How can retailers gain something useful from employee surveys?

Discussion
Jul 20, 2016

Nanette Brown, EVP and general manager, ICC Decision Services

Through a special arrangement, presented here for discussion is a summary of a current article from the IMS Results Count blog.

Employee satisfaction surveys — conducted on a regular basis, and followed up on in a meaningful way — say to associates, in no uncertain terms: “We’re asking because we care.”

The feeling of being heard can be very powerful, particularly among Millennial associates, who want to contribute meaningfully to a greater purpose. Employee engagement helps build a sense of community, strengthen brand pride and inspire acts of excellence that distinguish the customer experience.

Employee satisfaction surveys are equally valuable from a business intelligence standpoint. Associates are keenly attuned to what customers want and need as well as how the current sales or service model might be failing them (or worse, alienating them).

Aubuchon Hardware, a family-owned retailer with 107 stores, kicked off its employee satisfaction survey program last November. The program includes quarterly wave surveys with different questions asked each quarter. The surveys are concise and easy to complete. Each begins with a question to assess the associate’s mindset (irrespective of corporate priorities) before delving into specifics.

In addition to the rotating topic areas, each survey includes three basic open-ended questions:

  • What should we keep doing?
  • What should we stop doing?
  • What should we start doing?

Afterward, senior executives personally visit stores, thank employees for participating in the survey, and reveal the results along with the specific actions the company is taking in response. Management also explains what progress has been made from changes enacted based on feedback from the previous quarter.

In addition to quarterly surveys, Aubuchon’s employees are provided with a “listening list” — target areas, action items and status levels based on employee comments offered throughout the year.

When done correctly, employee satisfaction surveys give company leadership a clear picture of what’s trending over time, what’s happening in a certain part of the company and the challenges facing individual job roles.

DISCUSSION QUESTIONS: How do you rate the value of employee satisfaction surveys at retail? What tips would you have for optimizing such efforts?

Please practice The RetailWire Golden Rule when submitting your comments.
Braintrust
"There is nothing worse than an employee survey where everyone knows there is dissatisfaction with some aspects and management does nothing. "
"If surveys are so useful, how come Gallup continues to report employee engagement at 33.9 percent and falling?"
"There are two levels of employee feedback: the useful lessons learned the hard way in the retail trenches and the “if I were in charge...""

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16 Comments on "How can retailers gain something useful from employee surveys?"


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Dr. Stephen Needel
BrainTrust

I think the opening line says it all — showing you care and having meaningful follow-up. There is nothing worse than an employee survey where everyone knows there is dissatisfaction with some aspects and management does nothing or provides no feedback for why it is not changing.

Max Goldberg
Guest

If employers are asking for employee opinions because they really care and are ready to implement worthwhile employee suggestions, it’s a great opportunity. If employers ask for opinions and then do nothing with the information, it’s fakery at its worst and could damage employee relationships.

Lee Kent
Guest

For those of us in the customer experience space, we know the value of voice of the customer and voice of the employee programs. These are imperative to good service.

A great customer experience starts and ends with the employee. Who, by the way, is your customer too.

For my 2 cents.

Zel Bianco
BrainTrust

I agree with the comments above. Doing employee surveys for the sake of doing them with no follow through is a waste of time and dismissive to the employees’ concerns. Employers need to remember that employee feedback is an important tool and can help grow their business and keep their employees happy and engaged. Once the surveys are completed, an action plan needs to be put into place regarding which issues the business is going to address which then needs to be communicated to the employees.

Anne Howe
Guest

This sounds like a best-practice scenario. The only thing I would add is the opportunity for employees to learn more about human behavior and influence while on the shopper’s journey, in order to add empathy and effectiveness to the employee’s opportunity to better serve the customers.

Dr. Needel is right on with “show you care and follow up” being the most important elements. It’s human nature to want to do better. When both sides commit and participate, magic can happen and customers are the beneficiaries.

Frank Riso
Guest

I would rate them high when used as a management tool. It is nearly impossible to visit every store in a major chain each year and even more so to talk to each employee. A survey can tell management a lot. Not only how satisfied the workers are but also how each store and each store manager is doing. The best tip I would offer is not to do too many surveys, once every other year would be just fine.

