In today’s increasingly competitive world, the key to running a successful business is customer satisfaction. Servicing customers’ needs is a priority for companies, but, sadly, management often fails to focus on the satisfaction of their employees – the internal customers of the firm.
Richard Branson once said: “I have always believed that the way you treat your employees is the way they will treat your customers, and that people flourish when they are praised.”
These internal customers, your employees, are your first point of contact in successfully servicing your external customers, which means their needs, hopes and aspirations need to be looked after equally well.
If employees feel undervalued and decide to move on, it can affect the philosophy, values, energy and output of your company, as well as the productivity and attitude of your remaining staff.
So what can you do at your company to ensure that your employees feel valued?
1. Have a strong vision and values
Without a strong vision, your team and company will not go far. Decide who you want to be as a company and what you want to achieve, and communicate this clearly, creatively and continuously.
Each member of your team should be able to tell you within a few seconds what your vision is. Live your values every day, in everything you do at work. When you hire people, ensure their personal values are aligned to your company’s values. Your values will guide you in difficult situations and you will find your team will use them too; if they buy into them.
Related: Has your customer support lost that human touch?
2. Keep your team informed and involved
In my company, we strive to treat our employees as our most valuable asset. This is ingrained as one of our stated values, ‘Our people are our most important asset’.
They are regularly updated on the goals, progress, news and finances of the company. This keeps lines of communication open, includes them in the day-to-day business of the company and helps to ensure they remain aligned with and contribute to the company’s common goals.
It also gives them the opportunity to speak up and share their knowledge and insight, often to the benefit of the company.
3. Invest in growing your team
In today’s fast-changing business landscape, employees need to learn and grow in order to keep pace with new trends and remain innovative.
Nurture this need by training and upskilling your staff. Exposing employees to new skills sets and strengthening their existing knowledge also maintains business continuity when someone leaves or is absent because of illness or for other reasons.
Employee-development programmes offer an invaluable contribution to the company and to the staff – employees gain knowledge, new abilities and experience that will serve the company in the future.
Never think of time spent in this way as non-productive. Your return on investment is well worth the effort, and staff welcome a change in routine and the opportunity to learn something new.
Be open to feedback from your team. Seek their views on ways to improve operations and how to do things better. One way of doing this is by encouraging an open-door policy so that employees feel comfortable about communicating their ideas.
Another is by having regular formal reviews during the year, where such issues can be raised.
Always exhibit a positive attitude when interacting with employees. Be honest and open about the challenges facing the company, and positive about those that have been overcome. Shout out the good news at regular staff meetings and give praise where its due. This helps keep everyone on track and motivated to achieve the company’s goals.
Related: Go above and beyond with your customer service
5. Recognise and reward your team
Reward the good performance of your employees. Business owners can implement a variety of rewards, including time off, flexibility of hours or commissions and incentives.
For example, in my company, we present monthly awards, given by staff to staff, which give individuals a time to shine and make everyone aware of various contributions within the company. This is a simple motivational tool that makes employees feel valued and doesn’t cost exorbitant amounts of money.
6. Be honest and transparent
Looking after your team is not about giving incessant praise, though always give it when it’s due. If the road to success were smooth and easy, every company would be wildly successful.
You need to give honest and fair feedback to staff about their own performance and the company’s progress to avoid your team living in a happy bubble, only to be surprised if the company isn’t always doing as well as they think.
7. Have fun!
Be serious about having fun. Business doesn’t have to be boring. Create a culture that embraces fun and positive energy. Strike a balance between work and play, and your employees will be far happier for it.
The relationship between external customers and internal customers is symbiotic. Take care of your employees and they will take care of your business. Remember, treat each other with dignity and respect, and acknowledge each other's unique skill sets and contributions. Deal with conflict promptly and fairly, support each other, and enjoy what you do.
8. Grow a company culture
Research has shown that companies with a strong, identifiable culture are often most successful (think Google, Facebook and Virgin, for example).
When a company has a strong culture to which all employees subscribe, this becomes clearly evident in the way in which they interact with clients.
Everyone, from reception staff to project managers, should have a clear vision of what the company does, what its strategic goals are, what is expected of them, how they are expected to behave towards colleagues and how to deal with clients.
Related: The ultimate test for your company culture
Continually reinforcing this ethos is the way cultural longevity is established and grown.
There is no better compliment for the CEO of a company than when client feedback regularly indicates a sense of trust and confidence in the service being provided – and the manner in which it is provided.
It takes time, investment in people and constant refocusing to keep a company moving in the right direction, but maintaining integrity and a solid reputation makes it all worthwhile.