Opinion

Why it pays for businesses to treat their staff like customers

26 May 2016

Phil Foster Love Energy Savings
Phil Foster

New research carried out by business energy price comparison specialists Love Energy Savings has revealed that more than 40% of people in the UK don’t believe their employer does enough to engage them in the workplace. At a time when many businesses are finding it hard to attract and retain talent, Phil Foster, managing director of Love Energy Savings, shares some top tips from experts on how to prioritise employee engagement

Customer care is often cited as the key to a successful business. After all, if those who are paying for your goods or services don’t feel valued, why should they return and spend more money with you? You wouldn’t have much of a business if your customers didn’t feel appreciated and wanted.

But what about the ones providing the service? Not to lessen the importance of your customers (they are your source of income after all!) but if your employees don’t feel loved and truly bought into your company’s vision and values, then they won’t provide the best customer experience possible.

Research by Love Energy Savings has revealed that maintaining staff happiness may not be a top priority for many UK workplaces, with more than 40% of the public believing that their employer doesn’t do enough to keep them engaged.

With that statistic in mind, we want to educate small to medium enterprises (SMEs) on the importance of employee engagement; why it matters, why it deserves a place in your business strategy, and how to go about implementing it.

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Why employee engagement matters

  • The bottom line – According to data from employee engagement specialists Best Companies, organisations with higher levels of engagement financially outperform FTSE 100 businesses by 3.5 times.
  • Higher productivity – The difference between a satisfied employee and an engaged employee may seem subtle, but it's actually profound. Satisfied employees will do the nine to five without complaint, but an engaged employee will go above and beyond, because they believe in the business, and want to see it achieve its goals.
  • Better customer service – As we mentioned above, engaged employees believe in a business. They believe in its values, visions and goals, and they want to ensure that your business is presented in the best possible light. This enthusiasm and commitment will shine through when they speak to customers and clients.
  • Decreased staff turnover – A disengaged employee is more likely to be tempted away by a headhunter with a salary increase. Engaged employees who love where they work will have stronger feelings of loyalty, and will want to be part of a business' success. Not only does this mean that you retain your best employees, but it also ensures that you have to spend less time, energy and money on replacing them.

How can SMEs improve employee engagement?

Many SME owners might feel disheartened when faced with the prospect of improving employee engagement within their business, as they may think it means spending a lot of money. In fact, real engagement can cost next to nothing.

Small businesses have the advantage of more face time with their senior management, more scope for development and a greater feeling of unity and teamwork. To that end, Love Energy Savings brings you four ways for SMEs to boost engagement.

1. Shout about achievements

If someone hits a target at work, they will undoubtedly feel pleased and proud of themselves, but they may not necessarily feel appreciated. Recognising achievements ensures that your employees feel valued within an organisation, and are therefore driven to achieve their very best.

Employee recognition doesn’t have to be difficult. It can range from an employee or team of the month scheme to a simple post-it note that congratulates a person on a job well done.

Brian Londsale, Director of Smarter Digital Marketing, believes that managing directors going out of their way to recognise staff is key to improving engagement:

“We praise our staff on their merits. We notice our star employees so they don’t feel their hard work goes unnoticed. Stopping to appreciate my staff not only makes them feel good, but it makes me feel good! I think praise is vital for staff retention and avoiding a high turnover.”

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2. Provide benefits that matter

Why does any customer sign up to a brand’s loyalty scheme? It’s all to do with the perks and benefits, the things that they receive in return for their custom. We’ve written in detail in the past about how to create a great customer loyalty scheme that keeps people coming back for more, but are you doing the same for your employees?

Multinational corporations such as Google and Netflix are famous for their “extreme employee incentives”, such as places to nap in the office and unlimited vacation days. However, these will be a little out of the price range of your average SME, so be sure to think more realistically about what you can offer your staff as a reward.

Love Energy Savings offers a scheme for its employees, available after three months, with eye-catching discounts at a number of local and national businesses. These include money off visits to restaurants, clothes, hair and beauty products and services, and coffee shops. They also offer regular team outings, and additional perks such as performance and sales bonuses.

Phil Foster, Managing Director of Love Energy Savings, says it’s all about making people feel appreciated:

“While perks and incentives certainly aren’t the be all and end all of employee engagement, it’s important to have some kind of scheme to show your staff how much you value them. To us, it’s about so much more than a nice way to say ‘thank you’; it’s about creating an environment where people feel happy about their jobs. Performance-based perks also give people that added incentive to do their very best for the company.”

3. Offer internal training

We’ve already touched on staff turnover, but it’s certainly worth mentioning again, as recruitment costs can be a major drain on a small company’s finances.

Nowadays, people aren’t looking for a job; they want a career where they can learn, develop and grow. Start-ups and SMEs depend on their workforce, and retaining the very best talent is crucial for future growth and expansion.

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It doesn’t have to be expensive, and although some of your staff may benefit from being sent on external training courses, no doubt there are dozens of knowledgeable people within your business just waiting to share their wisdom! If you have different departments, encourage people to hold training sessions for other teams and swap skills. Or have your managers talk to the rest of their teams to discover where people may feel they have gaps in their knowledge, then arrange for another member of staff to host a training course.

Andrew James, Managing Director for Michael Page Property & Construction commented on the importance of training within a business...

“Regular training and development opportunities can help boost employee motivation and engagement. Most employees will value ongoing learning potential and the sense that they’re expanding and improving their skills and knowledge. If a workplace feels stagnant, non-progressive and uninspired, your employees’ motivation levels will soon dwindle. Get regular feedback from your team to see where increased training or development opportunities would be best placed and appreciated.”

4. Open and honest communication

This tip doesn’t require any extra investment at all; just a little more effort on the part of senior management. Often, those in the lower rungs of a business don’t hear about company news unless it’s really good, or it’s too late (such as a lost business).

But communicating both good and bad news also serves the purpose of helping employees feel connected to the wider purpose of a business. Knowing that they are included in the highs and the lows will make them feel more valued, and you get the benefit of being able to pick their brains when problem solving.

Jill Miller, Research Adviser at the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development, commented on the vital importance of communication to smaller businesses in particular:

“As the workforce grows, you can no longer rely on informal communication, but need to introduce more formal mechanisms to ensure everyone receives the same message, and no one is left out. We all like to receive information in different ways, so this is important to consider, and could range from formal face-to-face briefings, a newsletter, using technology and reinforcing key messages through team briefings.

“It’s important the communication is not just downward, but is two-way, with mechanisms in place for employees to feed their views and suggestions upwards. As well as enabling great ideas to be heard through the organisation, communication mechanisms such as internal social technology platforms can be forums to share knowledge and ideas about specific projects, and team away days to bolster team spirit and give employees the chance to express their views and be involved in shaping the team’s strategy.”

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There isn’t really a rule book on employee engagement, and the real “secret” is that there is no secret at all.

Each business’ strategy will be unique to them, but every organisation has to start somewhere. A mistake many people make is that they try and come up with the solution all on their own. When, in reality, if you want to know how to make your employees feel more engaged, why not just ask them? You may be surprised by the ideas!

Produce Business UK welcomes letters to the editor and other input from the industry. If you wish to respond to an article on Produce Business UK or join the conversation on any industry issue, please send your thoughts to [email protected]

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