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Does Emotional Intelligence Affect Employee Engagement?

I grew up reading Gary Larson’s The Far Side comic strip, and find myself using examples of those snippets of life lessons often in my career as a Voice of the Customer / Voice of Employee consultant. One comic that I reference the most depicts a boy pushing as hard as he can against a school door, while above him is a large sign that says “Pull,” another sign reads, “Midvale: school for the gifted.”

All jokes aside, there are many types of intelligence found in all of us. But when it comes to hiring front-line, customer-facing employees, a key ingredient is the employee’s emotional intelligence prowess, because it plays such a vital role in strengthening employee engagement and customer brand loyalty.

What is Emotional Intelligence?

Emotional Intelligence (EQ), as a psychological theory, was developed by Peter Salovey and John Mayer in the early 90s.

When speaking with clients, I define EQ as four components:

  1. how employees interact with each other and their customers
  2. the employee’s ability to show self-awareness of their own emotions
  3. the employee’s ability to self-regulate customer emotions, internal motivation
  4. an employee’s empathy towards their colleagues and customers.

I am asked all the time, “Does this type of intelligence truly affect an employee’s engagement?” The answer is a resounding yes! A lack of EQ on the part of employees results in poor individual performance, loss of confidence, and can lead to a high rate of turnover because of negative perceptions. If left unchecked, it could also threaten the reputation of the organization in the marketplace.

When Employees Lack Emotional Intelligence

Let me give you a recent example of an interaction I experienced with a car salesman who lacked any of the four foundational elements that make up emotional intelligence.

I am a planner and as such, I went to a dealership knowing exactly what type of vehicle I wanted to purchase, at what price, and the amount my trade-in vehicle was worth. When I arrived at the dealership I was greeted by a salesman, let’s call him Bob, and his manager.

Over the course of the next two hours, my customer experience went quickly downhill based entirely on Bob and his manager’s low EQ.

As I walk you through the events and show how Bob’s low emotional intelligence continually hampered our relationship, you can see how this ultimately caused me to leave the dealership and purchase my vehicle elsewhere.

The Importance of Self-Awareness in Employees

Before arriving at the dealership, I knew exactly what I wanted to get, down to the add-on accessories, and already had two appraisals on my trade-in vehicle. I called and scheduled an appointment with Bob for the next day. I arrived at my appointment time but was stuck waiting for nearly 20 minutes for Bob to show up. When he arrived, he had forgotten the specific details (including the type of vehicle I wanted to purchase!) we had discussed the night before.

One of the primary elements of self-awareness is the ability to recognize and understand one’s moods, as well how your moods can affect others. Bob clearly did not present any self-awareness as to the situation he was creating for us.

Instead of apologizing for his unpreparedness, he just began by showing me cars that didn’t meet my criteria. He neglected to see my frustration that he was wasting my time. Quite honestly, his lackadaisical attitude and inability to recognize his initial mistakes were causing a problem. But I continued with the sales process.

Self-regulation in Employees is Critical

When we finally got on the same page about the car I was there to purchase, the conversation turned to my trade-in. Prior to my arrival, I appraised my vehicle using the dealership’s instant cash appraisal site. Bob did a quick review of my vehicle and offered $1,500 less than the appraisal I had obtained online.

Of course, I handed him the dealerships instant cash offer at which point he became very frustrated and indicated that he had never heard of such a program and did not feel they could honor it.

Self-regulation is the ability to control or redirect disruptive moods, and the propensity to suspend judgment and be unwilling to change. In my growing frustration, I directed Bob’s attention to the dealership door windows, where on each one was a large poster showing the instant offer website.

Bob left to speak with his manager and returned tossing the paper on the table and said they would honor the higher trade-in offer. Bob’s inability to handle a sale outside of his normal process clearly irritated him. This only deepened the void in our relationship and weakened the trust I had in the entire sales process.

Employees Should Possess Internal Motivation

After the trade-in value was established, we moved on to discuss the price of the new vehicle. To my surprise, the price was $6,000 above what we initially discussed during our first phone call. I even had a printout with the build-out price. When I brought this to his attention, he made comments under his breath, such as, “why did I come in today,” and “this is not worth my time.” Soon he left to discuss the web price with his manager. Through the office window, I could see Bob and his manager arguing and my printout being tossed around.

Internal motivation is a passion to work that goes beyond money, such as a joy in doing something that comes with being immersed in the work you do. While this motivation comes from within, employees that have strong EQ are valued and appreciated by their managers. These manager interactions reflect the mission, visions, and values of the organization, provide the basis for using emotionally intelligent competencies, and develop stronger relationships with employees.

Bob returned and gave me several “reasons” for the price discrepancy. I redirected his attention to all the fine print of the printout that indicated those fees were in fact calculated in my build price. Bob slid out of his chair, went back to his manager and came back with a new rationale for the difference in price – a dealership add-on package. The problem with that was this vehicle wasn’t even at the dealership, but still in transit from the factory. These clear misleading tactics dissolved any respect I had for Bob and the dealership.

Emotional Intelligence Requires Empathy

At this point, Bob should have realized that his constantly changing story was a deal breaker, but he continued to provide three more explanations for the difference and refused to lower the price.

Empathy is the ability to understand and treat people according to their emotional reactions. If you get a sense of what’s going on for the customer, you will find it much easier to relate to the customer. Bob never showed any empathy for the entire two hours I was with him. By the end, we were both frustrated and the relationship had become unrepairable. At which point I requested my car key, print-outs, and indicated that I was done with speaking with him and the dealership manager.

When he handed me my car key, he offered me half off the difference in purchase price. I said nothing and left. Since then I have told everyone I know to stay as far away as they can from Bob and the dealership.

Employee Engagement and High EQ Close the Deal

Bob, and quite frankly his manager, lacked any EQ and made the two hours spent there my number one worst customer experience story.

Believe it or not, I mustered up the energy to go to a different dealership that same day. There, I was greeted by an emotionally intelligent salesman who introduced himself as a “customer sales partner” and ended up buying a vehicle with several added features at a slightly higher price point.

The moral of the story – customer service excellence is not achieved simply by following a routine to meet customer expectations, needs, and wants, but aligning employees’ commitments to serving customers in ways that meet or exceed expectations. Customer-centered cultures require a human EQ connection. In other words, organizations with emotionally intelligent employees have a stronger vision of customer-centricity that values the customer relationships and sets the path to highly engaged employees.