Great culture the key differentiator in driving employee and customer engagement

BY Australian Retailers Association
13 September 2019

Delivering exceptional customer experience in the retail world starts with building great employee engagement.

Owners of all retail businesses would agree that a fundamental ingredient to their success is an ongoing stream of happy customers or ‘super fans,’ if you like. People who will gladly talk about a brand, buy from it regularly and refer it to friends and family.

Research shows one of the ways to ensure brands build communities of engaged and happy customers is to first focus on building engaged and happy employees. Indeed, the correlation between the two is so powerful that many experts believe it is difficult, if not impossible, to gain the former without the latter.

Global consulting firm Gallup, which regularly releases compelling data on the topic, says the equation is simple: happier employees equals happier customers. Gallup’s latest findings reveal that employees who are engaged with a brand are more likely to deliver higher levels of customer experience with an average 20% increase in sales. That’s a powerful impact on any retailer’s bottom line!

So what are the secrets to retail nirvana? How do organisation’s create such a compelling internal culture that staff will willingly deliver superior customer experiences? There are a number of factors at play. Here are six suggestions:

1. Educate your teams around your brand purpose

People want to work for businesses that have a purpose and a belief. Ensure you know what your cause is. Why does your business exist? In the words of international speaker and best-selling author Simon Sinek, “Knowing your ‘why’ inspires people to do something bigger than themselves.”

Articulating the ‘why’ of your business with a rallying call and point of difference in the marketplace. If you don’t know your why, spend some time developing or honing it as it will give you a powerful platform on which to grow your business to higher levels.

2. Offer staff meaningful development

Employees want to feel there is opportunity for advancement within the organisation they work for. Let them know their options and how they can get there. If they feel they have a solid career path ahead of them, they’ll be more inclined to provide great service to customers knowing it will also benefit their long-term goals.

3. Make training part of your culture

Employees want to gain new skills that will make them more successful in their current positions and potentially lead to advancement. Provide ongoing training and coaching that teaches employees new skills, because these skills will ultimately shine through in customer interactions.

4. Show employees they are supported

Interactions between management and employees is fundamental to building upon the lessons learned in training and coaching sessions. Feedback and praise are critical to employees feeling like they are making a difference. Employers who create a healthy, caring and supportive work environment will help cultivate the business’ future leaders, who in turn will manage the overall customer experience.

5. Create an enjoyable workplace

Even companies with heavy structures can create a positive and enjoyable environment that employees relish being a part of. For employees to be fully engaged at work and with your customers, they must feel fulfilled with their employment, believe their talents and interests aid in their success and be excited about what’s next- which could be the next big product, their next project or maybe just being excited about coming back to work the next day. Even small gestures to make a workplace more enjoyable can influence the levels of service and patience that employees deliver to customers.

6. Provide rewards and recognition

Beyond creating an enjoyable workplace, it’s important to recognise employees for a job well done. A rewards program where leadership recognises top employees can foster camaraderie. Employers can take it that step further by empowering all employees to nominate their colleagues for a superstar performance. Rewarding strong employees for great customer service interactions will not only set an example for other employees, but it may also inspire them to go above and beyond in providing excellent service to the customers they engage with.

All of this can help make a business more successful. As was famously said some years ago by Herb Kelleher, co-founder of US-based Southwest Airlines- one of the brands consistently awarded for exceptional customer service: “So who comes first? Shareholders, employees or customers? That must always be the same answer. Employees come first. When treated right, employees will treat the outside world right. The outside world will then use the company’s products again and that makes shareholders happy. That’s the key to business success.”

Chris Gray is Managing Director and a Partner at The Daylight Agency, an integrated communication services firm which helps promote and protect brands. Chris consults regularly in the retail environment and has worked for several small, medium-sized and large organisations operating in the sector. For more information visit

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Australian Retailers Association

Founded in 1903, the Australian Retailers Association (ARA) is Australia’s largest retail association representing Australia’s $320 billion sector, which employs more than 1.3 million people. As the retail industry’s peak representative body, the ARA works to ensure retail success by informing, protecting, advocating, educating, and saving money for its 7,500 independent and national retail members throughout Australia. For more information, visit or call 1300 368 041.

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