Investing in a better trained, skilled, and customer-focused employee leads to increased profits and a stellar brand for your company.

After Heather Malkani had her first child, she found herself looking for a housekeeper to help with the daily chores. “I had just gotten home from the hospital and realized with work, a baby and a husband who traveled frequently, I needed to find someone I could trust to take care of the house,” said Malkani.

She says, “The process was very involved because I had a newborn and needed to feel comfortable with the person. It was important to know that the individual was qualified, trained and had proper insurance. I’d say my final selection came down to the individual person who would be entering my home.”

Setting the Stage
Malkani’s situation is not uncommon. The way consumers choose a service provider is personal and involves evaluating a person’s qualifications, expertise, presentation and a general sense that this person will do well and keep the consumer’s interests in mind. 

As a business owner, your employees touch on each of these important factors and are on the frontline when it comes to representing your brand. And, if there is one thing that great companies do to differentiate their brand, it is that they invest in their employees.

Top 5 Employee Investments You Won’t Regret
As an HR practitioner for more than 15 years, I have been fortunate to see many ideas good (and bad) put into practice. The following list represents the top 5 investments you can make to increase employee fulfillment, retention and customer satisfaction. By focusing on employee development, the journey of managing good customer relations and growing your business will be a lot more profitable — and fun. 

1) Create a Great New Hire Experience
Creating a memorable and distinguishing new hire experience is attainable and a great way to differentiate your employer brand. According to the Society for Human Resource Management, 80% of companies have a formalized process to onboard employees. Success is rooted in developing a program that addresses employees’ basic questions while also giving them a chance to experience the company’s cultures and values. 

Start small and build the program over time. Common aspects of onboarding programs include:
 – Providing new employees a mentor 
 – Creating an orientation that focuses on interaction, not paperwork and manuals
 – Giving the employee a chance to demonstrate what they bring to the table

First impressions matter. The most engaging onboarding programs combine a practical entrance into the company along with a chance for the employee to meet customers and experience the business right away.

2) Provide Professional Development Opportunities
Creating a set of courses, certifications or in-house exercises will help you develop a well trained workforce that can interact better with customers. 

When thinking about the cleaning industry, one approach is to offer employees training on the best methods for cleaning various surfaces, basic chemistry, safety and trends in green cleaning. If your budget permits, consider providing employees the ability to complete certifications from IICRC and attend professional development conferences from ARCSI

According to the Association for Talent Development, companies that provide 40 hours of training each year experience noticeable changes in employee preparedness. 

3) Offer Resources for Life Skills
Employees have lives outside of work, and it’s important to demonstrate as an employer that you understand their all-around needs. Programs that help an employee gain additional skills increases the connection that employee has with the company and better equips the individual to establish strong relationships with customers. 

Starbucks recently made the bold move to pay tuition for employees. This raises the bar for talent, increases retention and creates a new talent pool from which they can choose. With the economy improving and employee retention top of mind, this seems like a very smart investment.

While you may not have Starbucks’ budget, you can consider these unique benefits to drive employee loyalty and satisfaction: 

 – Offer subscriptions to financial planning websites
 – Organize information on child care in your community 
 – Subscribe to online education courses

4) Implement a Recognition Program
Recognition is an important component of a strong people strategy. Almost 70% of employees leave their jobs because they don’t feel appreciated, and yet in many cases a simple thank you or acknowledgement of effort would have made a difference in the employee’s experience. 

Employee recognition falls into two categories:
 – Informal such as “on the spot” programs and 
 – Formal ones such as length of service, safety and executive-driven awards. 

The benefit of focusing on recognition is that it helps with employee morale and encourages employees to give that little extra effort on the job. It’s this discretionary effort that really boosts employee performance, quality and customer satisfaction. This matters because it is expensive to replace employees, and you don’t want your top performers leaving. 

One company we work with at KangoGift experiences more than 80% turnover per year. They were worried about the cost associated with finding and replacing new talent and created a recognition program to increase employee satisfaction. The early results are promising and they are on track to reduce turnover and save money. 

Successful recognition programs celebrate on-going successes, are public and provide an opportunity for employees to promote their skills and accomplishments. 

Common recognition programs to consider would be:
 – Peer recognition
 – Manager spot awards
 – Length of service and safety awards

5) Offer a Variety of Unique Benefits
Benefits aren’t perks. They are thought-out options your employees can choose to address their specific needs. According to the Employee Benefit Research Institute’s 2013 Health and Voluntary Workplace Benefits Survey, more than three-quarters of employees said the benefits package an employer offers prospective employees is extremely or very important in their decision to take the job. 

Investing in benefits can really set your company apart, improve your reputation as a great place to work and create industry buzz. 

There are three trends happening with voluntary benefits: 
 – Identify benefits the employee can use throughout the year 
 – Offer benefits that can be deducted from payroll
 – Offer choice so that employees can craft a program that meets their individual needs

Traditional voluntary benefits employers can consider include gap coverage, short-term disability, critical illness, dental and life insurance. 

A great place to start is with non-traditional voluntary benefits. These benefits represent a new breed of programs that capitalize on the desire among employees to access services they can use immediately and impact their personal situations. These programs tend to be low or no cost to the employer and rank highly among employees. 

The most prevalent non-traditional voluntary benefits include:
 – Employee purchase programs 
 – Legal plans and advice
 – Financial education
 – Pet insurance 

Start Now Because the Economy is Improving
In May 2014, HR professionals cited that challenges landing candidates for key vacancies reached a four-year high for both the manufacturing and service sectors, according to the monthly report published by the Society for Human Resource Management’s (SHRM) Leading Indicators of National Employment (LINE) Report

The implication is that you may have to look harder for talent and draw from a more competitive pool. By identifying what your employer brand represents, you will be able to attract candidates that are in-line with your core values.

How You Know Your HR Programs Are Working
The key to managing a workforce is measurement. Cultivating a culture of quality, service and satisfaction brings out the best in people and creates an environment in which employees thrive. 

Key metrics for employee-centered businesses include:
 – Employee satisfaction
 – Employee retention
 – Customer satisfaction
 – Customer retention
 – Customer growth

Next Steps
Each of the five tips offered can be started right away, for little cost, and will enhance the personality of your company. And while focusing on employee happiness may seem like an indirect way to profit, many of the top companies have followed such practices to rank highly on the great places to work lists. 

One place to start is to map out the employee experience from end to end. As in, think through each step an employee experiences – from finding your job posting, to applying, onboarding, developing their skills and even leaving. Going through this exercise and talking to current employees will help you identify places to start. 

It is tempting to compete on objective factors such as background checks, quality check-lists, eco friendliness and price. However, a better trained, skilled and customer-focused employee will ensure higher customer satisfaction, reduced errors and increased retention. All of these ultimately lead to increased profits and a stellar brand for your company. 

Todd Horton is the Founder/CEO of KangoGift, which Entrepreneur Magazine called a Brilliant Idea for making employee recognition instant and effective. Todd is a big believer in the power of celebrating great work in a timely way and regularly speaks on workplace trends including the rise of the social enterprise and on global HR recognition practices.