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Does employee engagement improve client engagement? We're so glad you asked...

Updated: Mar 22, 2023

Two hands holding puzzle pieces
Client engagement and employee engagement: two pieces of the same puzzle

Among the prerequisites for sustainable growth in a business is a steady supply of the right clients buying the right products and services for the right price. Put another way, sustainable growth is in (large) part dependent on an engaged client base. Another prerequisite is that the employees servicing those clients should likewise be highly engaged.

In our last Insights post we covered the employee engagement issue in some detail – measuring engagement, creating and implementing a strategy to improve engagement and other related topics.

We also touched briefly on the link between employee engagement and client engagement and in this post take that discussion further.

That link is indisputable. Logic says one without the other is barely possible, let alone sustainable.

Even with that reality, there remain many business owners and leaders whose tendency is to ignore the connection. If they perceive a challenge in one, they’ll treat it in isolation of the other.

But investing in programs to improve employee engagement will be a waste if they’re facing clients every day who don’t “fit” the business. On the flip side, investing in a great client experience while ignoring employee engagement will inevitably compromise service delivery.

In both cases, investments made are wasted (or at best not maximised).

Burning money
Don't burn your engagement investment

For maximum impact, business needs to work on both client and employee engagement because they’re co-dependent. In addition, client and employee engagement strategies must be strongly aligned to the business purpose, its vision and strategy if they are to create truly sustainable growth.

What exactly is “engagement”?

You can find any number of worthy definitions of both client and employee engagement if you go looking. We use these:

Client engagement: the extent to which clients are likely to be repeat users of your product or service and be advocates for your business. Engaged clients are “emotionally connected” to your business and value the relationship rather than the transaction.

Employee engagement: the extent to which employees are immersed in their work and willing to contribute discretionary effort. Engaged employees readily recommend your business as a place to work and are more likely to stay with the business.

It’s important to understand that “engagement” is not the same as “satisfaction”. Both clients and employees can be satisfied without necessarily being particularly engaged.

While we also covered this difference in a previous Insights post, it’s worth reiterating the differences here:

Client Satisfaction

Client satisfaction comes from doing what you say you will when you say you will.

It's meeting the service expectations of your clients, perhaps often exceeding them.

It means you're keeping clients happy by meeting their transactional needs.

Client satisfaction won’t differentiate you in the market because it's easily imitated.

Client Engagement

Engagement is created when you build an emotional bond with your clients.

It recognises that logic makes a client think but emotion makes them decide and act.

Engagement comes from a deeper relationship with a client that is difficult to break.

Client engagement is what sets you apart from your competition because it's a relationship created on a more personal level.


Employee Satisfaction

Satisfied employees are generally happy with the terms and conditions of employment.

They turn up, get the job done, go more, no less. And they're usually not too much trouble to manage.

Satisfied employees look after the needs of clients adequately and are rarely the subject of client complaints.

Satisfied employees will be loyal but only until a better offer surfaces.

Employee engagement

Engaged employees appreciate the extra mile you go in providing terms and conditions tailored to the individual.

They buy into your business purpose (which was often a key attraction to them joining you) and are willing to contribute discretionary effort.

Engaged employees connect with clients and frequently receive client compliments.

They're big contributors to sustainable growth, are tremendously loyal and are strong advocates for your business.

You can see the differences – engagement creates “stickier” (for want of a better term) clients and employees. Both are a major piece of the sustainable growth puzzle.

Without understanding and accepting these differences, it’s unlikely you’ll realise the full benefits of either engaged clients or employees. You almost certainly won’t achieve the level of sustainable growth that the two acting in concert can help create.

Let’s go deeper.

What drives client engagement?

A great product or service is a start. Great delivery is also helpful. But these are things everyone in your market can create. Think about your competitors…would they say they have a great product? Would they also say their delivery is well executed?

The word same with the word different
You have to be different to engage clients

Of course they would.

This is the minimum your clients expect.

To really engage with clients, it’s important to go further.

At the core of true client engagement is a clear, well-articulated and demonstrable non-financial business purpose – the reason your business exists beyond pure economics.

Your purpose absolutely must be expressed in terms that are all about your “ideal” client. It should clearly articulate the difference you make in the lives of your clients. If you’re not already clear on your purpose, have a read of this.

Notice we also mention your “ideal” client. This is critical. Your ideal client profile should be driven by purpose because these are the clients who will be drawn to your business in the first place and will likely stick with you for the long term because they’re emotionally invested in your business.

Once you have clarity around purpose and a focus on your ideal client, to really ramp up engagement levels, it’s important to continue to “surprise and delight” your clients. This can take many forms but in the end it’s about anticipating their needs (or perhaps highlighting needs they weren’t even aware of – think Apple).

Remember…appeal to their emotions because they’re what make your clients decide and act.

Naturally your end-to-end client experience must be as slick as possible with every step, every process, every interaction designed with the client in mind. Clients must be able to navigate your business with as little friction as possible. The minute an employee is forced to say something like “our systems/policies/processes won’t allow me to do that” you know there’s something wrong. So will your client…

Ultimately though, true engagement goes beyond a great client experience. It’s a must, but again, think about your competitors. Could they replicate your client experience?

Sure they could.

What sets you apart in the eyes of your client are:

  • your purpose;

  • the fact you know them intimately because they match your ideal client profile; and,

  • your employees.

What drives employee engagement?

It’s probably no surprise to hear that what really engages your employees are those things unique to your business - most of all, your business purpose. As human beings, employees have a natural, underlying need to be part of something important to them. If they can look into your business and see clarity of purpose that aligns with their personal values, that’s the starting point for strong engagement.

