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Better Customer Experience Starts with Employee Engagement and Purpose in the Workplace

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Dr. John Izzo

Frontline employees like service technicians, nurses, and sales associates are the face of your organization, and the level of service they provide your customers can make or break the experience. When employees are disengaged, their dedication to customer care (or the sheer ability to provide it) is often lacking. This can harm your brand reputation, negatively impact your bottom line, or worse, become a safety issue.

In the healthcare field, for example, nurses who are “least engaged,” according to research from the National Institute of Health, are more likely to describe the quality of care on their unit as fair or poor and to grade patient safety as poor or failing. They’re also not as confident that patients can manage their own care once discharged or that management will resolve patient care problems. (On the flip side, business units with higher levels of engagement have fewer patient safety incidents, according to studies by Gallup.)

Engaged employees are customer service heroes

Want to know what an engaged employee looks like? If you live near a Wegmans grocery store, you can probably walk in and meet one. The chain has become known as a great place to shop and work. Wegmans has been called the best supermarket chain in the U.S. and has been named to Fortune’s “Best Companies to Work For” list for 22 years straight. They credit much of their success to their people and make meeting employee needs a top priority.

“If we meet the needs of our employees, they will take care of our customers,” said Jack Depeters, Wegmans SVP of store operations, in an interview with Fortune. “Every year, thousands of customers share amazing stories about our employees and the incredible service they provide.”

It’s no coincidence that Wegmans has both engaged employees and loyal customers. Companies with engaged employees report 2.5 times more revenue than competitors with low engagement levels. And according to a study by Podium, roughly half of all consumers in 2021 would travel farther to and spend more at a business with good reviews.

Make sure customer-facing employees are heard and problems are addressed

Often, engagement issues stem from problems or roadblocks an employee is encountering that their employer has failed to address (even after the employee has raised concerns). Listening to employees is critical — perhaps even more so when it comes to customer-facing employees — as they’ll be more in tune with customer needs and will have a unique perspective on areas of improvement for the business. 

Soliciting employee feedback (and actually using it) can give your organization insight into potential areas of improvement, and help employees feel like their voices are being heard, which will boost employee engagement. It’s a win-win.

Boost employee engagement by leading with purpose

Most employees want to know their efforts make an impact beyond earning a paycheck. People who have a sense of purpose at work are more engaged, satisfied, and committed to the organization. 

In their book, The Purpose Revolution, Dr. John Izzo and Jeff Vanderwielen explore the topic of purpose and how it impacts engagement and performance. The authors use the example of zookeepers, who are typically well-educated but notoriously underpaid. Despite spending hours scrubbing enclosures and picking up waste, most zookeepers love their work.

Many have a sense they are “born to do this job” and that their role has a deeper meaning because it serves a greater purpose: improving the health and well-being of animals, creating educational opportunities for the public about the conservation of endangered species, and the importance of biodiversity in natural habitats.

Show employees how their work impacts customers

According to Izzo and Vanderwielen, the best way to connect employees with their job purpose over their job function is to directly explain the greater value behind their tasks. Employees need to understand the difference they make in customers’ lives.

For example, a customer service representative at a large hardware retailer has the job function of answering questions and stocking the shelves, but their purpose might be to help customers find cost-effective solutions to their problems and to empower them to learn new skills.

Manager enablement is also key here, as managers can be instrumental in reinforcing purpose during one-on-one meetings. They can help their direct reports view their job in a different, more positive way. When employees understand that they’re contributing to a greater overall effort, they feel more connected to their work, colleagues, and the organization’s mission.

Finding career purpose: an exercise

Below is a simple exercise managers can do with their teams to help employees better connect with their purpose. The results will be enlightening as people think differently about their roles in the organization and their impact on society.

  1. Ask staff how their job provides personal meaning and how it makes a difference to others.
  2. Have them make a list of the main job functions in their area of responsibility, with brief descriptions of the role and tasks.
  3. Brainstorm a list of ways the job makes a difference. (How does it improve someone’s life, society, or the planet?)
  4. Craft simple “higher-calling” or purpose statements.

Here are a few examples to use as a guide:

When you help people connect with their job purpose, they discover how their position can be a calling and not merely a job. This creates more career fulfillment, which translates into higher performance, better experiences for customers, and better outcomes for the business.

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Dr. John Izzo

John Izzo is co-author of The Purpose Revolution and president of Izzo Associates. He has spoken to over one million people and advised over 500 companies, including IBM, Qantas, the Mayo Clinic, Verizon, RBC, TELUS, Walmart, DuPont, Humana, Microsoft, and IBM. He is the author or coauthor of six books, including Awakening Corporate Soul.

Jeff Vanderwielen

Jeff Vanderwielen is co-author of The Purpose Revolution and vice president of consulting at Izzo Associates and a former senior change consultant at Ernst & Young with 20-plus years of experience helping organizations manage large-scale change and articulate a compelling purpose – their core good – as the organizing center for their vision, strategy, and culture.

Image Credit: James Pond on Unsplash