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PHOTO: chuttersnap

Customer service is more important than ever in our digital age. According to a recent report by PwC, 73 percent of consumers say that customer service drives their purchase decisions, and 65 percent find great customer service more influential than great advertising. 

The data reinforces what we have known instinctively for years: Great in-store experiences keep customers coming back. So why did the PwC study find that 54 percent of U.S. consumers say customer service at most companies needs improvement?

While many organizations do a great job entrenching brand values at the corporate level, engaging front-line workers is trickier than reaching the C-suite. Lacking company email addresses and a static telephone lines, the people in the “nondesk workforce” operate out of multiple locations and work rotating shifts while navigating notoriously busy roles.

Engaging a nondesk workforce requires more than paper notices on the break room bulletin board. Truly engaging front-line workers takes time, care and ingenuity, but opening the lines of communication is critical to survival in today’s marketplace. 

Since PwC also found that 32 percent of consumers say they would walk away from a brand they love after just one bad customer experience, front-line workers need to be getting it right every single time.

Related Article: Front-Line Workers: The Untapped Knowledge Workers in Your Midst

The Cost of a Disengaged Workforce

In 2016, the average turnover rate among hourly store employees was 65 percent, according to a survey of top retailers conducted by the Hay Group division of Korn Ferry.

That’s bad for business. Here’s a look at the reasons why:

Financial drain. The typical cost of replacing an employee who makes less than $30,000 annually is roughly 16 percent of that employee’s salary, according to the Center for American Progress. Multiply that by 65 percent of an organization’s workforce, and it’s easy to see why so many brick-and-mortar brands have been going out of business.

Harm to team morale.  When people see their employer’s business as a revolving door for co-workers, it chips away their trust in the organization. Not only is trust a critical component of employee retention, it also plays a critical role in consumers’ decisions to do business with a particular organization. If employees don’t trust their employer’s brand, they can’t convey a sense of trust in the brand to customers.

Loss of product knowledge. An employee who has worked at a company for two years naturally knows more about its products than an employee who has worked there for two weeks. Front-line employees with a good deal of product knowledge are better able to overcome customer objections than their less experienced colleagues. Overcoming objections is a key step in the sales process, and if 65 percent of your front-line employees are leaving every year, your company is losing the product knowledge necessary to overcoming objections and making sales.

Related Article: How to Improve Employee Engagement (and Your Bottom Line)

What Do Engaged Organizations Do Differently?

According to by a blog post by Venessa Vasilakeris of the McQuaig Institute, Gallup’s “State of the American Workplace” report (registration required) found that companies with highly engaged employees see a 67 percent lower turnover rate than companies with their disengaged employees. Further, a Gallup report titled “The Engaged Workplace” found that companies with highly engaged employees outperform their competitors by 147 percent in terms of earnings per share.

What exactly are organizations with engaged workforces doing differently? Here are some answers:

They use neuroscience. Forbes has reported on the importance of activating the brain’s reward system when engaging employees. The system is triggered by actions that provide feelings of safety, belonging and trust. Engaged organizations ensure that front-line workers feel that their positions are secure, that they belong to a team working for a purpose (that’s where corporate culture is key), and that their individual contributions matter.

They provide support. Companies with engaged workforces arm their employees with the information they need to succeed in their roles. Passively pinning up paper notices in the staff room about new promotions or products isn’t enough. Engaged organizations provide front-line workers with access to the right information in a timely manner within the context of their daily work environments.

They offer opportunities for growth. Engaged organizations ensure that workers see opportunity for growth within their roles. They’re not afraid of cross-pollination between ranks or departments, and they reward the efforts of employees seeking to enhance their skills.

Related Article: Want to Be Customer-Centric? Engage Your Employees

Practical Steps for Building an Engaged Workforce

We know that having an engaged workforce that delivers great customer service is good for business. Here are some practical steps that can help you ensure that employees are happy at work, fully engaged and empowered to deliver a great customer experience.

Hire people who are aligned with the brand. Research from the University of Iowa shows that employees who are aligned with a company’s culture perform better, express greater job satisfaction and stay with their employers longer. With that in mind, a brand that, for example, sells mobile devices and electronics should make sure its employees are tech-savvy and up to date on the latest tech gadgets and tools.

Train to develop happy, motivated and productive employees. Ongoing training facilitated by “microlearning” lays the foundation for an excellent staff experience. Training should not be a one-off experience; it should be an ongoing process that occurs frequently throughout an employee’s tenure with an organization.

Empower employees to create an authentic customer experience. Employees who are passionate about the brands they work for are more likely to create a great experience for customers. However, a brand must trust and empower each front-line worker to take the appropriate steps during every customer engagement to ensure that the experience is nothing but stellar.

Evaluate program success. Ongoing measurement is crucial to the success of engagement initiatives. Take the time to solicit feedback from both customers and employees, and track metrics such as employee and customer satisfaction. This will help to ensure that training programs are working effectively and that customers are consistently experiencing great service. It also provides essential insights that can help you tweak and improve employee engagement programs.

Focus on open and effective communication. If there’s a singular constant among organizations with highly engaged front-line workers, it’s communication. Effectively communicating brand values, product or promotional knowledge, and performance feedback is key to success. Communication increases engagement, which improves customer service, which in turn boosts profits.

A strategy that embraces the above recommendations and focuses on building an engaged front-line workforce can unlock the door to a transformed customer experience.