Smart businesses strive for both an engaged workforce and an excellent customer experience. Now, mounting research makes clear a strong connection between the two.
Temkin Group, for example, analyzed the engagement of 5,000 U.S. employees and found a highly engaged workforce is more than four times as likely to recommend the company’s products and services and do something good for the company that’s not expected of them.
In addition, a Gallup report on how employee engagement drives growth found that companies that rank in the top quarter of employee engagement experience 10% higher customer ratings. Meanwhile, a Washington State University study determined that customer and employee satisfaction are linked to each other, with customer satisfaction also linked to financial performance.
“Engaged employees go the extra mile to deliver. Their enthusiasm rubs off on other employees and on customers. They provide better experiences for customers, approach the job with energy—which enhances productivity—and come up with creative product, process, and service improvements,” Bain & Company said. “In turn, they create passionate customers who buy more, stay longer, and tell their friends—generating sustainable growth.”
For businesses including Quicken Loans, Ellucian, and Adobe, happy, engaged employees have led to a better customer experience. They shared with us the efforts they’ve made to prioritize a positive company culture, as well as the effects that those efforts have had on their customers.
Quicken Loans: An Open Feedback Loop
Over the past four years, mortgage lender Quicken Loans has quadrupled its staff to 17,000. The challenge in achieving that exponential growth, said CMO Casey Hurbis, is maintaining the strong culture it has built along the way.
“If you think about the mortgage business, it’s a commodity. There are more than 50,000 places, from banks to credit unions and brokers, that offer loans,” Hurbis said. “We spend a considerable amount of time as a leadership team making sure that we talk, demonstrate, maintain, and build the culture. If you don’t, it’s really easy to lose your way.”
Key to building that strong culture—which has resulted in eight No. 1 rankings in Computerworld’s annual “100 Best Places to Work in IT” list, as well as the No. 14 spot on Fortune’s “Best Places to Work”—has been an open feedback loop.
While the company surveys its employees’ performance on a biannual basis, employees have the same opportunity to give feedback to their leadership team, Hurbis said.
“Feedback is a gift—it’s how we get better,” he said. “We ask our people to give very poignant and honest feedback, and if something doesn’t resonate, we create formalized feedback loops to understand why.”
Another example of establishing those feedback loops is via a quarterly live-TV variety show hosted by the company’s CEO and vice chairman—complete with a 300-person studio audience and commercial breaks. During its broadcast, all employees stop work to tune in.
“Everyone has the opportunity to hear from top leadership about the company’s performance, our goals, and objectives,” he said. “They answer any and all questions that people have. Hearing from the CEO or vice chairman on a regular basis is really special, and it reinforces the belief system that as we grow, we’re all rowing in the same direction.”
This focus on employee engagement has resonated across the organization, positively impacting the customer experience, too. Employees are empowered to “do the right thing,” Hurbis said, which has manifested in hundreds of stories of good deeds—from sending flowers to a customer experiencing an illness or after giving birth, to fulfilling short-term grocery needs for customers who have experienced a disaster.
These good deeds and the relationships employees build with customers have won Quicken Loans a JD Power award for customer satisfaction for the past seven years. The employee-customer relationship is also affecting the business’ bottom line: Last year, the company bested its competition to become the nation’s largest mortgage lender.
“We are all about our employees, from entry-level to senior management, and we are beyond client centric,” Hurbis said. “Our value system starts at the top—it’s talked about, preached, and communicated every day. We’re very proud of our progress.”
Higher education software company Ellucian was great at focusing on customers in the moment—such as when they had a problem or had been impacted by a catastrophe—but it was not great at managing the business in a consistent way, said Kyrsten Musich, VP of marketing.
Ellucian embarked on a transformation aimed to change that. It first looked within. Initiatives were aimed at giving employees a sense of pride in their work, both inside and outside the office, she told CMO by Adobe.
For example, every employee is granted 40 hours off to give back to the higher education community. While employees are encouraged to spend their volunteer hours however they’d like, Ellucian also sponsors a program that sends employees to hurricane-ravaged locations to assist with rebuilding schools—all expenses paid.
Last year, for example, the company sent a team of employees to Puerto Rico following Hurricane Maria. In the years prior, employees visited Louisiana and Texas. These efforts give employees a broader sense of purpose, Musich said.
“We believe that 1,000 small gestures add up over time, and that’s something we’re very focused on inside Ellucian,” she said. “This is one of those bigger gestures that helps people feel like they’re part of a community that’s tied to our mission and passion for education.”
Ellucian also developed a new awards program, called the Beacon Awards, that honors employees who help salespeople meet their goals.
“Traditionally we had an award for top salespeople who met their numbers, but we also wanted to recognize the people that helped them achieve that,” Musich said.
Finally, the company hosts Power Wednesdays, which are akin to company spirit days. Employees are encouraged to wear Ellucian swag, and the company sponsors game nights and food trucks. Because of the fear, uncertainty, and doubt in the education industry today, these events help improve employee morale, she said.
Ellucian’s efforts over the past few years have had a tangible impact on its employees. Its Glassdoor rating has improved from 2.9 to 3.6, for example, and it has seen a significant uptick in engagement on understanding the company’s mission and vision.
Adobe believes that people are the company’s most important asset: When people feel respected and included, they can be more creative, innovative, and successful. Over the past few years, Adobe has launched a number of initiatives that focus on making the company a great place to work, which has also improved the customer experience.
For example, Adobe launched a variety of communities for employees. Some of these include ones for people with disabilities, those who identify as LGBTQ, women, Asian, black, Hispanic, and veterans, for example. In addition, the company announced its pay parity initiative, which sought to compensate employees in the same job and location fairly to one another, regardless of their gender or ethnicity. And last October, the company announced it delivered on its commitment, raising wages for women to meet their male counterparts’.
Beyond culture and diversity, Adobe also places a strong emphasis on career development. Last year, it held the Adobe for All Summit, a day aimed at empowering 1,200 attendees to drive their careers and inspire others to be successful. It also launched the Learning Fund, which expands the choice of educational and training opportunities for employees, as well as an online resource called Adobe Careers and “office hours,” which makes talent acquisition and employee resource teams available to help navigate internal opportunities.
This focus on employee engagement has earned the company a long list of awards, including Fortune’s: 100 Best Companies to Work For, Best Places to Work for Diversity, and Best Workplaces for Working parents.
But these accolades have been secondary; more important is how employee engagement is impacting the customer experience, said Donna Morris, chief human resources officer and EVP of employee experience at Adobe.
“Our definition early on was on the lens of the employee: We were focused on being a best company to work for,” she said. “We realized that it’s our customers that drive our business. We believed that culture change was what would enable us to get to that next level of success. What if we were as great to work with as we are to work for?”
To that end, Adobe merged its group dedicated to reaching out to employees with its group focused on building experiences for customers. It also implemented two initiatives that focused on the customer experience: The first was a tool that allowed an employee to report an issue with a software or service directly online, rather than waiting for an employee to do so. The other was a compensation plan that tied every employee to either a sales commission or an annual incentive where payout is based 50% on the customer experience.
“What we’re trying to do is tighten the relationships between our customers and employees because we know what great experiences are,” Morris said.