For any successful business, there are two concerns that are (or at least, should be) held in higher esteem than anything else: its customers, and its employees. And while these two groups sit on opposite sides of the fence (one is paying for the product or service, while the other is being paid to help deliver it), in many ways a business’s relationship with each group isn’t that much different — after all, keeping both your customers and your employees happy, engaged, motivated, and (crucially) loyal is fundamental to achieving success.
So, when it comes to driving employee engagement and retention, should businesses be treating their employees just as they do their customers? As we’ll explore, many employee and customer motivations align and intersect (from demanding flexibility to needing to feel valued), which means there could be ample benefit in treating these two seemingly-distinct groups as one and the same.
In this article, we’ll delve into the key reasons why you should be treating your employees like your customers, and vice versa.
For almost any business, the goal is to keep customers engaged with their product or service — whether that’s through connecting with them via social media, personalizing their user experiences, offering exceptional customer service, or a combination of these. Engagement creates loyalty which in turn increases the speed at which the customers will return to your brand, ultimately boosting your revenue-earning potential.
Investing in employee engagement is just as important — keeping them engaged might involve offering development opportunities, introducing a recognition program, or running team-building events — and the outcome is largely the same. Engaged employees are likely to feel more deeply connected to the company and therefore stick around for longer, while they’ll also be more productive, contributing more to the business’s bottom line.
The concept of workplace flexibility has come into sharper focus in the years since the onset of the global pandemic, with a sharp rise in the number of businesses embracing remote and hybrid working practices. This, in turn, has led to employee expectations (or demands, you might say) shifting, with the flexibility to work from home (or anywhere, theoretically) with flexible scheduling now widely considered not a rare perk but a necessity.
Customers, too, value this commodity: for example, by enabling their customers to select specific delivery time slots or choose from multiple payment providers when ordering online, businesses are more likely to acquire new customers and retain them for longer. Though in slightly different ways, flexibility is just as important to the acquisition and retention of customers as it is to those of employees.
A recent study revealed that more than two-thirds of consumers prefer serving themselves over speaking to customer service assistants when they’re ready to order. And from self-service checkouts to automated chatbots, businesses are increasingly finding ways to put customers in control of their own experiences, lightening the load on their human staff in the process.
In much the same way, workers with a high level of autonomy are 12% more likely to report being happy in their roles, with many valuing the freedom they’re afforded to carry out their duties without continual supervision or surveillance. They’ll ask for support when they need it (and it’s important it’s there when called upon), but, like your customers, they should mostly be empowered to find their own solutions.
When your business runs smoothly from an operational standpoint, both your customers and your employees stand to benefit equally: your customers will ultimately receive a slicker, more efficient service, while your employees will enjoy more productive working days, feeling unburdened by sticky processes, haphazard project management, and unwelcome bureaucracy.
Think about your internal invoicing process, for instance. If you use an efficient automated recurring billing and invoicing system instead of handling each invoice manually, both your customers and your employees will benefit: your customers will find it easier to pay for ongoing products and services, while your employees will have some of the manual burden removed from their day jobs, enabling them to focus on more stimulating tasks.
Retention is a word that gets used a lot in business (for good reason) and it’s just as applicable to your employees as it is to your customers. You’ve probably heard the one about customer retention being more cost-effective than acquisition, and that applies to your workforce too — after all, wouldn’t you rather focus on retaining a talented employee than go through the costly (and often lengthy) process of replacing them?
So while successfully retaining customers is the cornerstone of any thriving business (it suggests a high level of engagement, loyalty, and a positive overall customer experience), successfully retaining employees is almost as valuable. Businesses with disengaged employees likely have high turnover rates, while those with contented and motivated workforces will inevitably find that their employees remain loyal for longer.
We all want to be recognized for the things we do, and there’s no greater motivator than the promise of a reward. Customers and employees are broadly the same here: while customers expect to be rewarded for their ongoing loyalty to particular brands, employees want to feel they’re being adequately recognized for jobs well done, whether they’ve delivered exceptional results or gone above and beyond in the name of work.
Many customer-centric businesses operate customer loyalty programs in which customer devotion turns into rewards — the more (and more frequently) a customer spends, or carries out actions such as signing up for an email list, the more rewards they earn. For employees, recognition may come in the form of bonuses, rewards from employee-of-the-month-type schemes, pay reviews, gifts, or simply shout-outs in company-wide meetings.
If you run any kind of customer-focused business, you’ll know the paramount importance of customer feedback — and if you needed something to illustrate this, simply consider that 93% of consumers read online reviews before placing orders. Customer feedback is critical in driving conversions, then, but it also provides crucial insights into overall customer satisfaction, enabling you to identify areas of improvement and address common concerns.
Employee feedback is just as valuable to a business, however. In much the same way, seeking regular feedback from your employees will enable you to understand how satisfied they are, whether they have any pressing concerns, and what you can do to improve their employee experiences. You can do this through anonymous surveys, or have a more open forum for employees to share their thoughts and feedback with you as an employer.