By Nigel Holloway

Empowered employees serve customers better. This six-part series explores the link between employee experience, customer experience and growth as highlighted in the recent Forbes Insights report, “The Experience Equation: How Happy Employees And Customers Accelerate Growth.” To read the full report, click here. Salesforce offers one platform with endless possibilities to help companies boost employee and customer engagement. Click here to learn more.

Although Shaw Industries is technically a flooring manufacturer, it’s really in the business of making people feel at home. The company’s 20,000-plus employees and its relationship with its customers make that feeling possible—and represent the secret to Shaw’s success.

A recent report from Forbes Insights and Salesforce backs up Shaw Industries’ employees-first approach to making people feel comfortable. Our study found that 70% of executives agree that improved employee experience leads to improved customer experience, which in turn leads to rapid revenue growth.

Growth Starts With The Day-To-Day Details

In early 2018, Shaw Industries had a goal: increase its share of the U.S. commercial flooring market to at least one-third. The problem was that each extra percentage point of market share was taxing employees and resulting in high turnover.

This makes sense, as our research indicated that fewer than a third (30%) of surveyed executives say that fast revenue growth leads to a great employee experience, while more than half of them (52%) disagree that it does. The gap is even wider among revenue growth leaders.

When Bill Magee was appointed Shaw’s vice president of customer experience in February 2018, the first thing he looked at was employee experience. Aware of how important it was to make workers content, he went into the trenches to really understand their lives on the job.

“Having walked in the shoes of our sales organization and our marketing associates, it didn’t feel that good,” said Magee. Shaw’s sales and marketing team “really worked as a shock absorber.”

Employees Deserve Custom Solutions, Too

Magee noted that custom and unusual requests forced employees to jump through extraordinary hoops, since Shaw’s internal processes were complicated and designed for standardized consumer requirements. Magee also identified five key areas that would drastically improve the company’s ability to respond to customers:

  1. Improving non-standard product procedures
  2. Resolving customer claims in an easy, quick way
  3. Making shipping and freight procedures easy for customized orders
  4. Enhancing all touchpoints for customer visits and onboarding of new associates
  5. Maintaining accuracy of tracking and information given delivery date changes

Working with customer-centric metrics, Magee and his colleagues forged a path forward. Cross-functional teams were a key to their success, said Magee. 

Another piece of the puzzle was working with Shaw’s in-house Talent Development Group to survey sales and marketing associates about corporate culture, corporate leadership, ease of doing business and other issues. They then took this valuable feedback to heart and acted on it.

The Right Support Yields High Returns

In the two years since Shaw recognized these pain points and started working on solutions, staff turnover rates have fallen from 14% to 9%.

“Our improvement in ease of doing business has had a direct correlation to our labor turnover,” said Magee. By making it easier for employees to satisfy customers’ rising expectations, Shaw has improved its customer service and experience and seen revenue growth as a direct result.

Additionally, leadership is much more aligned with employees and their needs. There used to be an “us vs. them” culture at Shaw, he said. These days, “it’s so much more about ‘we.’” 

This isn’t just true for Shaw. Our report showed that companies that have both great employee experience and great customer experience see almost double the revenue growth seen by those that do not. And 89% of revenue growth leaders surveyed said that to achieve that growth, you need to start with improving employee experience—culture, environment and infrastructure.

To ensure that employees are empowered to deliver outstanding customer experiences, Shaw created a customer experience steering team. Including the company’s talent and development leader, supply chain leader, customer service leader, IT leader and Magee himself, the cross-functional team works to deliver optimized customer experiences that continuously evolve based on customer needs.

“We’re really shifting our focus to customer experiences that are going to be unique and different and that drive emotional connection back to our brands,” said Magee.

COVID-19 Accelerates Digital Transformation

The pandemic accelerated Shaw’s already-in-motion customer efforts.

“We were very realistic in saying that this is not the time to sell anybody anything,” said Magee. The new imperative was to “be empathetic and show we care about [customers’] well-being and safety.”

Shaw rolled out three principles they would use to steer their ship during the pandemic. The first was to preserve the safety and well-being of its associates and clients. The second was to safeguard the financial fitness and long-term sustainability of Shaw Industries. The third was to keep the supply chain running for Shaw customers: With the pandemic straining supply chains in Shaw’s industry, as in others, it was crucial for the company to stay stocked with the items and materials it needed to operate.

To fulfill those principles, Shaw conducted wellness, work-from-home and other seminars for customers as well as associates. Shaw also offered interior designers outside the company training sessions that count toward professional accreditation.

Even customers that Shaw had not previously done much business with have been active in its virtual seminars, Magee said. “We’ve also pulled our sales organization much closer together,” he added. Collaboration has helped the company thrive.

A key initiative has been selective and thoughtful planning around digital and making the new tools an integral part of the business long after the pandemic. The company is unusual in the extent to which the pandemic has brought employee experience and customer experience into closer harmony. 

Shaw has put hard work into finding good digital equivalents for the face-to-face touchpoints that were so critical to business pre-pandemic. So far, that work is paying off. And its success has more than a little to do with the company’s sophisticated and counterintuitive understanding of how customer experience, employee experience and growth fit together.

Shaw’s plans and priorities have shifted since the beginning of the pandemic. “Our journey maps have changed … so we must reset,” Magee said. 

That reset appears successful and will help Shaw get safely to the other side of this challenging period.

Nigel Holloway is a freelance writer and was deputy editor of Forbes Global from 1997 to 2002. He has been writing for Forbes Insights since 2017.

Looking for more on how to empower your teams to deliver personalized customer experiences? Salesforce Customer 360 is one integrated CRM platform that unites all your teams around your customer. Click here to learn more.

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