CX pros: What’s better than delivering experiences that delight customers? Doing so, while helping your colleagues feel more engaged with their work. That’s a nice thought, and few would dispute the importance of engaging employees to deliver better experiences. In fact, most execs have internalized the ideas laid out more than 20 years ago in the service-profit chain theory, which is that employee satisfaction leads to customer loyalty that in turn leads to profits. So why then, according to Gallup, do employee engagement rates remain stubbornly unchanged year after year?

Maybe it’s because companies haven’t offered employees what they want most: purpose in their work, the chance to master new skills, and the autonomy to figure out the best way to work. Those three characteristics show up again and again in academic research studying what makes people engaged or satisfied in their work.

The good news for CX pros is that asking their colleagues to contribute to great CX gives them that sense of purpose, asks them to master new skills, and requires autonomy for employees to respond to customer needs and requests appropriately in the moment. In my recent report, Customer Obsession Is An Employee Engagement Strategy, Too, I make the case for focusing on improving customer experience delivery as a way to drive greater employee engagement  and all its benefits like higher retention and productivity rates. To do that effectively, though, CX pros must:

  • Make delivering great customer experience a  purpose of all work for employees. Why we work determines how we work. A study cited in Harvard Business Review makes this clear. “Researchers asked almost 2,500 workers to analyze medical images for ‘objects of interest.’ They told one group that the work would be discarded; they told the other group that the objects were ‘cancerous tumor cells.’ The workers were paid per image that they analyzed. The latter group, or ‘meaning’ group, spent more time on each image, earning 10% less on average than the ‘discard’ group  but the quality of their work was higher.” Connecting the work of individual employees to your organization’s CX vision can provide a similar sense of purpose for them.
  • Ask employees to master new CX skills and behaviors in a spirt of self-improvement. The opportunity to learn and apply new skills is another motivating factor for employees. A research study published in 2015 found that “if service employees view their work as challenging, they will have access to greater motivational resources to better manage their emotions in service interactions . . . manifesting in reduced exhaustion of emotional resources.” The authors explained further that employees’ sense of effort heightened their feelings of personal accomplishment, leading to better sentiments about their work. For CX pros, the corollary is training employees to use tools like customer journey maps or helping them deepen their emotional intelligence through relevant training and intentional practice.
  • Give employees autonomy to determine the right experience elements to deliver. Autonomy is the most difficult engagement lever to pull. Think of Mike Judge’s restaurant manager character in the film Office Space telling Jennifer Aniston’s character to express herself by wearing more than the minimum number of required pieces of “flair” on her uniform, and you see the problem. It’s not enough to tell people to express themselves or to “use good judgment in all situations” as Nordstrom’s employee handbook famously does. In fact, Nordstrom’s “good judgment” rule only works because the retailer doggedly focused on hiring the right people and helping them deliver great experiences with the right training and tools. For example, Nordstrom equipped store employees with an instant view to its entire inventory, enabling them to effortlessly say “yes” to customers even when the item that they wanted wasn’t available in the store. Autonomy is possible once the right employees are set up for success with the right training and tools.

For more examples and recommendations about how to use your organization’s attention to improving CX delivery to also improve employee engagement, check out the full report. And if you haven’t seen Office Space, or haven’t watched it recently, I highly recommend it as well.