How Focusing on Customers Helps Companies Combat the Great Resignation

This article originally appeared on LinkedIn.

Named “the great resignation” by Texas A&M's Anthony Klotz, this voluntary exodus from the workforce began showing up in government statistics a few months ago and has yet to abate. In August 2021, 4.3 million people quit their jobs, joining 15.5 million who’d done so between April and July of 2021. It’s a problem that is being felt across all industries, and these already historically high numbers may just be the beginning: A Gallup survey has found that 48% of employees are actively searching for new opportunities.

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Customers are not loyal when they don’t feel loved, and neither are employees. Talented employees are a precious and constrained resource, and today, most feel disengaged. Businesses that continue to focus on enriching shareholders at the expense of their employees and other stakeholders are finding this to be an underwhelming motivator for many employees. Disengaged workers are less productive, and employee turnover is expensive. With almost every company desperately seeking the talent required to move more processes to digital platforms and to take advantage of cloud computing, executives need to refocus on what the millennial and Gen Z talent pool want—namely, to work for companies with an inspiring purpose.

So, what inspires employees? What makes a company a great place to work? In our experience, it’s putting workers in the position to feel that there is meaning and purpose in their work. For many frontline employees, this means being able to do great things for customers, being valued for their ideas and insights into opportunities for innovation, and feeling part of a broader community, one that makes enriching customer lives its purpose. 

Look at credit card company Discover, where the frontline teams in the service centers see ample evidence that they are valued and appreciated. As we explain in our new book Winning on Purpose, instead of being viewed as a cost center to be outsourced or fully automated, customer service at Discover is seen as a profit center. “They are our brand ambassadors,” David Nelms told me years ago, when he was still CEO. Discover paid them competitive salaries and invested heavily in their training and the technology to help them do a great job.

Nelms and his colleagues were convinced that it takes a knowledgeable, culturally adept, and caring employee to solve the kinds of complex problems that can arise in the credit card business. An unhappy customer on the verge of cutting up his or her card can only be won back through the intervention of a talented employee.

A talented employee who feels valued and who sees value and purpose in their work is the best way to keep customers satisfied and to keep your finger on promising paths to innovation. Yesterday’s wow is today’s yawn and tomorrow’s minimum acceptable standard. How is an organization supposed to feed your and my insatiable desires and deliver a steady stream of remarkable innovations repeatedly? For most firms, the answer requires tapping into that cognitive super resource that is a repository of near-infinite creative talent—that is, the brains of your frontline employees and their customers.


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