Purpose spelt out on wooden blocks
Purpose: it's the starting point for employee engagement

Going to the next step, the Dale Carnegie Group names three key drivers of employee engagement. They are the employee’s:

  • relationship with their direct supervisor/manager – research suggests that up to 80% of employees who have a poor relationship with their manager are disengaged;

  • belief in senior leadership – in businesses of all sizes, messaging and actions of senior leaders/owners is incredibly important. Around 70% of employees who report a lack of transparency from senior people are disengaged;

  • pride in working for the business – roughly half of employees who don’t feel proud of their employer are disengaged.

There’s more.

Employees have a desire to understand what’s going on in the business.

They need to be clear on business strategy and how it will lead to the business fulfilling its purpose. More than that, they need to see a clear link from purpose and strategy to the day-to-day business and action plans that impact their role.

Understanding how what they do contributes to the bigger picture in a business is a proven contributor to employee engagement.

You may be thinking we’ve not mentioned things like remuneration and benefits, flexible working conditions, great leave policies, learning and development opportunities and other “conditions of employment”. That’s because these are no longer contributors to real employee engagement (if indeed they ever were).

They're important, but not as important than you think

Once again, these are things your competitors can replicate.

They’ll lead to satisfied employees but won’t engage them.

If you’re not convinced, consider research from HRDive that found around 50% of employees would take a significant pay cut to work in a job they enjoy.

One without the other? Don’t even think about it…

As we said at the outset, it’s amazing how business owners/leaders can even consider focusing on one or other of client engagement or employee engagement but fail to act on both.

Here’s what can happen when they do…

Great client engagement, low employee engagement

Picture the scene…you’ve made a significant investment in improving client engagement through a range of activities. Not the least of these was creating a brilliant end-to-end client experience.

At the same time, you’ve assumed that employee engagement is ok while in fact it’s nowhere near it. Let’s not forget it’s of course your employees who are responsible for executing on your brilliant client experience.

Assuming your employees are “satisfied” enough to turn up and do their jobs, things will go ok for a time. After a while, you’ll notice an increase in negative client comments in your client feedback and survey processes (which after all will be a feature of your client experience).

Deciding to dig a little deeper, your clients tell you they’re happy enough that things get done, but it sometimes takes a little longer than seems reasonable. Your employees give the impression that helping out is a burden or interruption to their day.

Simply put, your clients are not “feeling the love” from your employees. Engagement across your client base, while once high, is now falling and shows no sign of reversing the trend.

Angry person pointing finger
He used to be an engaged client. Not any more...

Do nothing, and you’ll find some clients will likely make the decision to move on because in their minds, you’ve not given them a reason to stay.

We know this because we recently worked with a client to retrieve this exact scenario.


Great employee engagement, low client engagement

You’ve invested heavily in your employees. They “get” your business purpose, are clear on strategy and business plans and love the fact what they’re doing contributes to something meaningful.

It’s not been easy and certainly not inexpensive, but you see the results as worth the effort.

While all the activity around employee engagement has been going on, you’ve not consciously done much at all in the way of client engagement. There’s enough work, it seems to be done efficiently and effectively and there’s nothing to suggest that clients are anything other than happy with the way things are going.

After a while, though, you start to see some interesting results from your employee engagement feedback processes and surveys (which naturally form part of your engagement platform). Digging deeper, your employees tell you they’re consistently getting negative comments from clients. They tell you It doesn’t matter what they do, clients just don’t seem all that loyal to the business.

Among the more telling comments clients are making to your employees is this:

“this business never asks us for feedback. It’s like you don’t really care what your clients think. It’s not your fault, because you clearly enjoy your work, but you’d better let your bosses know maybe your clients aren’t so happy. I can’t be the only one who feels that way…”

With enough of these client interactions, your once fantastic employee engagement scores will start to slip. Employees will quickly form the opinion you don’t care about your clients quite as much as you should. Ignore the issue and the situation will only continue to deteriorate.

That’s because a large part of the employee engagement puzzle is the fulfillment achieved from dealing with great clients.

The solution?

It’s should now be clear that your business will struggle to create sustainable growth without engaged clients and employees. It should also clear that one or the other may give you a short-term advantage but that advantage won’t last. To create truly sustainable growth you need:

  • a steady supply of the right, engaged, clients buying the right products and services at the right price;

  • delivered by a team of committed and engaged employees.

There’s no two ways about it.

There’s also little doubt that the best way to start the process of improving engagement across both clients and employees is to formally check in with them. Conduct appropriate engagement surveys to understand where each group sits on the engagement spectrum and what can be done to improve on the current situation.

The only way to learn about clients and employees? Ask them!

Be prepared to act on the feedback you receive. There’s no point in asking questions if you’re not prepared to deal with the answers. Your inaction will be akin to “poking the bear” which of course is always best avoided! Work with clients and employees to implement ideas and initiatives to improve engagement – your efforts need to be clear, obvious and transparent.

Check back regularly to see what impact your initiatives are having. You’ll be surprised how constructive people can be in their feedback. And let’s face it….those whom your initiatives impact the most – your clients and employees – know best. If you don’t ask for the gift of feedback, you’ll forever be operating on assumptions and what you think you know.

Neither of which are often particularly close to reality.

What about your business? How engaged are your clients?

And your employees?

How much do you really know about engagement levels?

Feel like you should be doing more?

GrowthCatalyst can help address these issues and deliver what money can't buy: time.

We invite you to contact us to arrange a conversation, face-to-face or virtual.

Alternatively, you can book a time for an initial discussion here.

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