Listening to Employees to Improve Customer Service

“Always treat your employees exactly as you want them to treat your best customers.” – Stephen Covey

Every business / company might claim to love and want feedback from customers, but only a ‘fistful’ would look at this process holistically. What this means is that not all companies devote time and energy in listening to employees to improve customer service – especially listening to those employees who manage customer interactions day in and day out, several times a day. This is a lop-sided approach to customer feedback – spending huge amounts of resources to gain feedback from customers, and yet ignoring a vital portion from where such feedback can be had, is certainly not sensible.

Listening to employees too, with a view to improve customer service allows a company to connect both the systems of feedback and create a robust feedback loop, which would result in higher levels of customer service, and keep employees engaged and interested. In addition, the company would gain by becoming more agile and adept at managing the rapidly evolving customer needs and expectations. By listening to employees, a company is effectively enlisting them as being agents of change and improvement. Surveys and research prove that at least 56% of service employees reported to having suggestions to improve company processes for better service to customers, and at least 43% felt that their suggestions would reduce costs and increase efficiency of the company. These employees further reported that they were asked for feedback very rarely – once a year or even less, and that even when their company did ask for feedback, the questions did not seem appropriate or right.

It is obvious then that companies are not listening to employees, and are unable to improve customer service as much as they should. The leaders of companies tend to have strong opinions, be ruthlessly aggressive, and make decisions based on their own knowledge and experience. While these are required and great traits to run a company, they must be complemented by a genuine effort to stand down, and truly listen to employees. This is necessary not just to improve customer service, but also to keep the morale and confidence of employees intact. The headstrong approach and attitude of leaders prove to be barriers to listening to employees. Market and industry experts emphasize consistently, the importance of listening on the part of leaders, in order to affect long-term positive changes. Change is possible only when everyone feels aligned and inclined to make it work and this collaborative mind-set can happen only when the leaders of a company set an example of listening attentively, to employees and customers.

Are your company and its leaders adept at listening to employees to improve customer service and the internal strength and cohesiveness of the company? It is imperative for a company to have the will and desire to build the skill of listening. Listening to employees must be a meticulously planned decision, with a view that the only way to grow and improve would be to understand that no one has all the answers, and listening to others is the way to gain those answers. The fact is that frontline employees and others, are in the midst of the ‘action’ – they are the ones who run with the processes and guidelines of a company, and hence are best equipped to know whether something is working or not. Frontline employees hear grouses and suggestions from customers all the time, and know the challenges the customers and they face with regard to service. Hence listening to these employees would not only help to improve customer service but also give these employees a sense of belonging, importance, and accomplishment. Feeling wanted and secure in one’s job allows employees to improve their performance, and optimize work output. In addition, when treated with respect, they in turn would treat customers similarly, leading to a marked improvement in customer service and therefore, in customer satisfaction levels. Listening to employees must become a priority – not just to improve customer service, but for the overall health and success of a company.

In companies where listening to employees is not a priority, or given some kind of attention, employees of such companies usually hold themselves back, and do not perform to their optimum capacity. This in turn proves to be counterproductive for a company – investing in people, and yet not gaining the maximum benefits from each employee. If we focus only on frontline employees, the high-stress situations and difficult customers that they deal with daily, can easily bring them down. It is the job of a company to listen to them – listen for their problems and challenges, listen to understand what improvements can be made, listen to frontline employees to understand the tools and whatever they need to do their job well. The job of frontline employees is to improve customer service, and give customers the best solutions and most personalized service possible. The more a company can show their employees that it cares, employees too would reciprocate by taking care of the company’s customers, and each other.

One of the reasons that companies probably would give for not listening to employees and being unable to further improve customer service, would be ‘too many distractions’. Sure, a company would have several day to day issues, would need to manage several different aspects, and would need to give their attention to many minor yet critical to success factors. These ‘distractions’ could prevent the leaders and decision makers from paying attention to the important act of listening to employees – especially frontline – which in turn would lead to a slide in their performance and prevent any improvement in service to customers. Demotivated and ‘tired’ employees would be unable to deliver enthusiastic and happy service, which over time would lead to frustration and annoyance in customers, who could then decide to leave the company for another that would care for them. “Clients do not come first. Employees come first. If you take care of your employees, they will take care of the clients.” – Sir Richard Branson

When a company would be genuinely interested in listening to employees, beyond just wanting to improve customer service, the decision makers of the company would aim to listen beyond the spoken word. Employees communicate in myriad ways – several of these ‘messages’ are non-verbal. For example – a woman in a friend’s office was a great worker, and regularly performed above her expected targets. However, at the time of appraisal she got a lower rating owing to some form of ‘favouritism’. She then began to take an increasing number of leave days, seemed ill and unmotivated – but these non-verbal ‘messages’ went unheeded. The company soon lost an excellent resource to a competitor, and several of her friends and colleagues too left the company to join companies that would genuinely listen to and care for them.

 We have mentioned repeatedly that customer service is provided by the employees of a company. In whatever manner a company treats them, would be the kind of service that its customers would receive. Hence, if as a customer, you notice poor and shoddy service, it would probably be because the company would not be treating its employees well – a clear sign that you should disassociate from such a company. In order to improve customer service and drive customer loyalty, employee engagement is essential. The only way that customers would stay with a company is when they feel appreciated, welcome, and important – and such feelings can only be ‘delivered’ by passionate and engaged employees. It is not that hard – a simple decision to listen to employees regularly, and consider their suggestions, would help to make significant changes and improvements in customer service. If a company can listen to customers, why should listening to employees be so tough – employees are after all, a company’s most valuable and indispensable asset.

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