3 Strategies to Empower Employees and Elevate the Customer Experience

Employees want to feel a sense of purpose — a feeling that they can and do make a difference. They want to know their effort is valued by their employer.

And when employees achieve superior service levels, it drastically improves the customer experience. A study from Accumulate found that 65% of lost customers could be directly linked to a disengaged employee. Yet engaging employees remains a tough nut to crack.

The most recent statistics reveal widespread employee disengagement. Quantum Workplace released a study that found that nearly 35% of retail employees in the United States feel disengaged on the job. Not only are these employees a threat to hitting daily retail targets, but they can also permanently stain the brand experience.

The answer, therefore, is to give employees the skills, autonomy, and authority they need to make a valuable difference — and feel like their commitment counts. Otherwise, they risk pushing away customers, sometimes unintentionally.


The Biggest Opportunity for Success

Many employees aren’t aware that when they provide subpar customer interactions, they signal an unsaid lack of respect for customers. Even the most benign case of neglect by an employee can be misinterpreted as impoliteness.

Employees whose employers put a premium on their happiness tend to go the extra mile. Retail stores with high employee engagement score 5% higher in customer satisfaction, according to a survey by

The top three factors that influence the customer experience upon walking into a store are easy navigation, having items in stock, and determined pricing. But having engaged employees goes a long way toward supporting each of those factors.


1. Be a guide on the customer’s journey.

Everyone comes to a retailer with a purpose, so easy navigation is the top priority for the customer experience. The sooner those “needs” are satisfied, the sooner the customers can look for their “wants.” But the employees are also important factors when considering how customers navigate a store.

For instance, an employee who has extensive knowledge about a certain department might be able to elevate the customer’s experience through education and recommendations. Rather than stand behind the counter and point to where products are located, the employee can become more inviting and offer to take customers there. Not only does this arrangement provide a benefit to the customer, but it enables the employee to be more than a transactional agent. Employees should also pay attention to how customers behave on their journey. What sections they visit and which items they interact with provide valuable information.

2. You cannot sell what you don’t have.

Things can get pretty hectic in the retail world, but employees can be an important resource in effective inventory management. They have intimate knowledge of the tasks and processes and can snuff out leaks that management might overlook. Get their input, and make better use of their capabilities to better handle inventory. Work as a team to evaluate the plan and make adjustments as needed.

Engaged employees also help retailers avoid the issue of inventory shrinkage. Inventory that’s gone missing can indicate problems such as theft, damage, or miscounting that can result from disengaged employees. Statistic Brain reported that employee theft accounts for 43% of total retail inventory loss in the United States.

Engaged employees are not only less likely to steal from the employers, but they will also prevent others from stealing. An employer who is more transparent with his bookkeeping can train the employees to become more vigilant. These employees begin to see more, say more, and do more about preventing employee theft.


3. Give empowerment to strengthen engagement.

Retail has a high talent churn and burn rate, leading to a collective loss of $11 billion a year in the United States, according to data culled by StaffConnect. Increased business costs lead to higher prices that could alienate customers.

Hourly retail employees should understand that their efforts contribute to the success of the company. According to Psychometrics, there are four intrinsic rewards that power employee engagement: a sense of meaningfulness, a sense of choice, a sense of competence, and a sense of progress.

Showing a sense of meaningfulness might mean giving employees a voice when it comes to organizational changes. Employees have firsthand knowledge on operations and processes.

Having a sense of choice refers to making sure the employees feel like they’re a part of the team. Company events can keep employees involved, and training opportunities give employees a chance to grow. Consistent information sharing with employees also helps them feel informed and like they’re a part of the greater business.

Giving a sense of competence could be anything from a quarterly reward to flexible scheduling. Give hourly workers the understanding that their contributions are noticed.

Giving a sense of progress relates to making hourly employees feel like they can become permanent fixtures — the role is a steppingstone. Training courses, mentorships, and promotions will help employees see future opportunities.


Contributed by Joe Schultz, the vice president of sales at Harbor Retail, which helps retailers and brands activate Harmonic Retail™ along the path to purchase. In the first phase of his professional life, he spent 22 years learning and growing at Target Corp. During his tenure, he was able to surround himself with inspiring mentors who taught him how to adapt quickly to the retail industry. Through his many leadership roles in stores, store operations, merchandising, and marketing, he learned to think nimbly, seek out new knowledge when approaching challenges, and be a champion for continuous improvement. Joe has led stores with annual sales of over $500 million and has led innovative marketing and merchandising efforts across new formats. A few years ago, Joe made the leap into the industrial design and build world and was lucky enough to connect with the innovative, multitalented team at Harbor Retail.

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