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Customer & Employee Engagement

The Pacesetters are a networking group representing emerging leaders from the supplier network of MHEDA. The Pacesetters are Josh Smith and Linda Anlauf of WPRP Wholesale Pallet Rack, Brian C Neuwirth of UNEX Manufacturing, Adam Wray of Nashville Wire Products, and Eddie Murphy of SpaceGuard Products. Here, they answer questions regarding challenges in engaging customers and employees today.

How do we engage the customer even before we receive the call? How do we keep them engaged?
Josh Smith: “This has always been one of my favorite challenges because it does require some time commitment and knowing what your brand is. If you or your company are unsure of what your brand is or what the target audience is, can you imagine how your customer feels?

One of the most successful or effective ways to engage with your customer before the call is by building an emotional connection to prove that they are dealing with an actual person and not just a nameless, faceless operation.

How many times have you called up a business or went online only to find out you are not able to connect or talk to someone, but are instead forced to work with an automated system? Compare this to the experience that you brag about when you inquire about a particular product or service and are showered with excellent service.

But let’s back up for a minute. How did you get to making the call or service? You did your research first and you found that the brand you were looking at was very transparent and so were the team members behind it. You Googled and you came across team member images, social media platforms. You even may have come across some forums for reviews and/or trouble shooting. In fact, your Google research not only convinced you that this was an excellent company to do business with, you were relieved and happy to take the next step and place that call because you knew that this company had a live person you could speak to.

Now this brings me to my next question: so, we got you to call, but how do we keep you coming back? What can we do to keep you engaged? You need to choose or pick the right platform or the channel your customers prefer.

When you are a real person your customers have a better time connecting with you. That’s part of the reason we enjoy working with charities and filling our customers in on the work that we do. We like to make our customers a part of the team.

If you offer something valuable to them that either teaches them or is valuable, they are going to want to sign up and stay up to date with what you’re offering, and maybe even share or pass your info on to someone in need.

It’s important that even though your customer had a great experience we treat every other like it was their first.

Be consistent with what you stand for and what you are offering. If you continue to connect with your customers on an emotional level, they will continue to come back. Social is a great way for many customers to stay connected to your company by sharing what is new and what is happening.

Hosting an event or even a trade show is an excellent way to stay engaged with your customers. A positive review or experience will be shared with peers for times to come. We all have been there in conversation and someone has shared just how terrible an experience was. Listen to your customer’s needs, quality matters more than speed. (According to a study by the Gallup Group http://www.gallup.com/businessjournal/727/when-speed-kills.aspx#1)

Everyone has a smart phone and everyone has a favorite app for that so what favorite do you have for your brand that has your customer coming back for more? How many times do you check Facebook? How many ads or articles do you see that you hit “like” or want to share with a peer or see a case study and you are fascinated by?

Is it worth noting? If your answer is “I don’t know,” then it’s time to create that app or that “want to come back” by being the leader in information or education that you offer. Listen to what your customers are saying from their experience and continue to improve. Write blogs about the questions that they send in and answer them. Make them feel like VIP/s by offering different levels or loyalty programs in forms of Gold, Platinum or VIP and or rebate programs. They will quickly find value in doing business with you just like carrying a Delta American Express, for example.

“Customers are nine times more likely to be engaged with a brand when they evaluated the service as “Courteous, willing, and helpful,” versus the “speedy” evaluation, which only made customers six times more likely to be engaged.”

Linda Anlauf: “The material handling industry is larger than many think, and customers have many manufacturer and vendor choices available. In addition, technology changes have changed the way that customers make their choices. But what hasn’t changed, is the fact that we need to know our customers – who they are and what is important to them. If we don’t know this, we can’t even begin to engage our customers. Once we know this, we can focus on the channels where we can reach our customers and provide the value they need to make a decision to engage with us. These channels could be trade shows, trade magazines, your company website or social platforms. And most likely, it will be many or all of these channels. The value could be in the form of education, simplicity, product quality or product availability. The goal is that no matter the channel or value add, customers can make a decision within seconds to give you the additional time to learn about your company and your product. In today’s day and age, we have to be prepared to engage the customer even before they have decided to contact us. And we need to have the same powerful impact in every way we touch the customer.

Engagement is repeated positive interactions that provide value to the customer. Each company will have different ways to engage customers, but the basics of human interaction will be at the base of each strategy. Some of these include simplicity, recognition, integrity, ease and motivation. Simplicity means providing the customer value that is easily understood and not embedded in a multitude of layers. Through recognition, your customer knows you are listening, giving relevant feedback, appreciating their feedback and creating a positive experience to remember. Integrity translates into “Do what you say and say what you do.” Ease provides your customers a smooth process from their first contact with your company to the follow up after your product is delivered. Motivation entices your customer to want to be associated with your five-star company. Aligning your engagement strategy with these basics of human interaction will create the valuable relationships to engage your customers.

How do we make sure we listen to employees and make sure perceptions are the same between leaders and employees?

