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Focusing on the Controllable to Maintain the Customer Experience During “The Great Resignation”

September 29, 2021

Nearly half of the colleagues on your Zoom screen are considering looking elsewhere for work –whether it is to find a job that is more fulfilling, pays more, or has more flexibility – employees are leaving companies from the corporate world to the frontlines and service industries in droves.1 So much so, that it has been dubbed “The Great Resignation.”

The Truth: “The Great Resignation” is not only impacting your business and your bottom line, it is also having a profound impact on your customers and their experiences.

The Great Resignation

“The Great Resignation” is a phrase first coined by Anthony Klotz, an Associate Professor of Management at Texas A&M University who has long studied employee turnover. Since he first introduced the phrase in 20191, it has taken off and become a part of our vernacular, with thought pieces from NPR to Fortune and the Nightly News covering the phenomenon.

However, the idea of “The Great Resignation” is not new. HR Research has long shown that employees tend to leave their job after going through some sort of “turnover shock”: “a life event that precipitates self-reflection about one’s job satisfaction.”2 These “shocks” can be life events like having a new baby or going back to school, health related, or even spurred by a global pandemic.

The COVID-19 pandemic has completely upended our daily lives. It has spared no one as we have collectively moved to remote everything from work to school, carefully considered where we want to live, with an exodus from the cities to the suburbs, and has added a “personal risk calculation” to every decision we make, vaccinated or not. This collective “shocking” experience has resulted in employees across sectors and from all around the country re-evaluating their job satisfaction and many deciding to take the leap and resign.

According to the latest jobs report from the US Department of Labor, 15.4M people have quit their jobs since April 20213, and there is no sign that this exodus of workers is going to stop soon. This trend indicates that we are amidst a seismic shift from an employer’s market to an employee’s market. With employees’ asks of their employer varying based on their occupation…

  • Knowledge workers are asking for greater workplace flexibility and a continuation of remote working
  • Service industry workers are asking for a living wage and better/safer working conditions
  • Healthcare workers are asking their employer how they will keep them safe in this lasting pandemic

…and all are asking for their employer to care about them personally, to show empathy in this trying time and offer benefits that matter like good health care and time off to prevent burnout.

With “The Great Resignation” becoming the new reality, companies are at a crossroads and need to be asking themselves:

  • How can we invest in employees to minimize the inevitable “turnover shock” from the pandemic?
  • With less staff, how will this impact our customers, even if the staff we are losing is not “customer facing”?
  • What can we do to ensure that our staffing challenges don’t impede us from continuing to deliver exceptional customer experiences?

Tactics to Minimize the Inevitable “Turnover Shock” 

Providing a stellar customer experience starts with your employees and their engagement in your organization. The adage, “happy employees = happy customers” has been touted by C-Suite executives and been proven through employee engagement and CX surveys time and time again. While employers won’t be able to fully stop “The Great Resignation”, there are several tactics organizations can deploy to minimize turnover shock.4

  1. Listen to your team – Showing empathy starts by listening to your employee’s and assuring them that they are heard and valued. Recognize that these “unprecedented times” are still impacting everyone, so take the time to really check-in and build relationships. In turn, the personal connections will build employee loyalty.
  2. Offer flexibility ­ – While we all have collectively been impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic, everyone’s situation is different – showing flexibility and understanding of employee’s unique situation/needs can go a long way.
  3. Invest in Their Career – This includes providing ample training and development opportunities as well as upskilling. When employees are learning and in a growth mindset, they are more likely to stay and be engaged in their work and their company.
  4. Continue to Nourish Your Company’s Culture – “Employees stay for the people.” In hybrid, remote, and in-person environments, it is important to reinforce and nourish the company’s culture. A sense of belonging can go a long way in helping employees feel valued and engaged in their work.
  5. Pay Your People Well – Money matters. Particularly when employees feel continuously underpaid, overworked, and/or undervalued. Recognize that your salaries are no longer just being measured by employers in your area, but across the country as remote work has become more of the norm. If adjusting salaries isn’t an option, consider which non-monetary benefits you can offer to entice employees to stay, such as mental health days or extra vacation days around the holidays.

The Impact on Your Customers

Staffing shortages and turnover also has a profound impact on your customers – even if those job vacancies aren’t in customer facing roles. We all have seen these impacts as a consumer.

At the beginning the pandemic, there was a universal understanding or a “grace period” as everyone adjusted to the “new normal”. However, as time has gone on and we have settled into this new world, so too have everyone’s expectations. The impacts of your staff shortages are deeply felt and seen by your customers – whether it is longer wait times in the drive-thru, limited services offered – including services that provide added conveniences (e.g., mobile apps), or longer response and shipping times – these inconveniences add up.

Perhaps the most evident impact of these inconveniences is seen in the quick service restaurant space. In a recent survey that Big Village conducted in partnership with the Big Red Rooster5, consumers point to several side effects of “The Great Resignation” as factors that create negative customer experiences.

  • 72% Note there are not enough employees/staff
  • 69% Note that employees are not paid enough
  • 68% Note employees struggle with fulfilling both in-store and mobile orders
  • 67% Note increased wait time
  • 66% Feel employees are not given sufficient training

The results couldn’t be clearer; if you fail to take action to improve the employee experience and turnover increases, your customers will notice.

While it is easy to notice that the service took twice as long to get your coffee in the Dunkin Donuts drive-thru – it may be less evident that a staff shortage is preventing digital/mobile orders from taking place, or for a bank or restaurant to act on customer feedback as a shortage in knowledge workers has prevented this information from being disseminated in a timely manner.

The question brands need to answer now is how much more “good will” do we have in the bank to keep our customers as we ride out this employee turnover storm?

Continuing to Deliver Exceptional Customer Experiences

The key to riding out “The Great Resignation” and continuing to deliver exceptional customer experiences is knowing what you can and cannot control.

Big Village is uniquely posed to help you navigate this storm and can “meet you where you are at” to measure, understand, or improve your customer experiences. A few ways we can help:

  • Determine what communications will land best as you level set with customers around your staffing shortages
  • Evaluate your CX measurement system to ensure that you are measuring the moments that matter, in this post-COVID era
  • Understand the customer journey and how preferences have shifted in the pandemic
  • Uncover the best ways to improve the employee experience to retain skilled employees

Big Village exists to future proof your business and we are here to help you focus on what you can control to weather this “Great Resignation” and come out stronger on the other side!


Written by Maggie Smith, Director, Business Advisory at Big Village Insights


1 The Great Resignation Is Here, and It’s Real, Inc. Magazine.

2 “Shocks as causes of turnover: What they are and how organizations can manage them”, Human Resource Management, Brooks C. Holtom, Terrence R. Mitchell, Thomas W. Lee, Edward J. Inderrieden; August 23, 2005.

3 “Job Openings and Labor Turnover Summary”, U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, September 8, 2021.

4 “8 Strategies for Getting ahead of the Great Resignation”, Accounting Today, Sandra L. Wiley, September 7, 2021.

5 “Essential Workers: Employees & the Quick-Service Restaurant Brand Experience”, Big Red Rooster and Big Village, August 13, 2021.