Key Strategies to Amp Up Employee Engagement and Customer Experience

by Sue Spaight

“Unengaged employees can’t create engaged customers,” Temkin Group states. So if you want stronger customer engagement and improved customer experience, a key part of that is effectively engaging your employees.

Companies with highly engaged employees outperform their peers, and have better service quality and customer ratings. Yet, at the time of this writing, Gallup Daily statistics indicate that just 35% of U.S. employees are engaged at work. And engagement levels are often lowest among sales and service employees who have the most customer interactions. To get the business results that come from better employee engagement and customer experience, strategic companies should plan to create a virtuous cycle between the two. 

Fuel the “Virtuous Cycle”

You can address these challenges by implementing some key strategies to fuel what Temkin Group calls the “Virtuous Cycle” between employee engagement and customer experience (CX). Just as fostering employee engagement helps drive a great customer experience, challenging employees to deliver better customer experience will build strong engagement among them. Having more loyal customers and the stronger financial results that come with them can fuel investment in employees and employee pride, and create lower turnover. 

Start With What Employees Need 

As with any challenge, we start with what your customers – in this case, your employees – need. To feel engaged, employees need purpose, mastery, and autonomy. They need to feel that their work aligns with a higher purpose, that they’re learning and applying new skills, and that they’re empowered to choose the best way to perform their jobs, according to Forrester Research in Customer Obsession is an Employee Engagement Strategy Too. (This model is originally attributed to psychologist Mihály Csíkszentmihályi in his 1990 book, “Flow.”) 

Let’s dig a little deeper into each of these three key strategies …

Provide a Sense of Purpose 

When it comes to employee engagement, it’s important to start with “why.” This concept is usually applied in a branding context but is also essential to firing up your employees so they can deliver the best customer experience. To effectively engage, employees must have a shared understanding of the purpose of the organization as a whole. In fact, understanding the mission of the company is among the top drivers of employee engagement, according to Temkin Group.

Beyond that, you must also enable them to understand why delivering a distinctive customer experience is imperative. It’s simple human nature … people are more likely to feel committed to something when they truly understand and connect with the “why” behind it. 

Ultimately, delivering an incredible customer experience can, in and of itself, act as a unifying purpose. According to Forrester, “Employees feel better about their work when they believe it serves a greater good, and contributing to better customer experience can provide that sense of purpose.” It’s a win for everyone – employees, customers, and your organization. 

Build More Mastery 

Providing employees with the training and tools they need to be successful is another of the key drivers of employee engagement, according to Temkin Group research. It stands to reason that investing in your employees’ confidence in excelling at their jobs will boost their enthusiasm. “So CX pros should help employees master the crafts of customer experience, teaching the basics of CX 101, alongside deeper training on related topics like journey mapping, empathy and emotional intelligence,” says Forrester.

A big part of building mastery is bringing customer-facing staff closer to customers and their journeys, using tools like customer personas, customer journey maps, and user stories. This is an effective way to foster greater empathy for customers, a necessary precursor to enhanced customer experience. One very smart GS client is going so far as to build a physical space that brings its customers’ journeys and the customer experience vision to life, as perpetual inspiration to employees. 

Allow Greater Autonomy

To remain engaged, people also need to feel that they’re empowered to make a difference. Of course, customer-facing personnel must be able to respond to customers in the moment to ensure delivery of great experiences. “Companies must provide clear guidance as well as the knowledge and training to help employees know what is appropriate – and only then empower them to act in the moment,” according to Forrester. 

Along with providing this guidance and then allowing for autonomous interpretation in customer interactions, employees must feel they have a voice and are being heard. No one who feels powerless and unheard is going to be fully engaged in creating a stellar experience, yet many companies fail to account for this obvious fact. 

Overcome Complacency

The strategies outlined above can effectively help companies overcome internal inertia and an “it’s good enough” mindset, which can act as a real barrier to progress. 

Harvard Business Review’s The Dark Side of High Employee Engagement sums it up beautifully: “When it comes to engagement, it is possible that even proud and motivated workers may resist new ways of doing things because change seems counterintuitive, or even heretic, to them. In line, research shows that people who are optimistic about their performance stop trying to get better, whereas frustrated and dissatisfied people tend to find creative breakthroughs when incentivized and supported in the right way. Thus the danger for leaders is that an engaged workforce becomes complacent or arrogant if it isn’t self-critical enough.”

So, perhaps another strategy for fueling employee engagement is acknowledging – even fostering – a healthy level of dissatisfaction and desire to do better, instead of pretending everything’s perfect, or creating false optimism or artificial harmony. 

Start With Listening 

There are several strategies here for enhancing employee engagement and fueling its virtuous cycle with customer experience. Ultimately, knowing where to start comes down to effective listening to your employees and having honest conversations about how to more effectively foster their purpose, mastery, and, eventually, autonomy. 


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