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4 ways to better engage frontline employees

Making up roughly 80 percent of the workforce, frontline staff are often the first – if not the last and only – face-to-face interaction a customer has with a company. Given their crucial role, it should be an immediate red flag for employers that these potential brand ambassadors are the least engaged[1]. After all, if the individuals that make up the face of the company aren’t engaged, the customers they interact with on a daily basis likely won’t be either[2]. Here are four tried and tested methods to make the most of your frontline workers!


1- Trust in and value their unique customer insight

Frontline employees often serve as a company’s eyes and ears – they are the closest to the customer on a continuous basis. As such, they can be a valuable source of information[3]. Think about it, a call center operator or a receptionist often get the inside track on what makes customers happy or unhappy about the service. So why don’t companies listen more to these employees?

According the Harvard Business Review[4], for every dollar spent on gathering employee feedback, hundreds of dollars are spent on customer feedback. But it is crucial that companies tap into the wealth of first-hand, unfiltered knowledge that these frontline workers gather on a daily basis. At the end of the day, 56 percent of frontline employees said they have suggestions for improving company practices, 43 percent have feedback that could potentially cut costs and yet just one-third reported being surveyed annually.

Beyond providing feedback and insight, frontline employees also serve as brand ambassadors through their interactions with existing and potential customers. It therefore behooves organizations to take the time to listen and invest in employee engagement. Gallup reports that companies with engaged staff and customers reported as much as a 240 percent boost in performance-related business outcomes compared with those with neither engaged employees nor engaged customers[5].

2- Take the time to show your appreciation publicly

Sometimes a simple thank you can make a huge difference – especially when done publicly. When companies spotlight frontline employees who demonstrate organizational values, employees will feel more connected to peers and see exactly how the company’s mission can be achieved through their own work. Furthermore, it improves the overall workplace atmosphere. In a 2012 SHRM survey[6], researchers found that companies with strategic employee appreciation programs in place reported 71 percent higher engagement than those without. And companies that ranked in the top 20 percent for recognition also reported 31 percent lower staff turnover. From an employee perspective, 34 percent feel that being thanked or recognized for their work is the most valuable workplace benefit.

E.On[7], a German utility company, saw these benefits first hand when it launched a peer-to-peer recognition initiative with Sodexo[8], encouraging employees to send a “buzz” – or a personalized thank you – to fellow colleagues. Within two years, and after 76 percent of employees received buzzes, the company saw a marked increase in motivation (13 percent) and the number of employees who felt valued (31 percent). Other companies have similar initiatives in place – Google’s gThanks and Zappos’ WOWs, for example[9].

3- Respect and acknowledge their work as individuals

A study[10] of roughly 20,000 employees around the world revealed the single most important element that employees seek in order to feel committed and engaged at work: respect. Being respected as a person outranked providing useful feedback, communicating with an inspiring vision and even the opportunity for learning and development. Employees who felt respected by their leaders reported 56 percent better health and well-being, 89 percent greater job satisfaction, were 1.1 times more likely to stay in their job and were 55 percent more engaged.

After all, respect is a reciprocal social tool that influences behavior. In short, employees who feel respected are motivated to reciprocate with loyalty and hard work. Upper management and executives looking to demonstrate their respect for their hard-working employees can make an appearance on the frontline to personally recognize employees. Demonstrating this respect can take on different forms as well. For example, Doug Conant used personalized notes of thanks and praise to overhaul an employee engagement disaster when he took over as CEO of Campbell’s Soups[11]. When he arrived in 2001, the company was experiencing declining sales, rounds of layoffs and atrocious employee engagement levels. In the 30,000 notes he wrote throughout his tenure, Conant focused on making people feel respected and appreciated. By 2010, the company had turned around financially as well as in terms of employee engagement and performance.

Sometimes companies need more than just good intentions however. Often communicating with individual frontline employees takes an extra effort since unlike the desked workforce, they’re not always connected. DPD, a UK logistic company, encountered this problem with its rewards system. The company communicated primarily via email and its website. As a result, the frontline workers, mainly truck drivers who were rarely connected, missed out on the bulk of communications. In fact, when the company relaunched its rewards program in partnership with Sodexo, they discovered £150,000 GBP of unclaimed reward vouchers because employees were not even aware that they had been recognized at all. The new system sends rewards via email as well as through personalized packages sent directly to employees’ homes – ensuring that employees benefit from their rewards and feel recognized.

4- Organize a recognition strategy around the company mission

And finally, in order for employee recognition to truly work among frontline workers, initiatives must be built around company values and culture. For example, for 02, a UK telecommunications provider, customer service and the customer experience is engrained in the company identity. As such, the company decided to change its points-oriented rewards system for one that recognized employees who embody this identity. Rewards are now based more on recognizing employees for behaviors that led to a sale, rather than just the sale itself. Since launching the Sodexo-led Be Brilliant program four years ago, program engagement has skyrocketed to 95-98 percent.

Rewarding behavior shows employees what the company stands for and what it values. Danone Baby Nutrition, for example, set up a recognition initiative to bring to life the company’s CODE behaviors – or beliefs about how individuals and the business should act. As part of the program, employees were encouraged to send printed or electronic cards to recognize fellow colleagues. Two times a year, the company selected individuals who best demonstrated CODE behaviors among the recipients[12].

In the end, companies that invest in employee appreciation and recognition will reap the benefits of a more engaged and motivated frontline staff. And the way that these workers experience recognition will determine how they interact with customers and fellow employees in the future.



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Dwindling growth has forced many companies to reassess the amount they spend on employee benefits. Yet these cutbacks do not always pay off in the long term because they can significantly affect team motivation and productivity. Although cost reductions are sometimes unavoidable, employers must not lose sight of the need to incentivize. In fact, they need to be smarter and find new ways to motivate their employees, and especially their…
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