Imagine for a moment that you’re a business leader at a midsize firm. Your company is facing stiff competition. The corporate leadership has seen drastic changes. Customers are ambivalent about the products the company sells. And the employees, well, they are struggling to keep pace with the changes and may not even know what the company’s big picture vision is, which leads to major challenges with customer service efforts.
This is a common story, but the ending can vary greatly depending on the path the company chooses to follow. Those that prioritize better communications practices have the opportunity to capitalize on their most valuable resource–their people. Those that fail to make that decision often struggle to make headway in a competitive marketplace.
This isn’t merely theory: data from Gallup show us that employers with highly engaged workers are more likely to see improved company growth and increases in customer satisfaction. These interrelated factors support the premise that communication drives engagement which further impacts customer satisfaction, but the concept still needs context to understand how it applies in a more practical sense.
The best way to illustrate this is by exploring a real-life story of an employer that faced these challenges and overcame them.
Case Study: U.S. Cellular Strengthens Employee Signals
In 2000, U.S. Cellular was in trouble. The company was facing new regulations and market pressures, challenging the firm’s future success. The company hired a turnaround CEO in the form of Jack Rooney, hoping to bring the company back from tough times. Almost immediately Rooney began visiting employee sites and trying to understand what challenges lay ahead. He was surprised to find that the employees were mostly disengaged from the company’s vision and objectives and set out to change that.
One of the first things he realized after speaking with the executive team was a lack of coherency. In one interview, he said the company seemed like “26 different engines operating under the same hood.” He immediately began to put specific practices in place to drive culture change and shift how the company operated. A few of those new ideas:
Listen Jack: an email “suggestion box” where any employee in the company could email him directly
Straight Talk: an informal gathering of 20-30 team members where they dictate the agenda and the CEO is able to connect directly with front line workers
Dynamically Speaking: a weekly newsletter targeting associates to help inform them of key information and reinforce values and other important concepts
The theme among these new initiatives is clear: communications are key not just in good times, but especially in bad times, to help keep the workforce moving in the right direction. But what about the impact? Beyond just better communication, the firm has seen impressive gains in a variety of business metrics:
Industry-leading customer satisfaction rates of 98 percent
Turnover rates at about one-fourth the national average
Impressive growth rates in both revenue and customer acquisition
One of the key ideas Rooney believed is that employees would never treat customers better than they were treated by their own supervisors, which is the perfect description of how the company was able to transition from a struggling business to a major competitor in just a few short years.
At the end of the day, employers must understand that clear, authentic communications are not a nice-to-have or an optional element in a business context. Communications are the critical element that separates firms with great performance from the rest, in terms of both employee success and customer success.
This piece was originally pusblised on the SHRM Blog here. Its author, Ben Eubanks, is the Principal Analyst at Lighthouse Research, a firm dedicated to uncovering the trends and technologies that drive HR, learning, and talent. His research focuses on human capital innovation, strategy, and technology. In addition, Ben writes a blog for in-the-trenches HR leaders at upstartHR.com, a resource that has touched more than 650,000 lives since 2009. You can connect with him on Twitter or LinkedIn.