One of my favorite movies about business in general, and employee behavior in particular, is Office Space. The film is full of bad management-staff relationship and motivation examples, and management’s myopic need for process execution for its own sake, not the enrichment or benefit of employees, and irrespective of the impact that they will, or won’t, have on customers.
A perfect example of this is an encounter in Chotchkie’s restaurant between Stan, the micro-managing manager and Joanna, one of the wait staff (played by Jennifer Aniston), about the amount of ‘flair’ she is wearing on her uniform:
STAN: We need to talk. Do you know what this is about?
JOANNA: My, uh, flair.
STAN: Yeah. Or, uh, your lack of flair, because I’m counting and I only see fifteen pieces. Let me ask you a question, Joanna.
STAN: What do you think of a person who only does the bare minimum?
JOANNA: Huh. What do I think? Let me tell you what I think, Stan. If you want me to wear thirty-seven pieces of flair like your pretty boy Brian over there, then why don’t you just make the minimum thirty-seven pieces of flair?
STAN: Well, I thought I remember you saying you wanted to express yourself.
JOANNA: Yeah. Yeah. Y’know what? I do. I do want to express myself. Ok? And I don’t need thirty-seven pieces of flair to do it. All right? There’s my flair! And this is me expressing myself. There it is! I hate this job! I hate this goddamn job and I don’t need it!!
Hmmm….that interaction didn’t go particularly well. I recently observed something similar while shopping at a local supermarket. The chain was having a canned goods promotion, supported by print and electronic media advertising; and employees were wearing multiple buttons about the promotion to reinforce the initiative in-store. What I witnessed was a manager brow-beating a check-out clerk in front of customers because he only had one promotional button on his shirt. If the manager had ever seen Office Space, the lessons of negative employee experience and dopey company rules were lost on him.
Here is the reality: As demonstrated again and again, if all employees are not committed to, and supportive of, CX initiatives, the enterprise – in any industry, in any locale – will suffer. HR execs and consultants would say that what is needed is a higher level of employee engagement. Engagement is principally about fit, alignment, and productivity; so, more is needed to optimize customer experience.
There is an amply proven, powerful linkage between employee commitment to the company, the brand value proposition, and the customer and their employers’ actual business (financial) and marketplace outcomes, particularly where CX is concerned. Also, there is a direct connection between a company’s employee experience and the Customer Experience they deliver on a company’s behalf. Despite much evidence that points to this link, many organizations continue to keep the two areas separate in their efforts. However, the separate area strategy is not the direct path to success for either.
In addition, when considering, and measuring, the pivotal elements of staff performance and productivity, most companies are focused on employee attitudes around satisfaction, company loyalty, alignment with goals and objectives (such as corporate citizenship), and what they consider to be levels of engagement. These contribute, to be sure; but, historically, they only superficially and weakly correlate what employees think and do to actual customer behavior. How Joanna was performing at Chotchkie’s, and how customers were viewing their experiences, is a great example.
Again, employee engagement can impact corporate profitability at the macro level (as much as three to four times higher for top-scoring engagement companies compared to those on the bottom half of companies using this measure); and that’s one of the really valuable results it provides. A major 2012 collaborative secondary research effort, Engage for Success, by the University of Bath School of Management and Marks and Spencer in the U.K. concluded, as we’ve seen with other research into the benefits of employee engagement: “As well as performance and productivity, employee engagement impacts positively on levels of absenteeism, on retention, and on levels of innovation….”
Where customer behavior changes are reported as a result of employee engagement, they were (like satisfaction’s impact on customer behavior) also at macro and rather weak tea, incidental levels: “An earlier (2006) Gallup report that examined over 23,000 business units showed that companies with engagement levels in the top quartile averaged 12% higher customer advocacy than those in the bottom quartile.” Having studied drivers of customer advocacy behavior for over a decade, the relationship between engagement and advocacy is marginal and superficial
Now, we come to employee ambassadorship and how it builds on the useful alignment and productivity represented by engagement. Employee ambassadorship, or employee brand ambassadorship, has direct connections to – yet is distinctive from – the concepts behind both employee satisfaction and employee engagement. Its impact on customer behavior can be, and has been, proven at the individual company level. As a research framework, and method for understanding employee behavior, its overarching objective is to identify the most active and positive (and inactive and negative) level of employee commitment to the company’s product and service value promise, to the company itself, and to optimizing the customer experience. The ambassadorship thesis, with its component elements, can be fully stated as follows:
• Commitment to company – Commitment to, and being positive about, the company (through personal satisfaction, fulfillment, and an expression of pride), and to being a contributing, loyal, and fully aligned, member of the culture
• Commitment to value proposition – Commitment to, and alignment with, the mission and goals of the company, as expressed through perceived excellence (benefits and solutions) provided by products and/or services
• Commitment to customers – Full commitment (by all employees and the enterprise)to understanding customer needs, and to performing in a manner which provides customers with optimal experiences and relationships, as well as delivering the highest level of product and/or service value
Ambassadorship is linked to the key productivity and empowerment elements of employee satisfaction, engagement, and alignment, and related training and operating approaches. However, it more directly contributes to business results, experience optimization, and value delivery because its key concept is building customer bonds through direct and indirect employee interaction. As companies strive to become more stakeholder-centric in all things they do, we believe that the emphasis on building strong employee ambassadorship will continue to increase as a core objective.