AmEx: Happy workers mean happy customers by Scott Olster @FortuneMagazine August 13, 2010, 7:42 AM EDT E-mail Tweet Facebook Google Plus Linkedin Share icons The credit card company wanted to give its customer service department a makeover. The first step: asking employees what changes they wanted to see. By Christopher Tkaczyk, reporter COMPANY SNAPSHOT Headquarters: New York City Employees: 27,265 in the U.S.; 35,340 outside The Business: A $26.7 billion credit card and business and travel services organization American Express AXP has always prided itself on its customer service; CEO Ken Chenault lists delivering superior service as one of AmEx’s top three priorities for 2010 (the other two: growth and efficiency). So last year when it gave its global customer service division a makeover, it decided to focus on making life better for its 26,000 call-center employees. The theory: Happier employees mean happier customers. “We’ve learned the importance of the attitude of the employee,” says Jim Bush, EVP of world service. AmEx started by asking customer service employees what they wanted to see — and then delivered better pay, flexible schedules, and more career development. It also switched from a directive to keep calls short and transaction-oriented to engaging customers in longer conversations. Collectively, the moves have boosted service margins by 10%. “Great service starts with the people who deliver it,” says Chenault. “We want American Express to be the company people recommend to their friends.” Reasons to work here On-site health care: Employees can see a nurse practitioner to get prescriptions, which can be filled on-site. Customers determine bonuses: A unique incentive program tying compensation to customer feedback can result in 25% to 30% higher pay. Travel perks: Some locations offer discounts of up to 50% on certain fees for trips booked through the company. Other travel perks include fee-free travelers checks and foreign currency exchange. Flexible scheduling: A new system allows employees to modify their schedule remotely to accommodate a sick child or doctor visit. Incremental hours can be traded with others across the workforce.