ – and we have always been shameless about stealing great ideas”. Steve Jobs

What do Copiers and Dog Food have in Common?

Once, when I was involved in a manufacturing operation for office equipment, I took my entire leadership team on a benchmarking trip to Ralston Purina. At the time, a lot of people questioned whether dog food had anything to do with components for copiers. But what we learned from Ralston Purina helped us to dramatically improve our whole approach to inventory management.

The idea came while walking through our local Wegmans grocery store. I was amazed to see from the “produced on” date that Purina could produce “Dog Chow“, ship it, and have it on a shelf in less than five days.  My factory was also producing a consumable for copiers, yet we had over 50 days of finished goods in our supply chain. I just had to see how they did it and try it in our shop. We brought many ideas back to our operation that ultimately helped us to become more responsive to changes in customer demand. And those improvements helped us to decrease our finished goods inventory by nearly 40%!

Other Benchmarking Examples

Whether you call it benchmarking or stealing shamelessly, the basic idea is to encourage your organization to learn from the best. Here are few more examples:

  • Henry Ford studied slaughterhouses in Chicago to get ideas that would help him develop the most efficient assembly line operations in the automotive industry.
  • A large retail bank learned how to make customer service a delightful experience by benchmarking Walt Disney Co.
  • Some historians say that Julius Caesar benchmarked the military strategies and tactics of other armies.
  • Steve Jobs’ passion for nicely designed products for the mass market was instilled in him by the builder of his childhood home – “His houses were smart and cheap and good. They brought clean design and simple taste to lower-income people”.

No such thing as a perfect match

The literature on benchmarking is full of similar success stories. But to get the most out of your efforts, you have to stop looking for the perfect match to your industry. The goal is to find ideas and practices that you can use right away to improve your performance. And it doesn’t matter where you find them.

Once a company starts rewarding people for “stealing shamelessly” (and I like to add – with proper credit), they have taken the first step in creating an innovative culture.

How to keep clients from heading for the exits.

Developing a high performance culture that motivates all employees and sets a new standard for client satisfaction, operational excellence and profitable account management should be an objective for every organization. Even if you are currently experiencing double digit revenue growth, this focus could help you identify and solve issues lurking in the background that threaten to undermine the future of the business.

The attached case study features a dynamic employee engagement campaign that kicked a $2B services organization into overdrive.

Even though the global recession has shifted the focus of most organizations to cost reduction, I believe that effective approaches to employee engagement will separate the winners from the losers when the economy recovers.

To read more about how to keep clients from heading for the exit, click on the following link to read the full case study “The Power of Employee Engagement”: http://wp.me/P28Mqi-1m

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