Taking employees with you

One of the trends in customer service to which the gurus are pointing is an employee-first, rather than a customer-first approach. Ivana Taylor from DIY Marketers writes, “It looks like the tide is shifting away from putting the focus on the customer, to putting it on the employee who delivers that experience.” As I mentioned in my previous post, “Customer Service: Finding the Key“, Sue Malherbe from Coffeeberry Café’s said, “Look after your staff… because, if your staff are happy, they will pass it on to your customers. You also end up with lower staff turnover, which makes for better relationships with customers.”

It also appears to be a philosophy practiced by Jan Potgieter, CEO of Massdiscounters. In a recent article in the Sunday Tribune (“Mass discounter sets up 348 stores in Africa”, 9 December 2012), Potgieter is quoted as saying, “We think we can double our African business over the next four years.” How? Well, before talking numbers, before talking geography or logistics, Potgieter asks the key question: “How do you take 12,000 staff on a journey and make sure they live the brand’s values?”

How indeed? The answer to that question will be different for each business. But there are two factors critical for all organisations that want to take their staff “on the journey”, that want to ensure employees provide the customer experience the organisation believes in.

The first is that employees must believe in themselves. If they don’t believe that they belong, that they have a role to play in the success of the business, they will not produce the exceptional work required. Why should they? The success of the business is so far removed from the day-to-day grind of the ordinary employee. It’s the preserve of management or perhaps the sales team. But the accounts clerk, the driver, the receptionist? What difference can they make? Most employees simply do not know. They will do as best they can in their own job to keep out of the firing line and earn their keep, but what more can they do?

Employees must be shown how they can also contribute to the success of the business, and that such success will impact positively on their own position and future. Then they will have good reason to dig deeper and find ways of doing better than they thought was their best.

That gives rise to the second point. Employees must believe that their contribution will not simply make the company great, or the CEO rich and famous; it will impact on them as well. Many of the wildcat strikes we have seen recently have arisen from a perception that the company is doing well, but only the CEO and shareholders are rewarded.

Recognition and reward are critical for bringing employees on board and engaging them in the process of achieving company goals. There may not be much to go around, but if the CEO is to be rewarded, why not everyone who helped produce the results? The nature of the reward and recognition will be different for each organisation, but an employee must believe that there is a direct link between his or her effort and the reward and recognition available.

However large or small your organisation, whether you are CEO or a departmental manager, these factors apply to you and to your staff. In a large organisation, employees often get lost in the system and forget that they have a meaningful role to play. In a small, owner-run organisation one may become so driven from pillar to post that one forgets to keep employees informed, to keep them engaged, to keep them focused on more than just their job.

What suggestions do you have for organisations to put employees first?

Ian Webster

From Methodist minister to Customer Relations manager in a computer bureau to HR Manager in a newspaper printing and publishing company. Now focussing on training and developing people, people-management consulting and writing and editing.

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