Happy Teams Make Happy Customers: Empowering Employees
POSTED : April 3, 2015
Organizations like USAA, Umpqua Bank and Nordstrom are practically synonymous with great customer experience, yet they can also point to industry-leading profitability. That’s what we’re talking about when we say companies that are loved, win. Ruby Receptionists, a Portland, Oregon, company that provides virtual answering services, is another organization that “gets happy.” They’ve earned multiple “best place to work” awards, including the top spot nationally on Fortune Magazine’s “Best Small Company to Work For” in the U.S. They’ve also received multiple awards for fastest-growing companies, and they recently sold a majority stake in their company, which earns $15 million dollars in annual revenue, for $38 million dollars. Not a bad shareholder return for delivering happiness to employees and customers.“We’re not just about answering phones,” says Ruby Founder Jill Nelson on the company’s website. “We’re about finding that special something that will knock your socks off, and giving it to you before you even know you want it. We don’t do fine—we hit it out of the park, and that starts with our employee relationships.”

Empowering employees to delight customers

Ruby’s receptionists—or “cheer experts” as they call them—have the power (and budget) to act in the moment for customers and bring the wow. Check out the experience our own Carmen Hill had with a Ruby employee who learned that she was sick with a sore throat.

“When I told a Ruby receptionist (in my raspy frog voice) that I had laryngitis and couldn’t talk on the phone, she not only made a note to hold my calls for a few days, but also sent me a get well package of tea, tissues and Emergen-C. I loved it! (And I told all my friends and followers about it on Instagram, Facebook and Twitter).”

As Jeanne Bliss, author of Chief Customer Officer, says, “How you engage your team in knowing and understanding the lives of your customers is one of the things that differentiates the ‘beloved’ companies from the ‘everyday’ companies.”

At Ruby they start with the environment. Their office features ping-pong tables, a fitness room for Ruby Fit classes, and customer stories plastered throughout to inspire Rubys to the next level of surprise and delight for callers. It feels more like an established internet company than a call center.

As a business owner of a privately funded company for 18 years, I truly appreciate the challenges of balancing employee and client needs to keep both critical constituents happy while earning a profit to keep the lights on. Making both team and clients happy, while ensuring the business is successful takes a challenging task and makes it double black diamond hard.

In pursuit of this harmony, I’ve found some great resources to explore:


Chip Conley, owner of Joie de Vivre hotels in San Francisco, explains during this quick read how he created the ultimate guest experience using Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs. He began by aligning and sharing expectations for guests, employees and shareholders.

As expectations are met, the organization is able to advance up the pyramid, meeting desires and finally dreams for all three constituents. Through engaging stories he illustrates how to find balance and move forward when the pyramids are out of balance. Is each person’s bucket full? If so, it’s time to advance to the next level of the pyramid.

Check out this quick overview, and if you’re intrigued, grab the book. Key portions of our 2016 vision are centered around his simple framework.

Wisdom 2.0 Conference

At first, I was a bit out of my comfort zone at this San Francisco mega-conference, where yoga and Eastern philosophy meet hard-charging Silicon Valley. Arriving early, I found a shirtless man on a rug meditating. But I soon discovered the stories from companies such as Google, LinkedIn, Facebook and Huffington Post, along with connections and inspiration drawn from this conference were key ingredients for building a company with genuinely happy team members. And happy team members are the key to building best-in-class client relationships and bottom-line business results. (Nearly all videos from the conference sessions are shared online if you’re looking for inspiration.)

Search Inside Yourself

Google shares its innovative employee happiness program in this book and conference talk, led by their resident Jolly Good Fellow (that is his actual title) Meng Tan. Using principles found in mindful-based stress reduction, such as meditation and yoga, the program helps people peel away stress and break down walls that have built up so they can truly get to know themselves, understand what they want in life, and identify a plan to become happy. The brilliant program captures the balance between Eastern learnings and clinical psychology, and draws a direct connection to modern high-performing work environments.

Rockefeller Habits

Verne Harnish shares his formula for creating a vision, aligning a team, and continually improving employee and customer experience while never losing sight of the results the business requires to succeed. Combined with the concepts from Peak (referenced above), a company can develop a roadmap to continually align around customers and employees while developing the habits needed to speed results.

So, how have we internalized these concepts at PK?

  • We published our vision book for where the company would be three years out and shared it with the team.
  • As part of this vision we talked about the important balance between client, team, and company expectations, desires, and dreams.
  • We publicly share and reinforce through specific actions and benefits that people must be good with themselves and good with their family before being effective at work. Once they are effective at work they will have the opportunity to delight our customers and then together we can all impact the world.
  • We bought and transformed an old Portland gym into our corporate headquarters. And we renovated our Boston office to create friendlier spaces than a typical office, with conversation nooks, a fireplace for people to gather around, a kitchen that feels like home, and a community room to invite others to share in our mission, vision and goals.
  • Each quarter we assemble professional development programs such as Toastmasters (we have our own club), and fitness and wellness activities such as yoga. We also create opportunities for our families to connect.
  • We extended our core values to our intranet with a thread that allows employees to nominate teammates who are “caught living the values.” More than 300 nominations have been shared on the thread. Each year we celebrate, Academy Awards style, our winning story for each core value.
  • I endeavor to have lunch with each of our 80+ team members at least once a year and ask them a few simple questions: If you were President, what is the one thing you would do tomorrow that would make us a better company? What, from your perspective, should we start, stop and keep doing? What in our company vision has you excited? Where do you want to grow your skills in alignment with the company vision? What has you scared or concerned about the company vision? What areas within our vision do you feel we can improve?
  • We keep a running list of feedback from post-project reviews, employee lunches, and our check-in tool where people rate their day and provide feedback to shape focus areas for each quarter.

We are just beginning to scratch the surface of what’s possible. Our journey to becoming a company that is authentically loved by our clients and our team represents the most fulfilling chapter in my career. What could be more fun than waking up each day thinking about ways to make people happy? After 18 years, I am still blaring Tom Petty in the mini-van while driving into the office.

How is your company balancing the needs of employees, customers and shareholders?

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