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The Delicate Balancing Act Between Amazement and Engagement

Shep Hyken, author of The Amazement Revolution, talks about how it takes engaged employees to make amazing customer connections

By William Keenan Jr.

Shep Hyken, author of the New York Times best-selling titles The Cult of the Customer and The Amazement Revolution, may have a customer service focus to his work and to his message, but the tools he recommends that companies put to use to encourage and involve employees in seeking to improve the customer experience and amaze the customer are pure enterprise engagement.

“To keep external customers happy, you’ve got to start by making sure that your employees know that you care about doing right by them – day after day after day,” he says. “Then your employees in turn will care about doing what’s right by the customer. Amaze your employees, and they’ll spread the amazement.” 

In fact, when Hyken talks in The Amazement Revolution about the strategies that “amazing service organizations use to build relationships with their customers,” he’s essentially talking about engagement strategies. For instance:

  • Treating customers like “members,” even if you don’t call them members
  • Being so attentive to customer needs that they begin to think of you as a partner rather than as just another vendor
  • Creating a community of evangelists – loyal customers who brag about you to their friends and associates.

Customer strategies like this, Hyken says, can only work if employees are engaged in their work and aligned with the mission. And for this, you have to create an internal culture focused on what he calls “Serious FUN.”

Hyken explains: “The ‘F’ in FUN stands for ‘fulfillment’ – making people feel fulfilled in their jobs. And that’s less about compensation than about the appreciation they’re shown and the recognition they get for doing a great job. The ‘U’ stands for ‘uniqueness,’ and it means making the best possible use of every employee’s unique talents and making sure their job makes use of those talents. And lastly, the ‘N’ stands for ‘next,’ which involves getting employees excited about what’s coming up – the next day, the next project, or the next customer experience goal.”

Engagement Strategies Magazine recently sat down with Hyken to get some more ideas on how organizations can bring a touch of “amazement” to their engagement efforts.

ESM: How do you understand and define engagement – especially in terms of your concept of the “Amazement Revolution”?

Hyken: Employee engagement in particular taps into my concept of “Serious FUN” – Fulfillment, Uniqueness and looking forward to what’s Next. If you can cover those three concepts in your organization, then I think you are going to have an engaged employee. In fact, Brian Keeley of Baptist Health of South Florida was one of my first role models for this concept, and he talks quite a bit about engagement. He says, “We strongly believe that the health and well-being of our employees is critical to our ability to care for our patients.” And he talks about being a “destination employer” – the kind of company that employees seek out and go out of their way to remain with. He does that by focusing not just on employee retention, but employee engagement, and Baptist Health accomplishes this by offering extensive in-house and external education, challenging work assignments, self-selection of work assignments to the degree possible, flexible work hours, child-care options and other programs. Baptist Health also measures its employee engagement efforts regularly, and Keeley points out that engagement is “a term that implies not only that people like their work, but that they’re psychologically, mentally and physically challenged at work.” 

ESM: What else can organizations do to engage employees and support their service efforts?

Hyken: Well, Tony Hsieh of Zappos has an interesting approach. His company starts by identifying its core values – the service values that are most important to the company – and he hires new employees based on their ability to align with those core values. And he’s found that if employees believe in those same core values, they’re going to love working for Zappos. So the company’s core values become as much a part of the hiring process as the job description.

It’s also important for the leaders in the company to model the behaviors they’re looking for in their employees. Walt Disney’s “Stooping to Excellence” concept is a perfect example. If he was walking through one of his properties or parks and saw a piece of paper or trash somewhere, he stooped to pick it up, because that’s what he wants his employees or “cast members” to do when they see a piece of litter. If he walked by it, on the other hand, he’s giving permission to employees to do the same thing. So managers modeling the type of behaviors that you want employees to use on the job and when dealing with customers is very important.

