Business and workplace experts have long discussed the importance of the employee experience and the ongoing employee engagement dilemma, which has been a thorn in organizations’ sides for decades. Unfortunately, this problem isn’t getting better. Gallup recently reported, "For the first year in more than a decade, the percentage of engaged workers in the U.S. declined in 2021. Just over one-third of employees (34%) were engaged, and 16% were actively disengaged in their work and workplace." This means that last year's employee engagement was worse than 2020 – an unforgettable year with unprecedented highs and lows. Gallup continued to note:
This may not be surprising given the many challenges leadership [has] faced, including record increases in employee quit rates, implementing vaccine mandates, and planning for various combinations of remote and on-site work while trying to match worker preferences with leadership expectations.
The fact that so many do their jobs each day feeling uninspired, unmotivated, and highly disengaged is not just depressing but a massive misstep on behalf of their companies. Leaders must become better at fostering engagement, as employees who are invested in their work, who want to help peers accomplish goals, and who believe in working together to help the organization succeed are the ones we all want on our side.
These employees are not just valuable contributors to the mission, but completely essential - they are the company. But belief in such a statement, coupled with good intentions, isn’t enough; Gallup just reported the most significant drop in employee engagement numbers in a decade. Something needs to change. But what?
Happier Employees = Happier Customers
Happy, engaged, and motivated employees are important regardless of industry, but they are especially critical in the customer service world. The contact center is the place where employees and customers intersect. If a customer reaches out to a contact center because they have an issue, concern, or need and the agent doesn’t seem to care or isn’t engaged enough to go above and beyond to help, that customer will end the interaction unhappy and likely ready to give their business to the competition. Worse even, they could hit social media with a vengeance and you just never know when one angry customer’s rant will go viral. Don’t let that happen to you.
The data proves that happy agents create happy customers. An Entrepreneur article tells us:
The correlation between the satisfaction of your customers and your financial performance is easy to see. This is especially true if your employees are interacting with customers a lot. Studies confirm that employee happiness correlates with employee efficiency, creativity, and productivity. This, in turn, has the same effect on customers– proving that happy employees make customers happy.
It’s time to get those employees feeling happy!
Foster Better Employee Engagement
While a commitment to employee engagement is a marathon rather than a sprint, there are a few things leaders can easily implement to start making the employee experience (EX), and subsequently, the customer experience (CX), a priority. And the outcome? You'll be in a better position to keep agents engaged and customers loyal.
Tip 1: Show your employees that you care enough to listen.
Your people need your time. They need for you to listen, and actively listen, to their concerns and their worries. To do this effectively, ensure you are proactively and regularly creating opportunities for two-way dialogue. More often than not, the front line knows what is working - and what’s not - better than any C-suite executive. They deserve to be heard. So, create opportunities, then don’t talk but actively listen instead, and then get to work on implementing changes based on this insight.
If you had an open door policy beforehand and now your employees are working from home, ensure you now have a virtual “open door” and be sure to practice the art of active listening when people come knocking. And if employees aren’t proactively reaching out to share their concerns and ideas, then the leaders need to initiate those conversations.
Tip 2: Empower people to do their best by investing in the best technology.
No doubt, technology plays a starring role in our lives, both at work and beyond. The right unified communications (UC) and contact center (CC) technology tools are simply essential for internal needs (your EX) and external needs (your CX). In fact, UC EXPO, the leading conference and event for collaboration technology in Europe, told us mid-pandemic that, “unified communication and collaboration solutions are more valuable today than they have ever been.”
Just this month, industry analyst Blair Pleasant was keen to point out how UCaaS and CCaaS simply go together, advising brands to consider vendors that offer a single solution for both. Blair writes:
Edify came out of the gate as a unified platform, promoting the idea that “combining contact center, unified communications, and API functionality unites the contact center with the rest of the business because customer experience is everyone’s job.” Expect to see other CCaaS providers follow suit and either introduce their own telephony offerings or tighten existing relationships.
Leaders have no option but to spend the time and funds to identify and purchase the best technologies for their people, and then train them on how to use them. The right tools will undoubtedly set your contact center and your agents up to do their jobs better, leading to increased happiness and engagement.
Tip 3: Encourage managers to praise and recognize admirable behaviors.
Celebrating the wins, small and big, go a long way to illustrating the behaviors you want to be emulated and encouraging others to replicate them. People want to feel seen and acknowledged; it’s a basic human need. In fact, neuroscience research proves that receiving praise releases the neurotransmitter dopamine, “which is associated with motivation, focus, and positivity.” That’s an EX trifecta. Yet Quantum Workplace tells us that employee recognition is trending downward and career growth opportunities are becoming less clear.
Helping employees feel valued has been a standard driver of engagement for years, and I can’t think of any good reason as to why celebrating individual contributors' successes isn’t part of every company’s culture. Can you? The takeaway: aim to create a culture that celebrates recognition, especially in times of low employee engagement.
Tip 4: Own the fact that you don’t always have all the answers.
Leaders who are authentic and transparent about not knowing everything often are respected the most. During times of uncertainty or change for the business, it’s a sign of strength for a leader to acknowledge when they don’t have the answer. This honesty needs to be followed up with action. People respond to transparency and honesty, but need to see a commitment to investigating and identifying the best solution.
First focus on re-assessing whether you've gotten the basics right, like clearly communicating what is expected of them, giving them the right materials and equipment necessary to do their jobs, re-establish role clarity, and implementing proper employee health and wellness supports. Then start filling in gaps along the way, such as finding new ways to leverage each person's strengths, reevaluating work-life balance initiatives, rewriting flex work policies, and making tech changes as needed.
Being committed to transparency and honesty requires clearly communicating about what changes are taking place within the organization - and why. All employees should have a sense of how the business is doing, including its challenges and focus areas for 2022 and beyond, to get true buy-in and understanding.
Tip 5: Show your people you trust them.
Each employee was hired for a reason. So, once you bring someone on board, take the time to educate them on the business, the “why” (your mission), and all of the “hows”. Make sure they feel confident in using all the tools you offer as support and that they understand the messages you want them to share with the world. And then let them be ... because no one wants a babysitter.
Micromanaging shows that you don’t trust your people. Instead, give them the knowledge, resources, and guidance and then allow them to interact with customers in a way that feels genuine to them -- while supporting the brand’s best interest. Go so far as to empower your agents to ditch the script.
The contact center remains front and center in the post-pandemic world where keeping our distance is still one of the best ways to ensure health and safety. And in this space, employee experience management is everything. After all, if the folks delivering the service to customers are happy, you can be sure that customers will walk away (or more likely, hang up, end a real-time chat, close Twitter, etc.) feeling happy too.
Retain Your Best Assets by Providing The Best Experience
Increased job market confidence has prompted more employees to rethink their positions at their current organization this year, so it's critical to focus on improving the experience they have at work before it's too late. And while the above tips are just starting points, they can serve as effective tactics to renew or intensify your current EX plan.
What are you waiting for?
P.S. - If you have other suggestions to share, let me know. I’m always open to hearing new ideas.