Want better customer service? Empower your employees.

PeterGallagherBy Peter Gallagher, Chief Operating Officer

Behind every happy customer is an even happier employee. This isn’t exactly a trade secret, but it’s surprisingly difficult to implement as a company.

To keep employees happy, plenty of tech companies offer ping pong tables and free lunches, assuming that perks like these will help retention, but free lunch is only the tip of the iceberg. The bulk of any happy-employee strategy sits below the surface, and involves giving employees control over their own futures. In turn, they’ll pay that positivity forward to the customers they interact with each day.

Employees know their own career goals better than anyone else, so why not empower them to achieve them? The trick is to make career opportunities transparent and allow for flexibility and movement throughout the company. Providing career resources and flexibility for employees will make your employees happier and also create big payoffs for customers, resulting in an environment that’s positive both behind the scenes and out in front.

Give employees a transparent career ladder
Before I became the Chief Operating Officer for Verizon Digital Media Services, I worked as a leader at a number of Big Five consulting firms. Often times, making partner  at such firms was an achievement shrouded in mystery; for all the employees knew, promotion wasn’t even about having the right skills at all, but about simply ingratiating oneself with the right people.

That tactic was night and day from how we handle career advancement at Verizon Digital Media Services. We don’t solely make sure that employees know exactly which skills and performance benchmarks are required for any upward or lateral move throughout the company, we also provide training so that employees can actively achieve those same skills. We’ve mapped our learning catalog of both computer-based classes and hands-on training to career ladders that employees can view at a glance.

It’s one thing to tell employees what they need to do to succeed, but far more ambitious to help them get there with training. We are constantly perfecting our process to make sure our requirements and courses stay current with advancing technology. Other companies may think it’s not worth it to spend so much time and effort training employees who might simply take those skills elsewhere, but we know our employees appreciate the effort — and the transparency.

Our employees aren’t just daydreaming about where they want to be in five years; they’re actively developing the skills they need to get there. And because of this, our customers are more likely to work with tenured staff — meaning the experience is smooth and inspiring on both sides.

Let employees stay nimble
Additionally, the kind of people who thrive in a self-motivated career advancement system are exactly the kind of people you want working with your customers. The type of person who is energized by the ability to take career advancement into her own hands certainly has a capable, problem-solving mindset ideal for solving customer issues.

But that’s not the only way we ensure that we have customer-focused employees in every department. A big part of our strategy is allowing employees to move not just up the ladder, but to make lateral career moves, too. Employees may move from professional services to customer service, or customer service to engineering. We encourage employees to move throughout the organization as they like because it’s better for us to have them stay, and to be happy as they do so.

Once employees take the necessary training and meet the requirements for a lateral move, they then get to try out the “80/20 program,” in which they spend 80% of their time — or four days a week — working in their current department, and 20% of their time in their desired transition department. It allows the employee to confirm that the move is what he or she really wants, while also allowing the potential new team to assess his or her performance.

Because the process is so clear-cut, and shows employees exactly what they’ll need to succeed before they even transition, we have a lot of movement between departments. One of the positive side effects is that we have former customer service employees in every department (and former workers from other departments in customer service). Because of this circulation, we’re driving a service-oriented culture organically that’s full of well-developed talent, too.

When it comes to making employees happy, it takes more time and effort than simply placing a ping pong table in the break room. Giving employees the information and resources they need to map out their careers in the long term isn’t an easy or quick process — it took us a full year to implement! But it pays off by encouraging employees to stick around and to do so happily. And when that happens, customers end up winning, too.

Ready to jump-start your career? Take a look at our current job openings.