Susie Schofield writes: In this, the second post in a series of three, we speak to Jo Causon, Chief Executive of the Institute of Customer Service, the independent, professional membership body for customer service.
The Institute helps its members improve their customers’ experience and their own business performance. Jo has been CEO of the Institute since 2009 and in that time has driven membership growth by 150% and established the UK Customer Satisfaction Index (UKCSI) as the country’s premier indicator of consumer satisfaction, providing organisations with an indicator of the return on their service strategy investment. The Institute is a recent client of FJWilson Talent Services.
Here we find out from Jo why employee engagement is vital to delivering excellent customer service.
Our interview with Jo begins with her view that ‘as part of The Institute’s work to identify what creates excellent customer service, she wanted to understand the link between employee engagement and the outcome for the customer’.
New research, she explains, shows that customers’ perceptions of employee engagement strongly influence buying behaviour. 67% of customers who had a great experience with an employee said, for example, that they would buy again from that organisation, compared to 11% who had a bad experience.
What is employee engagement?
The Institute describes employee engagement ‘as the psychological and emotional state which is expressed in employee behaviour – the focus, effort, commitment, and motivation that they apply in performing their job’.
Employee engagement, Jo says, ‘is the essential thread linking customer satisfaction, productivity and business performance’.
The changing workforce
In many organisations there is a wide diversity of employees, of different ages, cultures, levels of skills and experience. Jo explained that ‘our research reveals sharply differing levels of employee engagement across different types of employee and in different employment contexts. This suggests that it will be increasingly important for organisations to develop a deeper understanding of their employees and tailor engagement activity’.
Against this backdrop, the organisations that perform highest in customer satisfaction share a coherent focus on employee engagement, customer experience design and effective deployment of technologies. It is for this reason, Jo says, that ‘the link between customer and employee engagement needs to be seen not just as a survey or action plan, but as a vital business discipline’.
The Institute’s ‘The Customer Knows’ reported that every 1% increase in employment engagement led to a 0.4% increase in customer service satisfaction. Jo adds, ‘There’s a really clear link. Where organisations have high performing, empathetic employees, you get better customer service satisfaction’.
The human touch of employees
‘Never underestimate the human element. Customer experience cannot be all about digital…the USP is the human contact. Looking to the future, there may well be a smaller employee population, but they will be the most important part of the business.’
Customers’ demands are changing. Jo tells me customers ‘seek personalised, empathetic experiences which provide authentic, proactive help and advice. These experiences can’t be achieved through processes and technologies alone. They depend crucially upon motivated, committed employees who display empathy, act in the moment to solve problems, demonstrate consistency and care in their work and constantly seek ways of improving customer experiences.’
Customers’ rising expectations, along with the intensity of competition, mean that employees’ discretionary effort, personal connection with customers, ideas and innovation are crucial to business performance.
How to engage your employees?
Jo says that ‘many of the UK’s leading organisations recognise the role of customer experience and employee engagement in delivering sustained performance. They acknowledge that customer experience and employee engagement cannot simply be turned on but needs to be nurtured and developed’.
Those organisations which recognise the importance of having an engaged workforce take a more professional and systematic approach to employee engagement. In particular they seek to identify ways of offering genuine career development pathways for people at all levels of the organisation.
For many, the essence of success lies in empowering employees with the knowledge, tools and confidence to make decisions in the moment that do the right thing for customers, whilst cognizant of the organisation’s commercial interests.
The benefits of engaged employees
The Institute’s research has shown that engaged employees are more likely to apply discretionary effort, generate business improvement ideas, deliver consistent performance and create memorable customer experiences. Organisations with high levels of employee engagement tend to reach higher levels of customer satisfaction.
Jo says that the outcomes for businesses that have employees with high scoring engagement are:
- Reduced costs
- More satisfied, loyal customers
- Profitable revenue opportunities arising from new business ideas
- In some cases, engaged employees mean customers are prepared to pay more for excellent service.
Recruitment and retention of an engaged workforce
But how can you make your workforce more engaged? It’s imperative, Jo says, that ‘recruitment, training, development of employees align to customer experience objectives’.
Organisations’ priorities for future investment for customer experience should include ‘embedding a culture of continuous improvement and people development’.
In the final blog post in this three-part series Jo will tell us her tips on how to recruit and retain an engaged workforce.
 The Customer Knows: how employee engagement leads to greater customer satisfaction and loyalty, Institute of Customer Service, February 2017, p7
 The Customer Knows, p5
 Senior executive quoted in The Customer Dividend, p60
 The Customer Knows, p74
 Customer Service Trends and Predictions 2018, The Institute of Customer Service, December 2017, p3
 The Customer Knows, p6