The Value of Putting Employees First
In the early days of launching a business, founders often invest a large portion of their time cultivating and serving customers directly. As you grow and hire team members to handle some of the load, you gain a new customer; employees.
The secret ingredient to great customer service
The customer may always be right, but employees should always come first according to research by McKinsey & Company and others. If you strive to provide employees with the same level of service and quality experience you are known for among those purchasing your goods and services, employees will be better positioned to pass that ethos on and help you build your dream.
Through their research and consulting, McKinsey identified a common pattern where organizations dream up impressive plans to deliver a superior customer experience but struggle to translate the vision into tangible action on the frontlines.
In their report, The secret to delighting customers: Putting employees first, McKinsey explains, “Creating great customer experiences requires having an engaged and energized workforce, one that can translate individual experiences into satisfying end-to-end customer journeys and can continue to improve the journeys to maintain a competitive edge.”
When you recognize, reward and advance employees who fit that profile, you align an employee’s interests with the interests of the customer and further connect them to customer service goals.
What employees need
A top-down or outside-in approach is almost sure to fail in designing strong customer service systems because it’s rarely the folks at the top who most often serve customers directly or regularly. If you want to support customers, start by supporting the people called to serve them. Here’s what McKinsey’s research has revealed.
- Listen to employees and learn. Your team members more than likely want to have positive interactions with customers and to feel good about the products and services they provide. Ask them the best ways to do that, and what stands in the way of making it happen. They know what makes customers happy, what they complain about most and what rules and practices are making things harder for everyone.
Employee-designed processes with management oversight are more likely to lead to superior service, without adding new wrinkles into the mix.
- Hire for attitude over aptitude. It is so tempting to focus on functional area skillsets and assume that anyone can provide superior service, but it’s often the other way around. McKinsey suggests evaluating a potential employee’s service attitude first in realistic environments that mimic the job. A banking client they worked with actually built a simulated branch in its recruiting department where candidates role-play situations to test their behavior toward customers and colleagues.
That level of detail might not be possible in your setting, but job candidates could easily be given customer service scenarios and then asked to engage with a team member in a role-playing exercise. JetBlue uses group interviews to see how applicants interact with one another as hiring managers assess communication and people skills.
- Build motivation through shared purpose. While behavior standards and guidelines are helpful, companies often go overboard trying to create specific rules for every behavior and every situation. That can disempower team members and paint them into a corner where the rulebook rules. Instead, engage employees in developing a shared sense of what outstanding customer service looks like in your organization.
One McKinsey client convened a group of employees selected by their peers based on their merits and attitude in customer service. They were then entrusted with creating a shared vision for customer service as well as criteria that helped to define concrete behaviors to guide the team in acting in alignment with the greater vision.
- Tap into the creativity of frontline workers. By making employee input a regular part of the workplace (McKinsey’s banking client holds 15-minute team huddles daily) employees remain engaged in talking about results, sharing customer-experience stories, troubleshooting and constantly reinforcing the customer service culture and priorities. Progress can be discussed regularly as improvement ideas are either implemented and tracked or elevated to more senior leaders with the authority to approve them.
No business can survive without satisfied, happy customers who want to buy from you again or tell others about your company. Putting employees “first” doesn’t obscure that focus. Rather, it brings it to life by supporting the people who can deliver on it.