Employee Ambassadorship and Advocacy: Living the Promise of ‘Wow’ Customer Value Delivery (Part I)

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How can companies keep a consistent customer focus and optimize economic performance, which, after all, is the goal of customer centricity? Is it done with great products and product co-creation with customers? Will it be through customer segmentation based on detailed profiling and interpretation? Or is it through outstanding service and original, effective marketing? Few would argue that all of these are important, of course; but, at the vast majority of companies, sales, service, and marketing functions and activities tend to be discrete. And, discrete, siloed execution equals sub-optimized results.

There are many was to bring all of these individual, rarely conjoined functions and capabilities into unison, so that they are more effective on behalf of both the customer and the employee. Perhaps the simplest, and arguably the most sustainable and strategically differentiated, is to have employees directly, actively involved in making this happen. OK, this – what we call employee ambassadorship or employee advocacy –
is clearly a worthwhile goal, with two key and immediate questions:
1) How do you make this a reality, and
2) How do you measure the effectiveness of what you’re doing?

We’ll address the second question first, and then offer examples of what companies like Virgin, Zappos, Honeywell, Ford, NCR, ING, and Hewlett-Packard are doing to create and sustain a culture of employee ambassadorship and advocacy.

A culture of customer ‘wow’ once began with employee job satisfaction……..

The history of companies measuring employee job satisfaction, and endeavoring to link employee perceptions with customer behavior goes back almost 100 years. Organizational surveys began during the 1920’s and 1930’s, a result of emphasis on industrial engineering and time-and-motion studies which began at the dawn of the 20th century.

By the 1960’s and 1970’s, many companies were conducting employee attitude and satisfaction studies; and these studies were further refined during the 1980’s and early 1990’s, focused as much on achieving quality as on creating satisfied employees.

….progressed through employee alignment with the company’s mission and brand promise….

In the mid-1990’s, more progressive companies had moved on to employee engagement research. This was a significant step for human resources professionals. It was a recognition that companies needed to view employees not only as a resource but as partners in helping reach overall business goals.

The principal intents of employee engagement, then, are to identify what drew individuals to the company, what keeps them there, what they see as their role and how involved they are in it, and how aligned they are with the company’s goals and culture. Engagement seeks to quantify emotional and rational job satisfaction and motivation to think, feel, and act. This combination is extremely important for training, communication, staff management, and individual and group goal-setting.

Brand engagement is an extension of employee engagement. Most of brand engagement is managed by marketing, and it involves the communication of company values, and its product and service benefits, to current and potential customers, and to other stakeholders. Some companies have recognized that, to deliver the brand promise externally, employees represent the biggest opportunity to arrive at that destination. Involving employees more directly in brand-building has definite advantages for HR, such as attracting and retaining employees, and creating a stronger understanding of the company’s mission and vision, which combine to build a more cohesive and aligned work force.

Employees, whether they are customer facing or not, need to live the brand and company value promise as company representatives. Concepts such as employee engagement and brand engagement (through employees), though more progressive than satisfaction, are frequently not sufficiently targeted to help companies optimize the customer experience or sustain top-level customer value delivery. Employees may believe they are doing valuable things for their company and/or they may have positive feelings about their jobs, their employers, and the brands they represent; but, where is the specificity around building the best customer experience and relationships?

Engagement loosely parallels, in its basic thesis, “The Service Profit Chain”, a model developed by three Harvard professors in the ’90’s, which is generally summarized as happy employees = happy customers = happy shareholders. In other words, at the core of engagement is the tacit belief that there is a direct relationship or linkage between higher employee satisfaction and customer experience. And, as found by noted customer experience expert Frank Capek, though elevated levels of customer service, and also increased profitability, may result from enhanced employee engagement:

“…just because employee satisfaction and engagement are correlated with customer satisfaction doesn’t mean that making employees happier will lead to better customer experience. This is one of those classic traps your college professors warned you about: confusing correlation with causation. I’ve observed that this flaw in logic has led many organizations to invest in trying to make their employees happier in the hope that those happier employees will turn around and deliver a better experience for customers. We’ve just seen too many companies where, at best, more highly engaged employees simply deliver a sub-par experience more enthusiastically.”

One of the shortfalls too often seen in engagement, particularly as this type of research applies to optimizing customer experience, is that, even if employees are trained in brand image, this does not mean they will deliver on the product or service value promise. Image needs to be integrated with building a culture of true customer focus. In other words, the external brand promise has to be experienced by customers every time they interact with the company.

….and has culminated in ambassadorship and advocacy, where company employees ‘live’ the brand promise, for themselves and for the benefit and loyalty behavior of customers

Can companies, through employee research, learn how to prioritize initiatives which will generate optimum staff commitment to the company, to the brand value promise, and to the customers? If employee satisfaction and employee engagement aren’t specifically designed to meet this critical objective, and only tangentially correlate with customer behavior, can a single technique provide the means to do that? The answer to both questions is: Yes, through employee ambassadorship research.

Employee ambassadorship, or employee brand ambassadorship, has direct connections to – yet is distinctive from – both employee satisfaction and employee engagement. As a research framework, 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 explained 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 – Commitment 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

Employees that score high on these three behavioral and mindset components are considered ambassadors. Ambassadorship is linked to the productivity and empowerment elements of employee satisfaction, engagement, and alignment research; however, it is more closely correlated with business results and value-building because its emphasis is building customer bonds through direct and indirect employee interaction.

Some of our key employee ambassadorship and advocacy study findings, conducted among employees in multiple industries, will be presented in Part II.

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