To Motivate Employees, Try Treating Them Like Your Clients

Is your staff getting the respect they deserve?

January 19, 2012
from Robert Half International

When one of your clients needs to speak with you, most likely you stop what you’re doing (if possible) and listen.

If you’re unable to respond immediately, you follow up as promptly as you can. You never criticize your clients in public, nor do you gossip about one client with another. When a client provides you with incomplete records or partial information, you never erupt in anger and berate them. In fact, you regularly thank your clients for their loyalty and for the privilege of working with them. And when a client has a complaint, you naturally do everything in your power to resolve the issue and preserve the relationship.

Now, substitute the word “employee” for “client.” Do all of the preceding statements still hold true? Most of us use different behavioral codes depending on the other party’s status or relationship to us. The same holds true in the workplace. It’s common for businesses to treat their clients differently than they treat their employees.

But treating your staff as well as you do your clients is a powerful motivational tool that can generate greater productivity, loyalty and, eventually, business. The best part is that you don’t need full-regalia programs but only some simple steps to extend the same trust, respect, warmth and goodwill to your employees as you do to your clients. Here are some suggestions:

  • Acknowledge your staff’s importance. Your firm wouldn’t exist without your clients, and it can’t survive without your employees either. Without them, your client base would be very small and your growth prospects quite limited. Just as you take every opportunity to let your clients know how much you appreciate their ongoing business, so, too, you need to show your employees how much you value and respect their talents and abilities. Publicly praise and recognize their efforts as well as their accomplishments.
  • Involve your staff in operations. Do you respond to client feedback with changes to your services or processes? This is an important way to ensure client satisfaction, and it’s a strategy that can be applied to employees too. Most professionals like to feel they have some degree of control or influence over their work environment. As far as is practical, involve your staff in decisions and plans that affect their ability to do their jobs well. For example, if you’re thinking of changing one of your software applications, solicit employee input about which programs will help them work most efficiently.
  • Be attentive and accessible. You would never read your e-mail or check your text messages while meeting with a client, nor would you rush off while a client is in mid-sentence. Your employees deserve similar attention and courtesy. If you’re always in a hurry, it will be difficult (and discouraging) for your employees to try to communicate with you. Don’t wait for staff members to come to you with updates, concerns or complaints. Touch base with them often to make sure they have the resources, support and guidance they need to do their jobs well.
  • Monitor employee satisfaction. Most firms do not wait for clients to come to them with complaints. Instead, they may conduct formal and/or informal surveys to determine their clients’ level of satisfaction. It’s a good idea to track your staff’s satisfaction in a similar manner. Schedule regular meetings with your entire staff to discuss issues and challenges they face, as well as future projects and upcoming deadlines. Together, brainstorm ways to improve processes and streamline workflow. Don’t allow problems to fester — encourage and provide open communication.
  • Promote professional development. Client education is likely a key component of your service model. Many firms provide their clients with printed literature, RSS feeds, e-mailed newsletters and other tools that help them better manage their financial matters. In much the same way, your firm should foster your employees’ professional growth. The more skills your employees have, the more of an asset they’ll be to your firm. Encourage your staff to pursue continuing professional education, and try to find economical ways to support their efforts, such as brown-bag seminars or presentations.

The payoff for treating your employees as well as your customers includes increased morale and staff retention. If your firm gains a reputation as a great place to work, you’ll be able to attract the most talented, experienced candidates. Finally, your employees will “pay it forward” by providing outstanding client service, which could earn your firm even more business.

This article is provided courtesy of Robert Half International, parent company of Accountemps, Robert Half Finance & Accounting and Robert Half Management Resources. Robert Half is one of the world’s first and largest specialized staffing firm placing accounting and finance professionals on a temporary, full-time and project basis. Follow Robert Half on Twitter at twitter.com/roberthalf.