Last week I accidentally showed up to my doctor’s appointment a few hours early. When I realized what I had done, I was panicked. I had no way of rescheduling all my afternoon meetings and it would be weeks before I could get another appointment.  When the receptionist noticed my stress she immediately jumped into action and within a few minutes she’d figured out a way to rework the doctor’s schedule so I could get right in to see him.

Her willingness and ability to rework the doctor’s schedule not only saved me a cancellation fee and helped me avoid the hassle of rescheduling, it also turned me into an unfailingly loyal patient––that’s value that his office will never be able to buy from me. When I thought about how a simple act of customer service earned my appreciation and loyalty, I realized that it was only possible because the receptionist had the power and flexibility to put me and my needs above everything else. Without asking permission or questions, she had the power to make changes to the schedule and prioritize the customers needs over the convenience of the office.

Enabling and empowering your employees to create great customer experiences, just like my doctor did for his office, is the key to building and sustaining a customer-focused business. And in the end, it leads to major strides in brand loyalty and retention.

So how can you do this?

Empower your employees

My doctor’s office example shows how a front-line employee had the proper go-ahead to move things around and deliver good customer service, but this kind of empowerment can happen in organizations of any size.

During CXWeek, Bob Kharazmi, Ritz-Carlton’s CEO, shared a great example of empowering employees to deliver great customer experience. A few months back, a Ritz-Carlton pool attendant overheard a guest with physical restrictions tell her husband, “I wish we could have a romantic dinner at the beach.” That pool attendant knew that it would be impossible for the guest to get to the beach with her wheelchair so he contacted the engineering department and together, they built a wooden pathway from the pool to beach so that her wheelchair wouldn’t sink in the sand. He then contacted the kitchen crew and had them set up a table on the beach so the couple could have a romantic dinner that evening. When the hotel notified the couple about what had been done, they were floored. They hadn’t told any of the hotel staff about the woman’s hope to visit the beach, but when an employee overheard it and recognized an opportunity, he had the power to make something happen.

You can similarly empower your employees by removing unnecessary barriers that might be blocking them from putting the customer first. Implementing immediate and meaningful ways for your employees to use their discretion to deliver better customer service without having to get approval from managers up the line is perhaps the most immediate way to improve your customer experience.

Leadership Buy-in

While autonomy to act is important, employees also need to know that managers and company leaders will back up their decisions to create great customer experience. We’ve found that organizations with the most successful VoC programs are those that hold leadership trainings (and run training surveys) and designate an executive to advocate for customer initiatives. When employees at the top understand the value of good customer experience they’re more likely to continually emphasize customer focus and reward their direct reports who do the same. Leadership buy-in is a critical step in scaling customer focus across your organization.

Incentivize your employees to care for customers

If you can incentive employees to go out of their way to deliver great customer experience, you’ll create happy customers and perpetuate a customer-focused culture.  At Qualtrics, we recently began rewarding “Customer obsessed” employees with a t-shirt and a digital badge they can display next to their intranet profile. These shirts and badges are only given to employees who go above and beyond to make a customer happy. The public recognition and bragging rights that come with the t-shirt and badge create an atmosphere of friendly competition and work as positive incentives for our employees.

The key is finding an incentive that will resonate with and motivate your employees to be more customer-obsessed. It might be bonuses, swag or recognition at high-profile meetings, but whatever you choose, make sure it’s something your employees will actually value.

Establish employee listening channels

An unhappy employee is going to have a hard time acting as a brand ambassador or changing the perspective of an unhappy customer—which means if you want to mobilize your employees to deliver great CX, your employees need to know you care. Whether or not you implement a full-scale employee engagement program, be sure to give your workforce the opportunity to deliver feedback to the very top. Without employee feedback channels you’ll struggle to identify  and fix any employee issues that might stand in the way of serving your customers.

Ted Coine said it best: “Your customers will only love your organization as much as your employees do.”

P.S. Learn more about picking the right channel to gather customer feedbackand what tools you’ll need to measure customer experience.