Have you ever walked into a place of business and been treated like a nuisance? Everyone has that experience at some point, and we all know how discouraging it can be. If this happened in a retail store, you may have simply turned around and left. If it was a medical office, you probably stayed for your appointment, but may have decided to check around for other providers. Your whole sense of trust in the care you received can be shaken by such treatment. As an HR professional, the last thing you want is to lose customers because your employees are unmotivated, unfriendly or unhelpful. However, trying to get your team to be nicer to people can be a complex task. Stressed or disengaged employees simply aren’t happy, and there’s no magic that will make an unhappy person empathize with customers. Instead, you have to use tried-and-true tools to improve the employee experience and transform your company culture. Let’s look at how that works:

Check your employees’ stress levels

Stress is responsible for a lot of terrible customer service, and it’s all too common in the workplace. Eight out of ten Americans say they feel stressed “sometimes” or “frequently” during their day. And a shocking 23 percent of employees say they are “very often” or “always” stressed at work. Of course, there will always be bad days: An airline counter agent may get snappish from sheer exhaustion, if flights are cancelled and hundreds of upset passengers are crowding around the desk. On a daily basis, however, your staff should not be under so much pressure that they can’t function in a friendly, effective manner. Long-term stress can cause anger, irritability, headaches and sadness, as well as chronic susceptibility to viruses and infections. If your workplace fosters tension, it’s time to gather employee feedback and ask your team how the workflow needs to change.

On the other hand, if a worker is under stress due to family crisis or physical pain, that would call for a different approach. A company culture in which employees know that their needs are listened to will facilitate meeting individual needs.

Disengaged employees need attention

Poor customer experience can also result from employees who are disengaged from their jobs. After all, disengaged workers have a 60 percent higher rate of general errors. We all know how aggravating it is to wait at a counter for a staff person’s attention, while they continue an obviously personal phone conversation. Not all instances of disengagement are that clear-cut: It might be a customer service representative who says they’re not allowed to give you a refund, when you know they just want you to give up and go away.

Employee disengagement has many causes – a boss who is constantly micromanaging the team or two workers who have a chronic unsolved conflict. No matter the cause, it is always worsened by a lack of individual recognition. Perhaps the worker believes their hard work won’t be noticed, or they feel isolated and unappreciated by their peers. Maybe they think their supervisor doesn’t recognize their true skills, or that the company doesn’t offer any path for advancement. Did you know employee recognition was ranked number one as having the greatest impact on engagement? If you aren’t proactively finding ways to frequently recognize your team, you won’t be in a position to improve your company’s customer focus. The employee experience ultimately drives the customer experience.

Listen to your employees

In order to bring positive energy and provide support to an employee who’s having a bad time at work, you need to understand the source of the problem. “Listening to and understanding employees’ needs is the first step in supporting them,” according to Gallup research. Gallup found that “Employees whose manager is always willing to listen to their work-related problems are 62 percent less likely to be burned out.” Of course, face-to-face conversation is important, but sometimes it’s easier for a team member to speak their mind when they’re filling out a quick pulse survey. In a large enterprise, individual employees can get lost in the shuffle, and the analytics provided by your feedback software can flag someone who’s reporting that they’re having a really hard time. From there, you can open up a dialogue and work together to brainstorm creative solutions.

Creating a high-quality customer experience begins with addressing your employees’ needs. A benchmark study by Temkin Group found “Companies that outperform their competitors in both financial results and customer experience have more engaged workers.” When these researchers examined how to raise the level of employee engagement, incentives were among their top solutions. They urge managers and HR departments to “deploy appropriate systems to measure, reward, and reinforce desired employee behaviors.” Customer experience expert Blake Michelle Morgan highlights some revealing statistics in an article entitled “The Un-Ignorable Link Between Employee Experience And Customer Experience:” Employees at companies with excellent customer experience are 1 1/2 times more likely to be engaged, compared with workers at places with poor customer experience. Increasingly it’s becoming obvious that customer and employee experience “are symbiotic.”

Meet customer needs by improving the employee experience

The happier your team is, the likelier they are to make an extra effort to meet customer needs. It’s simply a straight-up fact about human relationships, and one that each of us intrinsically recognizes: When your day is going well, and you feel good about life in general, you’re a lot more motivated to reach out and help other people. To learn more about how Achievers has helped improve employee engagement for major companies such as Shop Direct and Ericsson, check out some of our case studies.

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