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How do you engage customer-facing employees to improve performance?


Educating and engaging staff within the workplace is key to improving performance. Ian Luxford offers tips on sharpening customer service skills at the front end.
If outstanding customer service is a must for successful businesses today, it's also one of the biggest challenges they face. Despite cuts in training, owing to the challenging economic climate, employers are still investing in staff within the workplace, as part of an effort to improve their employees' customer service skills to the best standard and enhance the customer experience. 
Many companies focus on enhancing their workforce's knowledge and expertise of the products or services they are offering, in order to turn them into better customer service representatives. However, the intangible element that actually makes for successful service is employee engagement, i.e. employees who are tuned into, and passionate, about what they do.
The most iconic brands around today are not defined by their producte or the level of service they are associated with. They succeed because their customer’s experience of them is one that is special and which they can appreciate, enjoy and remember. If a customer is more than happy with the service they receive from a company, then they are very likely use the company again. Furthermore, they will recommend it to others, thus enhancing the company’s reputation. However, if a customer is dissatisfied it is likely that they will not use the company again. They will also tell others about their bad experience, thus damaging the reputation of the company. Hence employee engagement is vital to the survival of a business.
"Employers can only achieve tangible employee engagement by tapping into employees' emotions and getting them charged up about the service they are offering."
Despite its significance to a company, employee engagement is often overlooked by employers as an 'attitude', and something which cannot be taught. A great customer experience however, can only be delivered by someone who really wants to deliver it, and a greater knowledge and understanding of the company does not necessarily make its sales representatives care about it passionately. Employers can only achieve tangible employee engagement by tapping into employees' emotions and getting them charged up about the service they are offering. So, how do you achieve this in reality?


Take time when planning an employee engagement programme to assess the basics; who are you attempting to engage, what is their role, what is expected of them and what drives them? Understanding this before you start sets the programme up for success.
The overall objective is for employees to gain insight, which enables them to provide better levels of service. Consider the fundamentals of that experience – what it looks and feels like and how to make the experience real for the people who are learning how to deliver it.
We created a bespoke programme aimed at improving customer service by exciting store staff with knowledge and options about their customer's potential purchase for a leading video and PC game specialist retailer.
The project started with an assessment of the customer experience and the sales process in stores. Engaging with the retail team established opportunities to improve sales techniques and confidence amongst store staff. The company's service model was oriented more towards customer service than sales and it was agreed that adopting a stronger loyalty-orientated culture at store level could help drive top-line growth.
Similarly, our work in telecoms contact centres, addressing customer retention, started with the experiences that led customers to make the decision to stay and the ways in which customer service advisors knew that they could create this experience – engaging more of them with its delivery led to phenomenal increases in retention performance.
Another key consideration is to personalise the customer experience by allowing employees at all levels to play some part in shaping the way it can be delivered.
"It is important that managers take some of the responsibility for getting the rest of the staff involved and recognise individuals who have already taken the training on board."
The result is a well-developed solution and, more importantly, it makes each individual employee feel valued and gives them a sense of importance. This is integral, because if your staff feel valued and understand how they are helping the customer – then they will be more inclined to do so effectively.
Create a cascade effect within the company so that employees buy into the training. People are influenced by their peers and immediate managers far more than they are influenced by their trainers. Therefore, it is important that managers take some of the responsibility for getting the rest of the staff involved and recognise individuals who have already taken the training on board. They can then equip them to engage others by making them part of the facilitation process.


Open people's minds to the kind of learning they need by creating 'demand pull' (generating interest and promoting curiosity about what staff can do to give a great customer experience). People will learn if they want to learn. They will also only engage with a subject if they are able to take actions and feel in control. Blended learning provides numerous opportunities for involvement and interaction.

Communication during this phase is critical to keep reinforcing messages. Let employees know what is expected of them throughout the whole training process and the reasons behind it. Providing skills and knowledge is crucial, but measuring the change and rewarding accordingly is equally important. Positive attitudes spread very quickly when there is overt recognition of people who do the right thing.


Any employee engagement programme should be an ongoing process. It should constantly reward the behaviour that is being encouraged and acknowledge peer-to-peer recognition. Refreshing the programme will also promote continued buy-in and participation. Good programmes will stand the test of time but should evolve to suit both business and employee requirements.
Evidently, to create the ultimate customer experience employee engagement is absolutely essential. Whilst there is no one easy step to achieving this, if it can be accomplished, the benefits to the company and brand are endless.
Ian Luxford is learning services director at Grass Roots. Grass Roots specialises in the provision of marketing, research and HR services. Its services help clients to engage with their employees, channel partners, customers and prospects, to improve their business performance. The company's reputation is based on providing creative, innovative solutions that generate a measurable increase in sales, customer service, loyalty and productivity. For more information, please visit

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