To say that customer-centricity begins with employee-centricity would be an understatement. Without a proper employee-centric culture, the vehemently called out blanket statements like “we believe in making customers happy” become nothing but hollow and futile slogans because companies deficient in employee-centricity often fail at satisfying their patrons and underperform their peers. A research by Profiles International reveals that a whopping $350 billion is lost just because of employee disengagement, or better stated ‘the anti-customer-centric culture’. Nevertheless, one of the most important elements that helps engage employees and makes them passionate about their job is incentivisation, as it creates motivation, which in turn nurtures customer-centricity.

Incentivisation Goes Deeper Than Employee Engagement, It Helps Create Great Customer Experience:

Prevalence of high-performance customer-centric culture and reinforcement of employees’ discretionary efforts requires pragmatic approach, good leadership and most of all proper recruitment, camaraderie at workplace and a good rewards and recognition system. Recruiting capable people and good management are significant, but nothing can set motivation off like incentivisation. A study from the University of Missouri reveals that companies that effectively address employee gratification can incredibly improve workforce’s morale, prevent turnover and enhance customer satisfaction together with their repurchase intentions. Christopher Groening, assistant professor of marketing in the Robert J. Trulaske, Sr. College of Business says, “The link between customer satisfaction and customer loyalty is almost twice as strong when you have high employee satisfaction compared to when they are not satisfied with their jobs. This double-positive finding stands in contrast to the idea that a firm can neglect to satisfy their employees as long as they pursue customer satisfaction.”

Even some of the world’s most successful organizations profess the practical authenticity of this idea when Mike Jannini, Executive Vice President of Marriott International says, “Take great care of your employees and they will take great care of your customers”. Tony Hsieh, Zappos CEO, says, “Advertising can only get your brand so far . . . So what’s a company to do if you can’t just buy your way into building the brand you want? In a word: culture. At Zappos, our belief is that if you get the culture right, most of the other stuff – like great customer service, or building a great long-term brand, or passionate employees and customers – will happen naturally on its own.”

According to Gallup report, there is a strong correlation between employee engagement and key organizational outcomes. The engaged stay for what they can give, the disengaged stay for what they can get’ as reported in the BlessingWhite’s Employee Engagement Report 2013. Hence, the bottom line is that companies can successfully differentiate themselves only on customer experience, and customer experience would only come through if there prevails a culture of employee engagement and motivation, which in turn highly depends on incentivisation and proper management.

Forrester’s view on building a customer-focused culture is also emphatic of this aspect when its Customer Experience Professional, Paul Hagen says, “Firms need some precursors in place, such as a clear strategy and vision, metrics that reflect customer perceptions and governance mechanisms that set standards and hold people accountable for changes. Once those are in place, rewards systems are one powerful lever to keep employees focused on what’s important.”

How Well Does Incentivisation Pay Off:

Capable human capital is the only key to success. Companies may invest in its employees, but the question is how well does it all pull together in the end. According to 2013 Mercer’s new Talent Barometer Survey, 60% of organizations worldwide have increased their investment in talent in recent years because satisfied employees;

  • Are motivated employees
  • Are capable of delivering better results
  • Have the drive to deliver good service at the minimum
  • Have the capability to increase customer satisfaction by providing them with interpersonal sensitivity i.e. showing empathy, understanding, respect, and concern

Therefore, whether its rewards, recognition or compensation, incentives come through for a company in two ways.

  • They create job satisfaction for employees.
  • They help acquire customer satisfaction by strengthening customer-oriented work behavior.

Employee Engagement, Global Trends:

According to the Hay Group’s 2012 Global Employee Engagement Study, global engagement levels have been falling consistently since 2007, where only two-thirds of employees exhibited high level of engagement. In the Middle East, engagement has stagnated at 64% since 2008’s recession. Europe and the Pacific region seem to be at greater risk of employee disengagement as engagement levels have fallen to a five-year low of 63%. Asia also stands at 63%. However, despite having dropped three percentage points, North America remains ahead of all global averages at 69%.

Significance of Incentivisation, the Middle Eastern Front:

Research reveals that monetary rewards and certificates were top incentives that employees wanted to see their employers offer in the Middle East. Martin McGuigan, head of reward consulting at Aon Hewitt Middle East, said: “We continue to see a growing trend towards performance-based pay. It is to be expected that merit-based pay will become more prevalent as the UAE employment market continues to mature, giving organizations a means of capping their pay budget in accordance with business performance”. Moreover, according to a research by Bayt.com for the MENA region, variables that most strongly drive employees’ motivation levels for work and company besides remuneration are;

  • Recognition (47%)
  • Training and development (45%)
  • Career advancement opportunities (42%)

On the monetary incentive front, Bayt.com’s Salary Survey March 2012 for Middle East and North Africa reveals:

  • Performance-based incentives are the most preferred form of incentives among more than half (54%) of the MENA professionals.
  • ‘Basic salary + Benefits’ is more common in the GCC countries, whereas in North African countries ‘Basic Salary only’ appears to be the norm.
  • Bahrain, Lebanon and UAE have higher preference towards having a ‘Fixed-pay’ structure, whereas professionals in Egypt (47%) and Morocco (45%) prefer ‘partial’ structure.

