August 27, 2015 Anil Saxena

Employee Engagement Strategies – Help Your People See Their Impact On Gaining / Retaining Customers


Lesson #2 – Help Your People See The Impact They Have On Gaining or Retaining Customers

Culture and operations are a little different for every company, and because of that, finding ways to spur employee engagement takes a unique and fresh approach for each individual business.

To get a sense for what drives real engagement (at real companies), here is the second lesson that depend directly on “outside the box” thinking and a disruptive approach to typical engagement efforts.

You see the principles all over the place, but so many people ask me how they can actually use this stuff in their own businesses – here are the second of two real life examples:
A powerful method of improving engagement and driving employee passion is summed up in one simple concept: impact.
In a discussion with a senior accounting manager, she related some difficulty helping her employees with engagement.
She felt like her folks were really great – they were actually exceptional accountants, saving the company millions of dollars a year – but they felt like they could do the very same job anywhere, like it wouldn’t really make a difference where they worked. In many cases, they were just going through the motions. 
She told me the following story:
– So, the question I began to ponder was, what if it did make a difference? What if what we did in this accounting department made life better or easier for customers? What if we played a really large role in gaining and retaining customers?
At an employee meeting the following day, I asked them if they felt like what they did made a difference. After a long bit of silence, some responded that they certainly save the company money.
I agreed with them and asked, “How do we help gain and retain customers?”
There was silence in the room. I said, “We play a huge role in making sure the customers are well taken care of, ensuring that they get the very best service. I’d like you all think about the impact that we make. Come to our next meeting prepared to talk about how.
During the next meeting, two employees (who have been with the company the longest) seemed to be percolating with energy. It was as if they couldn’t wait to start talking. If you know any accountants, unless it has something to do with debits and credits, jumping to start a conversation just isn’t usually in their nature.
I asked who wanted to answer the question from our last meeting, and Bob just started talking!

“I came to realize that the process I’m in charge of – the process that helps find how and where we might overcharge customers – goes a long way in retaining them. I know that some of our operations and sales people don’t necessarily like the work that I do, but if I were a customer and received a check as a refund for charges, that would make me pretty happy about working with our company!”
What a great answer!
Then it was Sally’s turn to answer…
“I work with our vendors, and try to negotiate with them to reduce their fees. In turn, we pass those savings on to our customers in the form of lower rates, or sometimes just an overall reduced bill. Recognizing that helps me see that what I do really does help us retain our larger customers, which helps to make sure that I get a paycheck.”
I asked the team if they would consider how their jobs help the company gain and retain customers. I asked them to look at what they are doing now – if it’s not helping to gain or retain customers, we should discuss whether it can be altered to meet that goal – or removed from the process entirely.
In that moment, we shifted from “just” an accounting team to a team responsible for gaining and retaining customers. We supported the folks that sold to and dealt with our customers.
In that year, we:
• Eliminated over 15 different processes that had been in place for years, simply because they either hindered gaining customers or made it difficult to retain customers.
• Streamlined the reimbursement policy for travel and entertainment
• Made it easier for customers to dispute charges
• Maybe most importantly, we identified when sales people made improvements to our process, actually incorporating their workarounds into our standing processes. This not only helped to make their jobs easier, but also reduced the amount of time we spent on the phone trying to get unnecessary paperwork or approvals. We still had to make sure that we used proper expenditure documentation for tax reasons, of course, but when our partners in the business saw that we were interested in working with the sales team for efficiency, they were much more supportive of what we were trying to do.
The following year, our engagement scores went from the 35th percentile to the 75th percentile. But more importantly, our accounting team went from focusing on overhead to thinking about gaining and retaining customers. So, the biggest lesson I learned about employee engagement was to help our team (and myself) see our impact throughout the entire business.
Uncover the link between what your team does and gaining/retaining customers. Understanding that direct line of sight to the customer increases profit, productivity, AND engagement.
While these might not be an exact match to your organization or unique situation, you can see how some creative thinking (and a willingness to collaborate within an organization) led to BIG results. Hopefully, you can use this as a starting point for making engagement “real” for your team.

What engagement strategies have you seen work in the “real” world (and not just on paper)? Let me know, and I’d be glad to share your story!

Anil Saxena is the President of Cube 2.14, an organizational development consulting firm that works with clients to increase both customer and employee engagement while decreasing turnover, improving customer retention, and increasing profitability within organizations.

Saxena is a certified High Impact coach and trainer and a Joint Application Design facilitator. He is also certified by both Rush Systems and IBM as a focus group facilitator. He is an inaugural member of Northwestern University’s Learning and Organizational Change program, and he earned his bachelor’s degree in mechanical engineering from the Illinois Institute of Technology.


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