At stores, the most challenging time of the year

This article originally appeared on LinkedIn

The holidays are a prime time for stores to build loyal customers—or create detractors.

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Customer Loyalty

Millions of shoppers are heading to their local malls these days, basking in holiday spirit as the late Andy Williams croons “It’s the Most Wonderful Time of the Year” over the PA system. But some employees are probably ready to rip the speakers out of the walls after hearing that song dozens of times a day.

Retailers’ fortunes often hinge on their employees, for whom the holidays are a most challenging time of year. They work longer hours, interact with more customers and face more demands as they deal with a constantly changing array of discounts and shoppers anxiously seeking the year’s hot toys. It’s hard to keep a smile when you’ve been standing at a cash register for eight or 10 hours.

Smart retailers regularly poll their customers for feedback that helps those retailers improve their experience. Doing the same for employees is equally valuable.

If you routinely solicit and listen to your employees’ feedback, you can make this season a little easier for your staff—and help instill the holiday spirit in them. And you’ll learn a lot about making their customers happier, too. Many companies that use a Net Promoter system to measure customer loyalty apply the same principles and techniques to gauge employee loyalty. It starts with asking: “How likely are you to recommend your company (or store) as a place for friends or family to work?” Among the lessons these companies learn:

Salary isn’t the most important thing. Many companies think they need to pay their associates more to please them. Fair compensation, a safe and pleasant work environment and the tools needed to do the job are certainly basic table stakes for satisfied employees. But passionate employees—employees who love wowing your customers--aren’t bought, they’re made. Their passion comes from knowing that their work has, at some level, enriched the lives of others (this spirit of giving meaningful service is the real joy of work during the holidays--or any time of the year).

Recognition is critical. A key element of the Net Promoter system is quickly providing employees with customer feedback so they can learn in near real-time what customers liked or disliked about their experience. Observing the outcome of our actions and adjusting our behavior accordingly is the essence of human learning. But we also learn from rewards and reinforcement. TD Bank is an excellent example of a company that has systematized that process, turning simple cheerleading into an employee-loyalty building routine.

Empowering employees won’t cost you your shirt. You can give employees broad freedom to wow customers as long as you also provide them with a sensible framework.

Happy employees spread the word. These “promoters” share their stories with other employees and their families and friends. So do detractors—as news reports about employees unhappy with working Thanksgiving Day showed. A system that captures regular feedback from employees can help identify which ones really won’t want to work that day and which ones would welcome the overtime opportunity—keeping everyone happy. And who wouldn’t prefer to patronize a store that has happy workers?

Employee feedback helps managers put all employees in a better position to turn more customers into promoters—which gives those employees the joy of putting a smile on their customer’s faces. What are some ways your company has done this?