Nothing sends the wrong message more than a manager who brings an employee back to his or her office, tells the employee he’s doing a lousy job, beats him up verbally and then says, “Now go out there and be nice to the customer!”

ESM: Can a recognition program do a better job of conveying the right message to employees?

Hyken: It’s important to recognize when an employee does the right thing. But I would like to see the employees recognize it themselves. It’s one thing to say, “Oh, we have this program where if you see somebody doing something right, you write it up and they get an ‘attaboy’ and a pat on the back.” But I want people to understand themselves when they’re doing something right.

So I suggest a simple program that I call the “Moment of Magic” card. It can be a simple postcard, or it can be done online, but basically at the end of the week every customer-facing employee has to think back and say, “What one great customer service experience did I provide this week for an internal or external customer?” If you can’t think of one thing, then you’re in trouble. But what’s nice about the exercise is that when people get really engaged in it they start thinking about it every day – “Oh, is this a good service example? Should I write this one down? No, I’ll have a better one by the end of the week.” It’s a great way of creating what I call “service awareness.”

And when companies say, “Well, we already have this peer-recognition program in place here and we don’t want to stop that,” I’ll say, “OK, let’s compromise – one week every employee has to brag on themselves, on what they’ve done to provide excellent service, and the next week they have to brag on somebody else in the organization.” Just as long as we’re forcing awareness of these service behaviors on an individual level.

ESM: The goal of an engaged workforce is to create a culture that’s focused on engaging customers – what are some steps that companies can take to engage customers?

Hyken: One of the first things you can do is to treat customers more like members. That doesn’t mean you have to call your customers “members” like American Express does, but you have to make them feel as if they’re doing business with an organization that’s special and that makes them feel special. American Express does a great job of doing that with amenities like its rewards program and other travel-related offerings, as well as through its courteous and professional service.

Simple and inexpensive efforts like sending thank-you notes can also help to engage customers and make them feel appreciated. I rode in a cab not long ago that not only had a display of soda, candy and newspapers available free of charge to customers in the back of the cab, but the driver also sent me a thank-you note four days later for using his service. How many cab drivers do that?

Even automated thank-you notes can help if they’re clever, customized and stand out from the typical automatic notice that’s spit out from a computer. CRM software allows you to recognize that a customer has bought from you before, whether it’s the second or fifth time, and change the message every time to give the customer something different.

Ideally, however, you know you’ve reached the level of amazement when you can develop a sense of community in those customers. You build a tribe, a loyal following of evangelists. And social media in particular allows companies to build this kind of tribe and communicate with it on a regular basis – not only by monitoring social sites and responding to complaints, but by pushing out content that might be interesting and valuable to your community. Ideally, you not only want to be able to reach out to them, but have them communicate back to you with ideas, suggestions, observations and even criticism.

ESM: But it all starts with having an engaged employee?

Hyken: That’s right. The employee needs to understand what his or her role is in the organization and in supporting those core values. That’s the key.

I have this loyalty question that I’ve written about and talked about for a number of years – a question that any employee whose job has an impact on the customer should be posing to him or herself. The question is: “What am I doing right now to take care of this customer that’s going to make them want to buy from us the next time they want to buy whatever it is we sell or do?”

And so, to offer amazing service and to engage customers, you can’t be focused on just the here and now, you have to focus on the here, now and the future. Even when there’s a  problem, you want your employee to be able to handle it in such a way that they provide a solution that gives the customer confidence about the company and the way it handles things. You want to make that customer say, “You know what? They really step up to the plate when there’s a problem.”

So it starts with the employee, and the effort has to be ongoing. If you don’t continuously push the message, you’re going to be guilty of offering a “flavor of the month.” The best companies repeat the engagement message over and over again, maybe coming at it from different angles, reinforcing it, constantly reporting on how it’s working and pushing it continuously to keep it fresh and front-of-mind.

ESM: Thanks for taking the time to sit down with us today.

Hyken: My pleasure.

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November/December 2011

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