Employees are engaged by having a sense of accomplishment in what they do. This accomplishment comes from having clear goals from leaders as well as the resources needed to complete the goals. The most important aspect in these goals is making sure both the leader and employees have the same perception of the goal. This requires some communication skills where both parties discuss the goal in their own words to ensure the perception is the same. In addition, the goals should have clear timelines on follow up dates and final due dates. There should be established communication channels for questions and situations affecting the goal. These types of items are part of the resources the employee needs to accomplish the goal, and the items the leader needs to feel confidence the goal will be attained. This process takes time and should not be rushed. If the time is not available, then the goals meeting should be postponed. The time spent in the beginning will by far benefit the end result and more importantly, keep your employees engaged”

Brian C Neuwirth: In today’s business world, consumers are more educated than ever at the first interaction. As a marketer, I find that the key to customer engagement is knowing where your customers are and focusing on the quality of content through that channel. As a marketer, you need to know your customer’s buyer personas. Where do they do research? How do they like to view their content (text, video, infographic)?

What do they like? What drives their purchasing decisions? Get into the brain of your buyer, understand what information they are looking for but also understand how they want to view that information. Providing good content will build trust in your brand and keep the customer coming back!”

Adam Wray: “Social media seems to be the most in-your-face way to seek out new business. Whether through direct communication or ads, it’s the one avenue that will most likely grab a prospect’s attention. If they’re going to read your tweet or like your post, then they’re obviously interested in your products and/or what you have to say. From there, it’s the salesman’s job to keep them engaged with great service and a speedy turnaround.”

Eddie Murphy: “With so many distractions and other priorities, it is imperative to keep a customer engaged after they are qualified. Look outside the box, and find creative touch points that ensure your call for attention stands out among the other stimuli your customer is processing. Don’t rely on traditional mailers and email communications and expect that will do the trick. Be unique. Create a sense of belonging and ownership through your ongoing marketing efforts.”

How do we make sure we listen to employees and make sure perceptions are the same between leaders and employees?
Eddie: “Anyone can claim they listen to their employees, but it truly starts at the top of the organization. Your leaders must believe their employees, at all levels, are a top asset, and then they must back it up with timely and appropriate actions. Whether you have a formal suggestion program or not, it is important to consider all feedback with just as much urgency as any other priority on the to-do list. Don’t forget to read deeper into both complaints and suggestions to understand the real, underlying issue before reacting.

The key to ensuring perceptions are the same among all levels of an organization is to communicate regularly and as transparently as possible. Every employee should know what the company’s goals are and exactly what their role is in achieving that success. Successful leaders create, share, and evaluate specific goals on a regular basis so that engaged employees can feel a sense of accomplishment in both good times and bad. Successful leaders communicate the successes more often than the failures. Otherwise, the negative communications fall on deaf ears while further dividing leadership and employees. And that is a difficult trend to reverse, once trust is lost.

Furthermore, it is important to be available to listen no matter how busy you may seem. An open-door policy creates trust and strengthens the bond between leaders and employees.

Finally, as the company succeeds, continue to find ways that give back to the employees or provide individuals with recognition. Rewards do not always need to be monetized. Create programs that give back in the form of mental or physical wellness. You may be surprised that you can provide rewards that also simultaneously improve performance and improve the bottom line. Recognition should be authentic and given promptly, or while still relevant.”

Adam: “For Nashville Wire, it’s transparency. One of the thickest walls can be the one between the office and plant. We hold few secrets with regards to financials and strive to make each employee feel a part of the team. We share in the triumphs and defeats. That’s accomplished through quarterly and annual meetings with all factory locations. We also have a newsletter, affectionately named “Live Wire” that catches all employees up on different factory news. With over 1,000 employees, it would be easy for updates to get lost in the shuffle. But we strive to keep all involved and feel like a family.”

Brian: “To ensure that all employees have the opportunity to have their voice heard by management we have a quarterly ISO suggestion box review that recognizes (with a financial incentive) to the top suggestions. This has been embraced by our employees and been a main driver to our successful continuous improvement process. We recognize the top suggestions companywide and award their incentive. The program has made us a better company and it has improved employee morale. Knowing their voice is heard and having the ability to make a difference has led to a happier well accomplished workforce!”

Linda: “Employees are engaged by having a sense of accomplishment in what they do. This accomplishment comes from having clear goals from leaders as well as the resources needed to complete the goals. The most important aspect in these goals is making sure both the leader and employees have the same perception of the goal. This requires some communication skills where both parties discuss the goal in their own words to ensure the perception is the same. In addition, the goals should have clear timelines on follow up dates and final due dates. There should be established communication channels for questions and situations affecting the goal. These types of items are part of the resources the employee needs to accomplish the goal, and the items the leader needs to feel confidence the goal will be attained. This process takes time and should not be rushed. If the time is not available, then the goals meeting should be postponed. The time spent in the beginning will by far benefit the end result and more importantly, keep your employees engaged.”