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Ideas for Leaders #751

How More Customer Contact Creates a More Energetic, Motivated and United Workforce

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Key Concept

Inspiring the human desire to help others, customer contact sparks the collective energy of employees, leading to better company performance. Transformational leadership is vital, however, to capture the benefits of customer contact.

Idea Summary

A new study shows how impactful customer contact can be in terms of employee engagement and organizational results.

According to the study, contact with customers elicits the feeling in employees that they are working to help others, that their job is not just a task in a vacuum with no connection to the rest of the world but instead a way for them to have a positive impact on others. This sense of positively impacting others is known to psychologists as prosocial impact

However, according to the researchers, the effect of customer contact does not end with prosocial impact. The sense of purpose and accomplishment generated through customer contact creates happy and inspired employees with the energy and motivation to do more and to do better. The researchers identify three types of energy generated by the prosocial impact of customer contact: affective energy, such as happiness, enthusiasm and other positive feelings; cognitive energy, reflected in employees making the commitment to engage intellectually in solving problems, finding solutions, being innovative; and behavioural energy, working with greater speed and intensity to achieve the organization’s goal.

The pro-social impact and energy that emerges from customer impact, while beginning with individual employees is contagious, spreading throughout the organization and leading to what the researcher calls productive organizational energy. While customer contact is the catalyst, interactions and collaboration among employees elevates prosocial impact to the organizational level, and build a collective energy that infuses the organization.  Even employees who do not have direct contact with customers are drawn into the energy and motivation of those who connect with customers.

Not surprisingly, the organization benefits from a motivated, energized and purpose-driven workforce. The study results clearly show a link between organizational energy that develops from customer contact and the performance of the organization.   

Even negative customer contact might have a positive effect in generating the energy of shared goals and working to help others. However, the study does highlight an important caveat concerning negative customer interactions: transformational leadership is essential. Transformational leaders are charismatic leaders who inspire their employees with a compelling vision for the future, unify their organizations around common goals and set high-performance expectations while supporting their employees in every way they can. Transformational leadership will help employees reorient their focus from the frustration or tension of negative customer contact to the positive contribution of their work in helping people and to the way this work helps the organization achieves its goals.

The study was based on detailed surveys sent to more than 9,000 employees in 75 German firms in a variety of industries and sectors.

Business Application

To apply the findings of this study, companies and organizations should consider:

Increasing customer contact. Look for new and innovative opportunities for employees to contact customers. Also, don’t outsource your customer care centre. The result of outsourcing customer care is less customer contact and less organizational energy.

Ensuring that all employees have tasks that put them in contact with customers, even employees with jobs, such as back-office jobs, not traditionally connected directly with customers. It’s important to remember that customer contact is powerful because of its prosocial impact — the sense of helping others that comes from working with customers. This prosocial impact must be included in any customer-contact tasks. Thus, ideas for integrating customer contact tasks into jobs traditionally without customer contact include meeting customers at firm events, conducting customer surveys or even doing some direct sales work. 

Ensuring a transformational leadership climate. A transformational leadership climate helps keep employees focused on the positive impact of customer contact. Creating such a climate should not rest only on top leadership. Offer professional training to all supervisors in transformational leadership behaviours. The positive impact of customer contact, and the roles leaders play in unleashing this positive impact can be part of this training.

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Idea conceived

  • October 2019

Idea posted

  • October 2019

DOI number



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