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.

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Key Drivers Ed: How to find opportunities for big improvements in Customer Delight

“Knowledge is the process of piling up facts; wisdom lies in their simplification.” – Martin H. Fischer, American Scientist, educator, and author

Focusing on Customer Delight is an admirable goal, identifying the specific issues that have the biggest impact on the customer experience is where the real work begins.

I call them “Key Drivers” of delight and dissatisfaction.

Drivers of delight are outstanding service or product related features that help build customer loyalty. Drivers of dissatisfaction are problems and other shortcomings that damage your relationship with customers.

Finding these drivers is one of the most important steps in the entire business improvement effort. Because once we identify the drivers, we can develop targeted initiatives to increase customer delight and eliminate customer dissatisfaction.

These improvements in turn, boost customer loyalty, decrease attrition, increase share of wallet and generate favorable word of mouth advertising, which helps attract new customers.

A brief introduction to drivers inspired by my refrigerator

Let’s consider the impact of a common household appliance – the refrigerator – on delight and dissatisfaction.

When I take the milk out of the refrigerator, I don’t say, “Wow! That’s cold. Isn’t that great?” And I don’t sing the praises of the manufacturer either, because I expect the milk to be cold. That’s why I bought it in the first place. In other words, the refrigerator isn’t a driver of delight, because its just doing it’s job. And that’s exactly what I expect.

But what happens if the refrigerator goes on the blink? The unexpected failure is going to spoil the milk and make me very unhappy. If I go to the extreme, I will probably never buy anything else that carries that brand again — whether it’s a stove, microwave, vacuum cleaner, or anything else.

From the manufacturer’s standpoint, that’s bad enough. But the situation can get even worse. After all, I will probably tell friends and family members about my unhappy experiences with the refrigerator. And some people I talk to avoid that brand in the future too.

That gives you some idea of the huge impact drivers of dissatisfaction can have on customer loyalty, word of mouth advertising and the bottom line.

Drivers change with the times

Now, let’s turn back the clock, and you’ll see a different side to the refrigerator story. After all, when the electric version of the icebox first hit the market, people were delighted. Even if it didn’t work perfectly all of the time, it was still a driver of delight, because it provided a new exciting, time-saving convenience. As the years passed, however, reliable refrigeration became so commonplace that it lost its ability to delight people.

So what happened? Manufacturers add icemakers, cold water taps and other bells and whistles. And for a while, each of these innovations did cause customer delight. Then they too became commonplace features that met – but did not exceed – customer expectations.

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