Countless studies have highlighted the importance of employees to customers' perception of a company and their associated buying habits (old news – I know). Almost all companies have therefore, to a greater or lesser extent, established "customer orientation" as one of their benchmarks. All too often, however, these noble intentions end as nothing but corporate PowerPoint presentations. The intention is good, but stumbles when put into practice. The companies simply have no idea how to move forward with their best intentions.
Ennova is blessed with a great many customers, where we collaborate on both employee and customer matters. In this connection we have, over time, carried out countless studies of what matters most when working with customer loyalty through employees. Naturally, there are differences between all the companies, but over the years I have managed to put together a list of five generic points. These points appear to be what sorts the wheat from the chaff. The five points are:
Employees who are proud of their employer deliver to a higher standard in relation to the company's customers. Full stop. This is an indisputable fact, which is why it cannot be emphasized enough how important pride is to a company's customer orientation.
Pride is many things, but in general it deals (in relation to the employees) with:
- Having a narrative about the company that is motivated and sets the direction it takes. This narrative permeates through the company both internally and externally, and is apparent in the actions of the company.
- Having a direction (strategy), which the employees can see themselves in and which they feel a part of.
- Having a good external brand
- Success – good success stories generate pride internally in the company.
Focus on management
If we are to have customer-oriented employees, we must first have customer-oriented managers. "Yes, of course we should," many of you are now thinking. But this is not as obvious as it might sound. In many companies, the plan - after the PowerPoint presentation - is to focus on the managers. The challenge is simply how one actually makes this happen. My assertion is that we – after the presentation – often return very quickly to a shortsighted focus on the bottom line/operations. And that we then forget about customer orientation, which is why the managers must be prioritized.
Co-operation among employees
A company can tackle its problems faster if its employees can collaborate across the board. Banal? Perhaps – but this is a problematic, which not many companies have managed, unfortunately, to tackle satisfactorily. How do we avoid sub-optimization and the 'little kingdoms', where knowledge is power? We can start by asking ourselves whether a customer, who comes to us with a challenge, meets a unified company that co-operates to solve the problem, or a mass of internal viewpoints, which appear more important than the individual customer?
Employees must be given the freedom and power to make decisions when they are necessary. The customer should not have to wait for completely banal approvals just because the employee is waiting for an answer from someone higher up in the system. It is much more expensive for the customers when working hours are long and inflexible than the odd wrong decision that can follow as a result of delegating out the decision-making process. Furthermore, delegation also has a very positive added bonus, in that the employees become significantly more motivated in their work.
Systems and processes
Systems and processes must be supportive and easy to use in contact with the customers. It's as simple as that. If you have to wait for systems all the time, fill out meaningless information and go through illogical steps in the process, frustrations will build up quickly in both employees and customers. And this is not conducive to good customer orientation.
Despite the difference between businesses, I maintain that all five points listed above are relevant to all companies that wish to work with customer loyalty through their employees. So use my advice next time all your good intentions look set to drown in a PowerPoint presentation and other tasks.