Last week, I began a three-part blog series about the connection between customer satisfaction and employee engagement by comparing two memorable travel experiences.  As you may recall, one of my experiences was excellent and began with a smile from the company representative and the other left much room for improvement and began with a sigh.

Thinking about these experiences led to a question which forms the basis for this week’s post: Do your employees’ levels of engagement influence the way they treat your customers and, ultimately, customer satisfaction?

Earlier this year in Forbes, author and entrepreneur Kevin Kruse called attention to a 2012 study published in the Journal of Occupational and Organizational Psychology, which sheds new light on this question.  It looked at whether employee engagement is not only correlated with customer satisfaction and better business performance, but perhaps also has a causal relationship. In other words, do happy customers and a successful business cause employees to be engaged, or do engaged employees lead to higher customer satisfaction and better business results?

The results of this study suggest the latter.  And in terms of the strength of relationship, the researchers point out that employee engagement and customer satisfaction are more closely related than the effect ibuprofen (think Advil®) has on pain reduction.  Let’s let that last point sink in: the study found a stronger relationship between employee engagement and customer satisfaction than the effect of Advil® on pain.

Before this post veers into silver bullet territory, it’s worth noting that improving employee engagement obviously requires far more effort than taking Advil® for a headache!  Also, it is only one of many ingredients required to deliver positive customer experiences.  Based on our analysis of the almost 500,000 customer interviews we’ve conducted over the years for our B2B clients, we know that other essential ingredients include employee and manager training, customer-centric values and policies, and supporting process, technology, and communications infrastructure.  That’s why delivering a consistently excellent customer experience continues to be a competitive differentiator in service industries.  It’s not an easy feat.

With that said, the research highlighted today is part of a growing body of evidence which suggests that if you want to improve customer satisfaction levels, working on employee engagement should be on your short list of priorities.  Next week, I’ll discuss how to do that in more detail.

Doug

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