Ian Percy
BrainTrust
First, anonymously checking off a box on a scale does not mean anyone is actually being “heard.” Being heard means an actual conversation happens. Sending out a survey is an obligation like having a mission statement or doing performance reviews. It’s the annual “here we go again” experience. Sending out a survey is so much easier than an executive going in and having an honest, heart-to-heart conversation with people. Second, the old “keep, stop and start” model needs to be thrown out. At best, these questions are about the organization. Where’s the question about the person? Where do you ask what their dreams are? Do you ask them what talents and abilities remain totally untapped by their employer? Or where they feel let down, betrayed or abandoned? The “we care” thing in most organizations is made up by PR departments. When executives really do care (and there are amazing examples) everyone knows it energetically and intuitively. If you have to annually tell your employees … you don’t. Third, most of the survey questions are softballs… Read more »
Ian Percy
BrainTrust

And another thing …

I’m a little surprised by how so many of us think employee surveys are so wonderful. According to Forbes: “With all the costs and efforts to administer employee surveys, the average employee survey response rate is just a meager 30%-40%.” That may tell you more than the survey results do. Notice how the response rate matches almost perfectly the engagement level.

Anne Howe
Guest

Are these response rates and engagement rates national averages? They are so low, it seems there is a big opportunity to reinvent the practice and make it much more relevant, especially to younger employees.

Shep Hyken
BrainTrust

Employee surveys are good for several reasons. First, they do show that you are interested in an employee’s opinion. Second, if the company listens, it shows they care. Third, and this is the one that interests me most, if the result shows employees are happy, there is a good chance that the customers are happy as well.

Taking the third example a step further, there is a direct correlation between employee satisfaction and customer service. Look at GlassDoor.com surveys. The high scores for leadership correlate with the companies who achieve high scores with the American Customer Satisfaction Index. Those companies (public companies) tend to beat the S&P average, which means the happy employee/happy customer positively impacts the bottom line.

Lesley Everett
Guest

In an environment where an increased level of employee engagement is so very important to creating a trusted and respected brand, these surveys are critical. But only if they are used correctly, otherwise you will create the opposite effect. They also need to be done monthly not annually — things change rapidly and you need to highlight danger areas immediately. They don’t need to be lengthy and in fact can just be a “pulse” on how things are going. A great tool I’ve come across is Customer Thermometer — originally intended for measuring customer satisfaction but it has evolved to become a very effective employee engagement survey tool. It’s important that the results of these employee surveys are analyzed and used visibly in the business as a basis for the L & D strategy.

Ryan Mathews
BrainTrust
First of all, businesses are not democracies. Every decision doesn’t have to be popular if it really is in the best interest of the business and/or the customer. I suspect that very few employees like taking orders, think they have long enough break/meal times, enjoy fulfilling routine functions and/or living with the vagaries often associated with labor scheduling. To Max’s point, unless you are willing to radically transform your business, careful what you ask for. There are two levels of employee feedback: the useful lessons learned the hard way in the retail trenches and the “if I were in charge I’d never ask anyone to do X.” The former is invaluable. The later can be dangerous. It is absolutely true that employees — particularly frontline employees — know more about what is right or wrong about a business than most executives comfortably staring at spreadsheets on their computer screens. But if those same executives aren’t prepared to act on what they hear — no matter how irrational — then they are sewing the seeds of… Read more »
J. Peter Deeb
Guest

There is nothing worse for morale than conducting a survey and then not sharing and acting on the results. It sounds like the hardware chain really gets it! The same can be said for customer surveys. I quit responding to many of them because there is no follow up or no change to service. The downside to surveys is the same whether for employees or customers — no feedback and change based on the survey can mean lost customers and lost or demotivated employees.

Jerry Gelsomino
Guest

They are important, but so are one-on-ones, both formal and unplanned. Simply finding what’s on employees’ minds at any given time is valuable.

Craig Sundstrom
Guest

While this all sounds swell — and Ms. Brown didn’t really leave anything open to criticize — shouldn’t feedback be a continuous process … metaphorically, if not literally, the “suggestion box”?

Presumably a company isn’t doing something existence threatening, but if somehow it should, does it make sense to wait three, six, or even twelve months for a survey to find out about it?

Ralph Jacobson
Guest

As long as actionable questions are asked in an anonymous environment, I think there is great value to be captured from surveys. Keep the surveys concise and laser-focused. Don’t try to solve world hunger with only one survey. Do surveys each quarter of the year on different topics. That way the staff learns to expect them and participation tends to grow.

wpDiscuz
Braintrust
"There is nothing worse than an employee survey where everyone knows there is dissatisfaction with some aspects and management does nothing. "
"If surveys are so useful, how come Gallup continues to report employee engagement at 33.9 percent and falling?"
"There are two levels of employee feedback: the useful lessons learned the hard way in the retail trenches and the “if I were in charge...""

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