Some may recall much-publicized recall of Toyota vehicles for an “unintended acceleration” defect that frequently made headlines some five years ago, undermining consumer confidence in what had always been a much-admired manufacturer.
But it’s not only car companies that can learn from the experience, according to authorities on employee engagement such as Peter Hunter, who has written extensively on the link between employee engagement and customer satisfaction as it applies broadly to businesses in every sector. Hunter found the levels of engagement at the automaker’s plants – in its homeland and in newer plants in the US – to be in stark contrast to one another. That difference was a major contributor to production of the faulty cars, which were all manufactured in the West. While the US facilities had imported the Japanese company’s processes, he noted, workers in the two countries had vastly different relationships with their work.
One measure of that difference in attitude: Hunter cited another author, Bob Nelson, who reported that the average number of suggestions a Japanese worker makes each year to improve company performance is 167. For an American worker, the number is 1.1 each year.
The link between employee engagement and customer satisfaction
HR professionals have known it for years. There is the strongest of correlations between employee engagement and customer satisfaction. But they also have known that correlation and causality are two different things, and until recently researchers have been hard-pressed to say definitively that high levels of employee engagement can actually be shown to cause customer satisfaction.
Now recent studies are erasing any doubt.
One of these, a longitudinal study of bank employees over a three-year period that was published in the Journal of Occupational and Organizational Psychology and reported on extensively in Forbes Magazine, concluded that “practitioners might be well advised to aim to improve job attitudes in order to boost performance.”
Other researchers also make the convincing case that businesses neglect to focus on improving employee engagement at their own peril. The Gallup organization’s “State of the Global Workplace” report offers one wake-up call with the sobering finding that only 13% of employees worldwide are engaged at work. That figure is higher in many highly developed economies, but few business leaders are likely to find even those rates reassuring – in Australia, the rate rises to 24%, and in the US it’s 30%.
Even more alarming, perhaps, is their finding that as many as 15% of employees are “actively disengaged” – actually working against their company’s interests, that is. Those hostile workers may not be redeemable, but the large group of employees falling between the engaged and the disengaged represent a golden opportunity for businesses.
Making employee engagement a top priority – and a reality
The costs of having a workforce that is not engaged are easy to see, and have been well-documented:
- Decreased productivity and profitability
- High absenteeism and turnover
- Quality defects and safety incidents
- Frustrated, unhappy customers
Given all that, increasing employee engagement has become one major focus of businesses across the spectrum in recent years, but many companies still struggle to make a meaningful difference. That fact was documented in a 2015 report published by Deloitte University Press, which found that engagement remains a “top challenge” for 87% of organizations.
Turning the numbers around
Fortunately, just as that “top challenge” is becoming a top priority for businesses across sectors, new solutions supported by cutting-edge research are emerging. Where once efforts to improve employee engagement were largely a matter of good intentions and guesswork, sound research and sophisticated technology are transforming the field and making substantive improvements both possible and measurable.
One breakthrough innovation has come in the form of workforce optimization software from NICE, a leader in the field. By providing employees with extensive insights, the workforce optimization software enables employees to better understand and serve customers and to become more performance-driven themselves.
These types of technology solutions enhance employee engagement specifically as a pathway to greater customer satisfaction through comprehensive, highly integrated software suites. Features such as comprehensive analytics and enhanced gamification capabilities (that offer new avenues for recognizing outstanding employee performance and driving individual and team challenges) can dramatically change workplace culture.
And, faced with the sobering statistics showing too little employee engagement is a pervasive problem around the world and across the board, those changes in workplace culture matter. After all, if in a best-case scenario only about 30% of workers are fully engaged and devoted to meeting their company’s goals as noted above, that means about seven out of every ten aren’t yet all the way on board.
That’s a ratio no business will want to settle for when effective new solutions are at hand.