Bonding Employees with Customers: Moving the Culture Beyond Engagement to Ambassadorship


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In a recent 1to1 Media blog, author Tom Hoffman identified the need for employees to move beyond engagement, to a more connected state with customers ( Employee engagement, a long-practiced HR approach for improving staff productivity and reducing turnover, has multiple definitions. Principally, as the blog notes, it is about the connectedness that employees have with a company and its mission; and the blog goes on to describe perspectives on engagement by partner Don Peppers, namely that companies are better positioned to succeed when employees are given the autonomy to make decisions on behalf of customers. This requires a culture which is more communal in nature, as differentiated from typical top-down management.

Further in the blog, Hoffman described a concept which goes beyond engagement. It has been defined by author and consultant, Ramon Benedetto, in his book It’s My Company Too! What Benedetto believes is the missing critical element in their cultures is “entanglement”, described as “a set of conditions in which employee and organization commitment to each person, system, and component in a company is so deeply ensnared in the company’s mission, vision, and values that success is inevitable.”

Except for explicit exclusion of the customer in this definition, entanglement is very close to employee ambassadorship. Entanglement certainly goes beyond engagement, but it falls short of ambassadorship because customer focus is such a critical component of employee behavior. I described the differences between ambassadorship and engagement in a 2009 CustomerThink blog post: As explained, a critical differentiator between ambassadorship and engagement is that ambassadorship absolutely builds customer focus into its mission.

Hoffman identified an organization highlighted in Benedetto’s book, Advocate Good Samaritan Hospital in Downers Grove, IL. This is a hospital that needed patient-centric performance improvement, and a culture that was more collaborative between associates. The transformation took over seven years, beginning in 2003; and, in 2010, the hospital won the Malcolm Baldrige National Quality Award, and was identified as one of the country’s top 100 hospitals by Thomson Reuters in 2009, 2011, and 2012.

These are impressive results for a concept which comes close to being an employee ambassadorship focus; but, that said, again hardly groundbreaking or pathfinding. For years, we have been offering examples of companies practicing employee ambassadorship, where concentration on customer loyalty and experience optimization is integral to making it a reality.

One of my exemplars of employee ambassadorship is Baptist Health Care, located in Pensacola, FL. Their record of success is equally profound when compared to Advocate’s Good Samaritan, but it was achieved a decade earlier. Here is Baptist Health Care’s employee ambassadorship story, as reported in my 2011 book, The Customer Advocate and The Customer Saboteur:

“Baptist Health Care’s culture is so advanced and unique that, during the past several years, over 1,200 healthcare groups and 5,700 healthcare professionals from 47 states have come to Pensacola to learn about the strategies and guiding philosophies that have yielded its best practice results. In fact, BHC has set up a Leadership Institute to help others learn how to achieve similar success, which is, itself, an attractive profit center for the organization. For two days each month, key BHC department leaders hold seminars in Pensacola in which the curriculum includes presentations on the operational and service initiatives which continue to drive such impressive results for the health care system.

As any employee of BHC will attest, these results, and this type of national reputation, cannot be achieved or sustained without vision, planning, organization, dedication, and pure hard work. Baptist has applied liberal doses of each to reach its goals.

Baptist’s cultural transformation began in 1995 when senior staff took a long look at the organization. They weren’t happy with that they saw. As Al Stubblefield, President and CEO of BHC has said: “We felt like we had lost some of our focus on why we’re here. We were caught up in the business side of things and lost touch with our true purpose – the patients.”

By 1996, Baptist had determined that they wanted to be the best health system in America. Continued Stubblefield: “We believed that we could build a competitive advantage if we could provide a level of service excellence not typically seen in health care.” He also knew the level of commitment this would require of himself and everyone at BHC.

By 1999, Baptist Health Care had been able to reduce its employee turnover from 27% to just over 19% and also substantially increase morale levels; however, they knew that setting Standards of Performance was only the beginning. The organization was challenged to build improvement into its program, as well as continuity. As explained by a Baptist senior strategy executive, “Now it’s all about sustaining our efforts. You’ve got to sustain what you’ve already done and you’ve got to continuously improve. That’s why we call this our ‘Journey to Excellence,’ because we believe that it’s a journey without an end. We will never be perfect. We can always improve.”

Awards and notable distinctions Baptist Health Care has earned include:

– The USA Today/RIT Quality Cup for extraordinary results in employee and
patient satisfaction

– The highest hospital employee morale in the country, as reported by a
nationally syndicated employee attitude study.

– The National Leadership Award for Excellence in Patient Care from
Voluntary Hospitals of America

– Finalist visits for the Malcolm Baldrige National Quality Program in 2000,
2001, and 2002; and award recipient in 2003

Beyond employee entanglement, which is an advancement over engagement, Baptist Health Care has clearly created a culture of employee ambassadorship.

Michael Lowenstein, PhD CMC
Michael Lowenstein, PhD CMC, specializes in customer and employee experience research/strategy consulting, and brand, customer, and employee commitment and advocacy behavior research, consulting, and training. He has authored seven stakeholder-centric strategy books and 400+ articles, white papers and blogs. In 2018, he was named to CustomerThink's Hall of Fame.


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