In the bigger picture, the Middle East employees can look forward to an average 5.4% raise in pay for 2013, as revealed by the latest Total Remuneration survey conducted by Mercer.

Best Practices Worldwide:

    • When it comes to employee recognition and rewards system, the courier giant FedEx gets it all right. The fact that Fedex has consistently been making it to Fortune’s list of ‘Best Places to Work’ and ‘World’s Most Admired Companies’ can be majorly attributed to its highly employee-centric culture. Appreciating, recognizing and valuing employees touch every aspect of this organization. The HR constantly work on improvement programs through surveys and intensive data analysis, training managers on how to spot positive behaviors and ensuring that company-wide recognition programs continue to align with business initiatives.


    • Hewlett-Packard bestows its best employees with ‘The Golden Banana Award’, which is one of the most prestigious honors bestowed on inventive employees.


    • Walt Disney World has ‘Spirit of Fred’ award, titled after an employee named Fred. Several recipients of this award are also eligible to receive the ‘Lifetime Fred Award’ which is a bronze statuette of Mickey Mouse.


    • Enterprise, which is one of the world’s major car-rental companies, rewards managers for how well their reports serve customers. In order to get promoted, a branch must stand out amongst others and it depends on a metric called the Enterprise Service Quality index (ESQi) that shows the level of customer satisfaction.



Forrester puts forth nine ways for companies to make incentives work towards employee engagement and thus a true customer-centric culture.


1. Reward Employees Named In Customer Surveys:

One way to engage employees effectively would be to recognize the ones whose names appear in surveys and feedback. Pitney Bowes recognizes such employees by giving them a gift certificate.


2. Recognize The Unsung Heroes:

Besides people who directly deal with the customers, it is also very important to recognize the efforts of behind-the-scene performers who sometimes do not have a direct contact with the customer. Southwest Airlines is a great example of it as the company gives a regular tribute to such work groups.


3. Allow Peers To Celebrate One Another’s Accomplishments:

Peer recognition can be much more powerful than manager’s applause sometimes. This kind of appreciation is social in nature and much more effective.


4. Align Rewards With Customer Service Goals:

Sometimes, it is better to tie employees reward with company’s goals. It would be a good idea to give them rewards that have a direct correlation with customer experience.


5. Give Rewards That Improve Work/Life Balance:

Companies that provide work-life balance for their employees are more globalized, managed well and grow fast. Like when American Express built its first backup childcare center adjacent to the Fort Lauderdale call center, they also added nurse practitioners to the on-site healthcare service so that employees could get their medical needs met with without having to take any time off.


6. Give Benefits That Curtail Stress:

Employees become more motivated and productive when their employer cares about their quality of life that includes their physical, emotional, financial and social health. According to CareerBuilder.com, “The inclusion of on-site services such as manicures, laundry, and daycare are enabling employees to cut their errands in half. Massage chairs, yoga classes, and even napping have been encouraged to cut back the daily errands and reduce workers’ stress levels.”


7. Acknowledge The Frontline Employees:

Frontline employees play an important role in satisfying customers. Therefore, it is also extremely important to recognize their efforts. American Express acknowledges its frontline staff by calling them “customer care professionals’ and provides them with personalized business cards.


8. Link Promotion To Customer Experience Performance:

Rent-A-Car is a perfect case for this matter. At Rent-A-Car, unless an employee first starts on frontline and sustains good Enterprise Service Quality index scores, he cannot further his career into corporate management.


9. Give Bonuses Based On Customer Metrics:

At American Express, 85% of each performance assessment comes from customer feedback scores, where customer service professionals have an opportunity to earn 25% to 35% increment on their salaries.


Samir Mardini, Head of Talent at Aon Hewitt Middle East, said: “Over a decade of research shows that Best Employers are consistent across national culture, economic conditions and political situations because they put a high value on employees’ needs. This results in particularly high levels of employee engagement which in turn creates positive brand advocates, reduces staff turnover, improves customer satisfaction and, ultimately, increases business performance and profitability.”

Employee experience is as important as customer experience. Given the favorable repercussions that employee-centricity has, it can no longer be regarded as a frivolous idea. Only engaged employees are more enthusiastic about their work and have the motivation to be more productive when it comes to customer experience.