Despite striving to provide excellent customer service, companies often overlook their employees, said Fred Reichheld, author of The Ultimate Question 2.0, in a keynote speech at the Satmetrix Net Promoter conference last week.
"You have to have employees who are inspired to do great work and serve their customers. And that's where the constraint is for most companies today," said Reichheld. "It's not measuring the customers' scores [through the Net Promoter survey system]; it's doing something to help the employees light their fire."
Reichheld hailed Apple, JetBlue, Rackspace, and Bain & Company as examples of companies that motivate their employees.
According to Reichheld, companies should implement a strategy used by the Apple flagship store in Boston. On a quarterly basis, the store managers ask employees to fill out a survey of about ten questions, with the key question being "How likely are you to recommend this store as a place to work?"
"Everybody meets Sunday night, after the store is closed; they see the data; they respond to it as a group…and as a team, they come to a decision about the one, two, or three things they'd like to work on," Reichheld explained. "And people volunteer to be part of the task force dedicated to each of those key parts that need improvement. They want people out on the front lines to take responsibility for understanding the issues and putting recommendations in front of management that they can adopt."
Reichheld acknowledges that implementing such a plan can be difficult for companies with large teams. The ideal number is a group that consists of less than 12 people, he said.
Another key pattern among successful companies is having a team-based structure that allows managers to collect feedback from their staff as well as acknowledge and praise employees for a job well done, he noted.
"What I learned there is pretty similar to what I learned at Rackspace and at Apple and Jet Blue….Here's how it works: Employees exist to serve customers, not to be happy on their own. I think employee engagement that is separate from customer engagement is dangerous," Reichheld said. "When an employee does a good job in serving a customer, and that customer recognizes it, their life has been enriched. Suddenly that standing ovation is audible, not just to your teammates, but to your manager and the headquarters. And suddenly this becomes the focal point."
The two questions that employers should ask their staff, according to Reichheld, are "How likely are you to recommend this company as a place to work?" and "How likely are you to recommend your team leader as a person to work for?"
"It is a sacred thing to recommend. When people give a [rating of] nine or ten [out of ten] it means everything else is working right," he says. "I think then the question isn't what question correlates best with another question….It's how can I help my front line team leaders build better relationships among their team and most importantly, not just so they can serve customers, but also enrich their lives."