The vital link between employee attitudes and customer satisfaction is supported by a large body of research—and this research shows the benefits can flow all the way to your bottom line.
Let’s look at the research data:
Harvard Business Review reports: “companies with highly engaged people outperform firms with the most disengaged folks—by 54% in employee retention, by 89% in customer satisfaction, and by fourfold in revenue growth.” (Goffee, R & Jones, G. 2013. Creating the Best Workplace on Earth. Harvard Business Review.)
Similarly, in a meta-analysis of 263 research studies conducted across 192 organizations in 49 industries, Gallup researchers underscored the connection between employee engagement and productivity: Work units in the top quartile in employee engagement outperformed bottom-quartile units by 10% on customer ratings, 22% in profitability, and 21% in productivity. Work units in the top quartile also saw significantly less turnover (25% in high-turnover organizations and 65% in low-turnover organizations), shrinkage (28%) and absenteeism (37%), and fewer safety incidents (48%), patient safety incidents (41%), and quality defects (41%). (Reilly, R. 2013. Engagement Makes All the Difference. Employment Today.)
In an effort to assess whether employee attitudes actually increase customer satisfaction and productivity, rather than the reverse, British researchers used longitudinal data (i.e., data collected in the same organization over time) and found that employee commitment predicts both customer satisfaction and financial performance of the organization.
Job satisfaction also proves to be related to customer satisfaction.
Based upon a meta-analysis documenting a positive relationship between employees’ job satisfaction and customer satisfaction, researchers advise managers to “take actions that are likely to increase the job satisfaction of customer contact personnel.” (Mendoza, M. L. & Maldonado, C. O. 2014. Meta-Analytic of the Relationship Between Employee Job Satisfaction and Customer Satisfaction. Suma de Negocios, 5, 4-9.)
Another analysis, which used multiple studies spanning 7,939 business units in 36 companies, showed that employee satisfaction and engagement, at the business unit level, were related to outcomes in the business unit. This led the researchers to conclude that “changes in management practices that increase employee satisfaction may increase business-unit outcomes, including profit.” (Harter, J. K., Schmidt, F. L., & Hayes, T. L. 2002. Business-Unit-Level Relationship Between Employee Satisfaction, Employee Engagement, and Business Outcomes: A Meta-Analysis. Journal of Applied Psychology, 87, 268-279.)
The link between employee attitudes and customer satisfaction is the reason that Southwest Airlines put its people first, arguing that “internal customer service” (how employees treat each other, within your organization) and “external” customer service—to your customers—should become indistinguishable. Southwest established an “internal customer service team” to track employee birthdays, work anniversaries, and the like. Southwest sends cards to those employees, to the tune of over 100,000 cards per year.
Clearly, then, you have a vested interest in ensuring that your employees remain satisfied and engaged, as this can improve both your customers’ satisfaction and your bottom line. Doing so necessitates that you use well-designed surveys to measure employee attitudes at the beginning of your Concierge Customer Service journey. It also requires you to broaden your notions of what constitutes job satisfaction. Start by recognizing that you can’t guarantee your employees’ satisfaction by meeting a fixed set of needs. Indeed, a voluminous literature has established that workers’ job satisfaction depends in large part upon whether the characteristics a worker values in a job are present in the job.
And indeed, the idea that everyone’s needs are the same has become outdated. Models that viewed job satisfaction in terms of meeting a hierarchy of fixed needs have been supplanted by models that recognize job satisfaction as dependent upon meeting workers’ values and wants. Given that Maslow’s theory positing a “hierarchy” of needs was first published in 1943, it shouldn’t surprise us that new, more powerful models have emerged. These newer models recognize that workers’ values and wants vary from employee to employee: Some workers might value pay over opportunities for self-expression, while others will sacrifice salary for growth opportunities and strong coworker relationships. That’s why it is imperative to measure the extent to which employees perceive their jobs provide what they value. As your workforce increasingly includes Millennials, understanding what they value and measuring the extent to which they perceive they’re getting what they value will become increasingly important.
It is also important to understand that connections among your employees play a vital role in determining their job satisfaction. As an academic, I conducted research that shows your employees’ job satisfaction is affected by the degree to which they connect to each other—the degree to which ties to coworkers show up in your employees’ social networks. (Hurlbert, J. S. 1991. Social Networks, Social Circles, and Job Satisfaction. Work and Occupations, 18, 415-430.)
When I use the term social network, I’m not talking just about their Facebook and LinkedIn connections—social media. We all had social networks long before those enterprises began and social scientists studied social networks decades before Mark Zuckerberg, Facebook’s founder, was born. A social network includes anyone to whom an individual is connected, in any capacity. It encompasses friends, relatives, coworkers, neighbors, and anyone else with whom you have a relationship. Social networks vary in the extent to which they are comprised of these different types of individuals. Some people maintain primarily strong ties to close friends and relatives, while others have networks comprised almost exclusively of weak ties to friends-of-friends, acquaintances, and business connections.
The greater the extent to which your employees count their coworkers among their meaningful social connections, the more likely your employees are to be satisfied. Why? Because these social connections typically bring with them social support. The support might take the form of help in solving a job-related problem (instrumental support) or emotional support that helps your employees cope with personal challenges outside the workplace.
(My academic research shows that the effects of that support can be dramatic: Data that my colleagues and I collected before and after Hurricane Katrina, under a grant from the National Science Foundation, showed that individuals whose social networks were better equipped to provide social support suffered lower rates of depression than those whose social networks were less robust.)
That’s why you have a vested interest in ensuring that connections among coworkers become, and remain, as numerous and healthy as possible.
Investing in your employees’ engagement and satisfaction, then, means attending to the extent to which the characteristics they value in their jobs are present and also supporting meaningful coworker relationships. Realize the link between employee attitudes and customer satisfaction. Being “employee-centric” in this way is one of the first steps to becoming truly customer-centric.
Want to learn more? This blog post is based off material from my book with Randy MacLean:
“YOU CAN’T SERVE THEM WELL IF YOU DON’T KNOW THEM WELL: Capturing and Captivating Customers with Concierge Customer Service™”
You can get the first two chapters for FREE here.
If you’d like a full copy of the entire book, you can get it here.
Dr. Jeanne Hurlbert, President of Hurlbert Consulting is an expert in sociology and survey research.
After spending more than 25 years in academia, she now uses her extensive behguaranteeavioral science expertise to help companies like yours distinguish yourselves through customer service. What sets her approach to customer service apart is that she begins by helping companies meld research and marketing to find out exactly
(a) what their customers want and
(b) how well they’re succeeding in giving customers what they want.
You can schedule a consult with her by going to www.ConciergeCustomerService.com; you can call her at 888-590-9677; or send an email here. And, if you’d like to complete her complimentary assessment to see how well you’re doing in knowing and serving your customers well, just go to www.FixYourService.com.