Employee Ambassdorship and Customer Advocacy: Delivering ‘Wow’ Value Within the Enterprise (Part II, Study Findings)


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Because of my long-time strong interest in employee contribution to customer behavior, several years ago (before joining Market Probe), I developed and conducted research through a leading polling service among 4,300 adults who are employed full time. Sample size was sufficient to provide baseline results in close to twenty major business and industry areas.

The questionnaire utilized for this study was constructed based on the ‘three legs’ of the employee ambassadorship stool, identified in my Part I article (
consisted of nine dependent attributes, or agree/disagree scale statements (three in each of the legs). In addition, a number of loyalty and advocacy (positive and negative communication and other behavior) metrics were used to help validate the employee ambassadorship framework.

We most typically concentrate on what drives active, positive, vocal commitment behavior, i.e. ambassadorship and advocacy; however, it is at least equally important to identify where employee indifference and negativism, potentially leading to cultural sabotage attitudes and actions, exist, why they exist, and how they can be mitigated or eliminated. If employee ambassadorship and advocacy represent the North Pole, then alienation and sabotage should be considered the South Pole.

In the research, about 15.5% of adults, employed full-time and working for a company, were identified through the framework as Ambassadors. At the opposite end of the commitment spectrum, those employees we identify as Saboteurs, about 29.5% qualified by their answers to be in this group.

Several industry groups had ambassadorship and sabotage levels at approximately the same percentages as overall full-time employees:

– Education
– Healthcare and Social Assistance
– Technology Services
– Banking and Finance
– Engineering Services
– Insurance

There were, as well, industry groups covered in the research with very high ambassadorship levels, coupled with low sabotage levels: Religious and Non-Profit organizations, Construction, and Legal Services. Conversely, there were industry groups with very low ambassadorship and high sabotage levels: Telecommunications, Retail Trade, Manufacturing, Transportation and Warehousing, and Accommodation and Food Services. It’s interesting to note that, especially in telecom, retailing, lodging and food services, these are some of the industries so often featured in business studies and trade stories and articles as representing the poorest reported customer experiences and highest levels of service complaint.

Some of our key findings were as follows:

1. Employee Loyalty

In addition to employee motivation, cohesion, productivity and alignment with corporate values and culture, Human Resources is perhaps most interested and focused on learning how to increase staff loyalty. Our research identified employee loyalty level through three specific metrics: rating of the organization as a place to work, likelihood to recommend the organization to friends or family members as a place to work, and level of felt loyalty to the organization. Overall, 18% of the respondents exhibited high loyalty to their organizations, and 20% exhibited low loyalty; and, importantly, there were strong, almost polar opposite differences in organizational loyalty depending on whether an employee was categorized as an ambassador or saboteur:

Low Employee Loyalty – 19.8% (Total), 0.0% (Ambassador), 61.0% (Saboteur)

Medium Employee Loyalty – 61.9% (Total), 27.3% (Ambassador), 38.5% (Saboteur)

High Employee Loyalty – 18.3% (Total), 72.7% (Ambassador), 0.5% (Saboteur)

These are definite ‘pay attention’ findings for HR. It’s a concern, of course, that almost 20% of employees have low organizational loyalty; however, it’s an even greater challenge that there is three times the level of potential staff turnover among saboteurs, who, before they depart, will undermine the performance and loyalty of other employees. Our research provides very specific insights into why this is occurring. At the same time, the organization will be very well-served to emulate the behaviors and attitudes of ambassadors through the rest of the culture.

2. Vocal Commitment to the Company

Commitment to the company, in the form of loyalty and related attitudes and behaviors, is a fairly basic requirement for employee ambassadorship. As important is feeling that the company is both a good place to work and that its products and services are good, and communicating this belief to others, including colleagues, friends, and customers.

Similar to overall employee loyalty findings, ambassadors were found to be both positive and vocal promoters and representatives of the company as a place to work, while most saboteurs never, or less frequently, said anything good about the company as an employer. In terms of the highest frequency of saying positive things about the company as a place to be employed, ambassadors were over 40 times more likely to do this than saboteurs (85.7% compared to 2.1%):

Rarely/Never Say Positive Things About Employer – 20.4 (Total), 0.9% (Ambassador), 55.5% (Saboteur)

Sometimes/Often Say Positive Things About Employer – 49.6% (Total), 13.4% (Ambassador), 42.4% (Saboteur)

Almost Always/Always Say Positive Things About Employer – 30.0% (Total), 85.7% (Ambassador), 2.1% (Saboteur)

When asked if they ever say anything bad about the company as a place to work, almost none of the ambassadors (1.9%) were frequent or occasional negative communicators in this regard. However, saboteurs were 26 times more likely to communicate to others in negative ways, either frequently or occasionally (49.4%). It’s clear that this kind of attitude and behavior can have significant impact on attracting the best employees, keeping them, and having them be focused on customers.

