Four Ways to Better Engage Frontline Employees

Respect and reward your brand ambassadors

Making up roughly 80% of the workforce, frontline staff are often the first, or the last and only, face-to-face interaction a customer has with a company.

Given their crucial role, it should be particularly worrying for employers if these potential brand ambassadors are the least engaged. If the individuals that make up the face of your company are disengaged, the customers they interact with are likely to be too. In an attempt to overcome these issues, 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 as they are the closest to the customer on a continuous basis and, as a result, can be a valuable source of information.

A call centre operator or a receptionist often receives the inside track on what makes customers happy or unhappy about the service they receive. So why don’t companies listen more to frontline employees?

According to the Harvard Business Review, for every dollar spent on gathering employee feedback, hundreds of dollars are spent on customer feedback. However, it is crucial that companies tap into the wealth of first-hand, unfiltered knowledge that these frontline workers gather on a daily basis.

Statistics show that 56 percent of frontline employees said they have suggestions for improving company practices, 43 percent have feedback that could potentially cut costs but only 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 benefits organisations 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.

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 organisational values, employees will feel more connected to their peers and see how the company’s mission can be achieved through their own individual efforts. Furthermore, it helps create a positive workplace atmosphere.

In a 2012 SHRM survey, researchers found that companies with strategic employee appreciation programs in place reported 71 percent higher engagement than those without. In addition to this, 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 recognised for their work is the most valuable workplace benefit.

E.On, a German utility company, experienced these benefits first hand when they launched a peer-to-peer recognition initiative with Sodexo, encouraging employees to send a ‘buzz’ – or a personalised 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, for example, Google’s gThanks and Zappos’ WOWs.

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3. Respect and acknowledge their work as individuals

A HBR study 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 is respect.

Being respected as a person outranked providing useful feedback, communicating with an inspiring vision and 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 more likely to stay in their job and were 55 percent more engaged.

Respect is a reciprocal social tool that influences behaviour. 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 recognise employees. However, there are a number of different ways with which employers can demonstrate respect.

For example, Doug Conant used personalised notes of thanks and praise to overhaul an employee engagement disaster when he took over as CEO of Campbell’s Soups. 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, not only financially, but also in terms of employee engagement and performance.

However, sometimes companies need more than just good intentions.

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 and as a result, the frontline workers, mainly truck drivers who were rarely connected, missed out on the bulk of communications.

When the company re-launched its rewards program in partnership with Sodexo, they discovered £150,000 of unclaimed reward vouchers because employees were not even aware that they had been recognised at all. The system now sends rewards via email as well as personalised packages sent directly to employees’ homes – ensuring that all employees benefit from their rewards and feel recognised.

4. Organise a recognition strategy around the company mission

In order for employee recognition to truly work among frontline workers, initiatives must be built around company values and culture.

Rewarding behavior shows employees what the company stands for and what it values. Companies that invest in employee appreciation and recognition will reap the benefits of a more engaged and motivated frontline workforce, which, in turn, will result in better customer service and greater levels of customer engagement.

The way in which workers experience recognition will determine how they interact with customers and fellow employees in future, therefore the delivery and implementation of these rewards are of key importance to the programme's overall success.