Want happy customers? Start with happy staff

Every merchant business ultimately depends on one thing: customers. And to keep customers loyally coming back to you, time after time, they need to be confident you can deliver on a number of fronts. In the race to provide the best service, the best availability and the best pricing, there’s one thing many businesses overlook: their own staff.

While it may be a little too simplistic to assert that "happy staff equals happy customers," it has been proven that the more fulfilled and rewarded people are in their jobs, the more productive they will be and the better they will perform at work. Absenteeism drops, initiative soars and results ultimately improve. When everyone in your company believes in the company, that positive attitude often transfers to your customers, encouraging great reviews for service, repeat custom and enhanced word of mouth advertising.

It also means that people tend to stay with you longer, develop more over time and provide an encouraging and supportive environment for other members of staff, which can make attracting new talent easier and succession planning more effective.

So, how do you keep your staff happy?

Entire libraries have been written on this subject and we are not here to teach you how to suck eggs. We also appreciate that "happiness" is a pretty subjective term, that it isn't a permanent state, and that it will differ from person to person. We don't expect employers to be 100% responsible for their workforce's mental wellbeing - but they do have a big part to play.

There are a few common themes that emerge once you start looking at how to make life more fulfilling for your workforce, and by modelling these behaviours, not only will your staff be more fulfilled, they in turn could employ the same approach with customers.

Here are 8 ways to engage your workforce and encourage performance.

1. Listen to them.

Being heard is important. Make sure everyone has an opportunity to have their ideas heard, to contribute to the conversation and to influence change. It’s also vital for leaders and managers to really listen to what their people are saying to provide support when issues arise, and to spot when people need help even when they’re not asking out loud.

2. Congratulate them.

Being recognised for a job well done is incredibly important for morale, and it encourages a “virtuous circle” of behaviour. Make reward commonplace and let people know they’re appreciated. Develop a culture of celebrating success and positively reinforcing great effort or input – it has a real ripple effect and you’d be amazed what a difference a few genuine compliments can make.

3. Reward them fairly.

The economy is tight but there are more ways to reward achievement than just money (though that usually helps too!) Think creatively about how to reward effort and achievement – and don’t be afraid to ask them what they’d actually like! Maybe it’s an extra day off, maybe it’s a bacon sandwich on a Friday – whatever it is, make sure they know they’re appreciated by showing them they make a difference.

4. Communicate with them.

Nothing spreads faster than fear and gossip, and nothing is as damaging to workplace culture. Keeping your workforce up to date with what’s going on in the company demonstrates respect, and keeps anxiety at a lower level. These are unusual times and people will be worrying about finances, job security and all sorts you don’t know about, so do them a favour at keep them in the loop.

5. Invest in them.

Whether that’s investing in personal and professional development programmes, mental health support, a better coffee machine in the office or getting better business software, your people deserve to work somewhere that provides for them, and helps them to feel valued. This also involves investing in their futures in terms of developing and career planning, supporting them through challenges and making them part of "the plan."

“Merchanter is a pleasure to use all day, and makes all of our working lives so much more enjoyable. The flexibility and control in terms of pricing, the simplicity, and options available to control our stocks, will be a gamechanger to our company.” Mike Tregunna, Build Supplies

6. Make life easier for them day-to-day.

This often comes back to the first point, but considering the pinch points and time-wasting chores could results in much better systems being implemented. Investing in easy-to-use business software that makes every process that little bit easier, or that makes it simpler to work from home, or that saves a huge amount of time, is always going to be a great investment.

7. Empower them.

No-one likes being micromanaged so let your workforce grow in confidence with a bit of trust. Again, your software can help, with automatic alerts and limits that stop anything catastrophic from happening, but allows some judgement on pricing or credit limits which could help people deliver better service more flexibly.

8. Unite them. People like to know what purpose they are working towards, and if they feel included in your business vision and believe in what you’re trying to do, they are far more likely to actively contribute to you achieving it. Share the goals, involve them in the vision, and pretty soon you’ll see them helping to make it a reality.

Obviously, the operations of your business are vital as well – you still need the right stock at the right place at the right time at the right price. But when your workforce are behind you, working more efficiently and productively and communicating more clearly with customers, everything starts to come together. Lead by example – the more you respect and value your people, the more they in turn will respect and value your customers, and represent your business proudly and happily. And nothing says more about a business than that.

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