The relationship between employee engagement and customer experience

I am often being told that people don’t buy products or services, they buy people, well to be more precise they buy the people who are doing the selling. There is of course a fine line between being a sales person that people like and being a sales person who is too nice to be true.

As the selection of goods and services on offer increases and the ways in which it is possible to make a purchase expands having good a relationship with your customers and potential customers in both the good times and the bad is ever more important.

So why don’t more employers invest in customer relationship training for their employees?

There are some organisations who don’t because they don’t think it is necessary. Richard Branson the founder of the Virgin Group has reportedly said that the reason why his employees treat Virgin customers well is because he makes a point of treating his employees well and ensuring that they are engaged with the company and the Virgin brand and lifestyle. His logic is apparently that if an employee feels well treated and valued, which I suppose means that they are engaged, they will subconsciously want to treat customers in the same way.

Perhaps the answer is that customer experience is a consequence of having employees who are engaged with the company and for whom, to use Maslow’s terminology, achieve some form of personal actualisation from making customers happy.

This does create a dilemma for companies. Should their limited resources be focused through marketing on creating a customer experience, or through training on creating the people who are capable of delivering a good natural customer experience.

Whilst Sir Richard focuses on employee engagement other businesses are focusing on customer experience, making sure that the process of purchasing is fun to the point where it can be described as important as the purchase itself.

I suppose that if a company can create a positive customer experience some part of that may create a positive experience for employees that results in them feeling respected and valued and potentially that might result in engaged employees, in a similar way to that achieved by Virgin.

Customer experience is undoubtedly important in the success of any business. Having a poor customer experience has been cited by several commentators as one of the main reasons for the decline of the British high street and the loss of big name retailers like Woolworths, and House of Fraser.

The dilemma is further complicated by the number of organisations that media reports suggest are not bothered about either creating a good customer experience or employees who are engaged with their employer, or what it does.

Although my experience of companies like Ryan Air, Sports Direct and Amazon has been good, they have all been called to account by some parts of the media for both their poor customer experience, and poor treatment of employees. Yet, all of these companies are extremely successful.

On the other side of the coin when House of Fraser fell into administration, the latest in a line of big high street names to do so several commentators cited the company’s failure to create a good customer experience as one of the main causes of its’ demise.

I suspect that Richard Branson, Mike Ashley, Michael O’Leary and Jeff Besos are unlikely to provide me with an answer to my question

Is money better spent on creating a customer experience or on recruiting and training employees so that they feel engaged with the business and able to deliver a great customer experience.

Part of me thinks that a large part of how customers and employees experience a company is through the fulfilment or expectations. Communicate what people are likely to experience and your set the standard that they will want you to achieve. If people, either employees or customers do not know what they are like to experience they cannot assess the delivery and are more likely to have a poor experience.

Now how do you make that happen?

Adrian Swinscoe wrote How to Wow: 68 Effortless Ways to Make Every Customer Experience Amazing. His approach, which is outlined in the book and has been endorsed by the heads of customer service from globally known household name companies is built around a model and sixty-eight strategies that aim to both attract new customers and convert them into advocates for a business by delivering stand-out levels of service.

Swinscoe is undoubtedly a practical man who recognises that knowing what others have done is not enough, you have to be able to apply what worked in their situation to your own. The cookie cutter approach used by so many businesses is very unlikely to be successful.

Organisations, regardless of what they do, he says, need to design their customer experience, rather than letting it evolve. It needs to identify problems and the causes of those problems quickly and provide resolutions even quicker.

That is not to say that he disagrees with the approach taken by Virgin. The role of employees in the customer experience cannot he explains be under-estimated. It is not enough to give someone a list of answers to questions a customer might ask. Employees who interact with customers must have the authority to be able to act to ensure that the customer has a positive experience of the organisation.

Back to my question about the relationship between employee engagement and the delivery of customer experience.

I know that Swinscoe has the answer that I am looking for. I know that his answer will mean that as a HR professional I am going to have to work with my colleagues in marketing. They will be planning a new customer journey, one in which the journey will be as important as the destination. My contribution from HR will be to make sure that we have people with the correct skills, knowledge and attitude to be effective guides for that journey.

My question remains though.

Should we spend time and money on training employees to be customer guides or on fostering greater levels of employee engagement.

There are answers in his book, but there is also the opportunity to quiz the man himself when he delivers a seminar at the London HR Forum.

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During a career as a human resources and employee development professional that started in 1981 Michael Millward has worked around the world in a wide range of businesses from start-ups to major conglomerates. His industry experience includes, local and national government, manufacturing, financial services, retail, distribution, hi-tech, e-commerce.

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