3. Vocal Commitment to Company Products/Services

The third principal component of ambassadorship is representing the company’s products and services, i.e. its brand promise, to others, both inside and outside of the organization. Similar to their responses regarding the company as a place of employment, the disparity in saying good things about the company’s products and services between ambassadors and saboteurs was dramatic: over 20 times more ambassadors always or almost always said positive things compared to saboteurs (78.3% vs. 3.7%)

Rarely/Never Say Products/Services Are Good – 18.1% (Total), 1.6% (Ambassadors), 45.0% (Saboteurs)

Sometimes/Often Say Products/Services Are Good – 54.1% (Total), 20.1% Ambassadors), 50.3% (Saboteurs)

Almost Always/Always Say Products/Services Are Good – 27.8% (Total), 78% (Ambassadors), 3.7% (Saboteurs)

Saying negative things about the company’s products or services was also significantly more prevalent among soboteurs, those employees who are truly alienated. Over 45% of employee saboteurs said negative things about products or services at least some of the time, compared to only 2.6% of ambassadors.

Again, companies need to focus on the multi-layered consequences of such results. What actions should companies be taking with insights such as these? Here are several;

– Employees, at all levels and in all functions need to have a thorough understanding of what’s important to customers so that their actions match customer expectations and requirements.

– Employees’ behavior needs to be aligned around customer experiences

– Build processes, technology, training, and management practices that support employees being able to optimize customer experience

Perhaps most of all, companies should evaluate the effectiveness of rules and metrics associated with delivering customer value. For instance, how effective is the company, and employees, at unearthing and resolving unexpressed complaints which may be undermining customer loyalty? How are non-financial metrics viewed relative to financial ones? What types of automated support processes exist, and how well are employees trained in them, to make serving customers easier? How does the company balance taking care of existing customers, particularly those who may be at risk of defection, with acquiring new ones? How much cross-functional collaboration exists in support of the customer?

For companies to create and sustain higher levels of employee ambassadorship, it’s necessary to have customer and employee intelligence specifically designed to close gaps between customer experience, outmoded internal beliefs, and rudimentary support and training. It’s also essential that the employee experience be given as much emphasis as the customer experience. If ambassadorship is to flourish, there must be value, and a sense of shared purpose, for the employee as well as the company and customer – in the form of recognition, reward (financial and training), and career opportunities.

Examples of Employee Ambassadorship at work

As cited in Part I, companies like Virgin, Honeywell, NCR, ING, and Hewlett-Packard are actively creating and sustaining cultures of employee ambassadorship.

Hewlett-Packard, for example, has a program called ‘Demo Days’. All employees, those currently working for HP and also retired employees and irrespective of function or level within the organization, volunteer and are trained to spend days at local electronic retail stores, as brand ambassadors for the company, interacting with potential customers. HP does this several times a year, and it helps the organization build greater customer centricity into the culture.

At Zappos, the highly successful online footwear and clothing retailer, there’s a strong belief that ‘your culture is your brand.’ During the hiring process, prospective employees, however talented and experienced, must fit into the culture. Following hiring, all employees – regardless of function or title – are trained in customer loyalty, service, and company values and vision over a four-week period. Two of those weeks are spent are spent on the phone taking calls from customers.

Zappos has defined its company culture in terms of 10 core values, the first of which is “Deliver WOW Through Service”. As summarized by CEO, Tony Hseih:

“Every employee can affect your company’s brand, not just the front line employees that are paid to talk to your customers. It can be a positive influence, or a negative influence. We decided a long time ago that we didn’t want our brand to be just about shoes, or clothing, or even online retailing. We decided that we wanted to build our brand to be about the very best customer service and the very best customer experience. We believe that customer service shouldn’t be just a department, it should be the entire company. Our belief is that if you get the culture right, most of the other stuff – like great customer service, or building a great long-term brand, or
passionate employees and customers – will happen naturally on its own.”

Again, ambassadorship is most successful when employees are recognized and appreciated, and can participate in the benefit and value they provide to customers. Hal Rosenbluth, former CEO of the highly successful, multi-billion dollar travel management company, Rosenbluth International (which is now part of American Express Travel Related Services), said in his book, The Customer Comes Second:

“We’re talking about a change that puts the people in organizations above everything else. They are cared for, valued, empowered, and motivated to care for their clients. When a company puts its people first, the results are spectacular. Their people are inspired to provide a level of service that truly comes from the heart. It can’t be faked. Companies are only fooling themselves when they believe that ‘The Customer Comes First.’ People do not inherently put the customer first, and they certainly don’t do it because their employer expects it. We’re not saying choose your people over your customers. We’re saying focus on your people because of your customers. That way, everybody wins.”

Whether an organization is a major international corporation, or a small, embryonic start-up, these words represent the spirit of what employee ambassadorship can accomplish for a company. Stated simply in the title of this piece, ambassadorship is employees living the promise of ‘wow’ customer value delivery, irrespective of whether they are interfacing with purchasers of the company’s products and/or services, other colleagues, friends or family members. It is also the partnership, and shared destiny, between employees and their employer. When this is done well, all stakeholders win.

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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