It’s tough to build customer relationships if your side of the relationship keeps walking out the door. These days when corporations are in the headlines almost daily for lying, cheating and stealing, employee loyalty is getting harder and harder to come by. Yet loyal, long-term employees are a key ingredient in building and maintaining relationships with customers. Don’t think you have a loyalty problem because your turnover figures are low? Think again, says Bob Nelson, president of San Diego-based Nelson Motivation, Inc. and author of several best-selling books, including 1001 Ways to Reward Employees (Workman Publishing Company, 1994) and 1001 Ways to Energize Employees (Workman Publishing Company, 1997). Half your workforce may simply be waiting for a better opportunity before they rush the exits without looking back.
To build customer loyalty start by building a happy, loyal workforce. It’s easier than you might think. A 2001 survey by Nelson of 1,500 employees found the things employees feel are most important to them in the workplace are simple and inexpensive to implement. They include the presence of learning activities, flexible working hours, verbal praise, increased authority and autonomy on the job and some one-on-one time with managers. Nowhere in the list of top 10 items was pay mentioned.
Boardroom, Inc., a newsletter and book publisher in Greenwich, CT, took that list to heart. In an effort to reduce employee turnover, managers created an initiative called I-Power, which encourages employees to become more involved in implementing ideas they have for improving processes and working conditions, saving money, reducing stress – anything they want to see change in the workplace. The company picked the letter I, says Nelson, because it represents so many key words – ideas, ingenuity, invention, incentive, invigorate, imagination, intelligence, inspiration, improvement. It worked.
“Once employees got excited about what they were doing and the influence they could have, they didn’t feel the need to leave,” says Nelson. “The number one reason employees leave organizations everywhere is a lack of appreciation for the work they’ve done.” Now, according to Nelson, Boardroom has to think twice to remember when someone last left the company. Think that kind of improvement in employee satisfaction and turnover has an impact on customer satisfaction and turnover? You bet. After all, wouldn’t you rather do business with a happy, motivated sales rep you know will be around for the long haul? So would your customers.