New research on 37,000 customers in 100 markets, done by the Forum for People Performance Management and Measurement at Northwestern University, shows how employee attitudes translate into stronger sales. While all customer-service research to date had been done with employees who have direct contact with customers, The Impact of Employee Attitudes on Market Response and Financial Performance is the first study to focus on all employees, including those with no customer contact. The study found direct links between employee satisfaction and customer satisfaction and between customer satisfaction and improved financial performance.

The most important way companies can create a satisfied workforce, the study says, is to develop good communication up and down the organization. Also, organizations in which employees — and customers — have a voice are the most effective.

Employee engagement goes hand-in-hand with satisfaction. “Organizations with motivated employees have customers who use their products more, and increased customer usage leads to higher levels of customer satisfaction,” the survey says.

The study also advocates competition — such as incentive contests — among employees and teams for best ideas and practices. The key is that the competition be focused on appropriate outcomes, such as service delivery or quality measures.

Francis J. Mulhern, PhD, associate dean and chairman of Northwestern University's graduate program in integrated marketing communications, says the study should inspire companies to focus more on internal marketing and communications. “After all, the products produced by an organization's employees are the embodiment of the attitudes and behaviors of the employees who produce them.”