Employee Loyalty + Engagement + Ambassadorship = Customer Loyalty: The Winning Equation


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From many perspectives, employee loyalty and ambassadorship, irrespective of function and level, are crucial elements in any customer loyalty, CRM or CEM program; and, without requisite employee loyalty, plus their commitment, engagement and productivity, the chances of a customer loyalty program succeeding are, in the long-run, not very good.

In the United States, there are few industries not experiencing high pressure on finding, and keeping, qualified personnel. Even with continued economic softness, employment rates are pretty high, and staffing has become a critical priority. It’s been suggested that companies should apply a marketing approach to the challenge of attracting and keeping employees. The logic goes like this: You have a product called a ‘job’ that is being sold to a customer called an ’employee’. When you think about employee loyalty (and continuity of the enterprise culture) as a marketing challenge, the question to ask is: What actions should be taken to turn prospective employees into new hires? And, once that happens, what actions are required to turn new hires into longer-term employees and ultimately, staunch company advocates and ambassadors?

With every employee lifecycle comes predictable crisis points when staff defection risks are greatest. The better a company can predict and plan for these likely stress points, the more chance defection can be prevented and the employee can be retained. . Three common crisis periods for employees are:

(1) New-hire hysteria. This condition can be brought on by a number of ‘new job’ circumstances including under-whelming assignments, friction with a new boss or an unexpectedly heavy workload. It doesn’t take much for the new employee to call a headhunter or even the old employer and say the four deadly words: “I made a mistake.” Solution: Pair the new recruit with an experienced associate who can help guide the employee through this difficult transition time. In addition, provide a new hire orientation to acclimate the new employee to the company.

(2) Promotion peril. A employee is vulnerable to defection when he or she is ready for a promotion but a slot is unavailable. Ambitious, upwardly-mobile employees ‘waiting’ for promotions are ripe for the picking from competitors who are only too happy to give them that next step up on the ladder. Solution: Buy some extra time by putting the employee in a special project role (2-3 months in duration) that recognizes his or her achievements. In the interim, find that promotion slot!

(3) Boredom blues. The most productive and proactive employees typically don’t tolerate boredom well. No promotion on the horizon? No new project to look forward to? New jobs outside your company will look more and more attractive. Solution: Find out what specific areas most interest the employee and find ways to tailor at least some of the bore employee’s assignments around those areas. Here’s where staggered stock options can also help. As a an additional safeguard, schedule a chunk of the options to vest about six months after the period when new employees would be most prone to boredom blues.

But, managing the employee life cycle is more than simply addressing employee crisis points. It’s about laying a strong foundation that helps preempt employee defection issues before they even occur. That means creating a culture within the organization that nurtures staff loyalty from the moment the new hire walks through the door and throughout the life cycle of the employee. The good news is that employees, by their very nature, desire to part of something bigger. As Fortune Magazine columnist Thomas Stewart says, “Human beings want to pledge allegiance to something. The desire to belong is a foundation value, underlying all others.”

In our 2002 book, Customer WinBack, my colleague Jill Griffin and I identified nine ‘best practices’ for building employee loyalty and ambassadorship:

1. Build a Climate of Trust – That Works Both Ways
2. Train, Train, Train and Cross-Train
3. Make Sure Each Employee Has A Career Path
4. Provide Frequent Evaluations and Reviews
5. Seek To Inform, Seek To Debrief
6. Recognize and Reward Initiative
7. Ask Employees What They Want
8. By All Means, Have Fun
9. Hire The Right Employees In The First Place

Let’s look at two of these which are closely related: Building trust and creating communication pathways.

Many firms are finding that with employee trust and empowerment comes profits. Several years ago, Southwestern Bell (part of AT&T, and dba AT&T Southwest) Yellow Pages increased the amount of billing adjustments allowed by call center representatives from $150 to $500 per customer. This way, any service rep could issue an adjustment voucher without any manager ever seeing it. What’s more, virtually all customer complaints which use to require up to 5 days for resolution could now be resolved the same day. Though some people in the company were concerned this $500 adjustment limit would cause costs to skyrocket, adjustments showed only a modest increase of 6%. What has increased, however, is the company’s revenues which have shown continual improvement of 8 to 10 percent annually.

To build more employee trust and empowerment into your company culture, consider the following:

• Insure staff trust and empowerment are key values in the firm’s mission and vision statements
• Practice effective story-telling
• Create company rites and rituals that help reinforce the rewards of employee trust and empowerment
• Maintain a free flow of information between management and staff to reinforce the trust factor and help prevent negative communication and gossip.
• Teach senior managers the importance of visibly ‘walking the talk’ and inspiring employee trust.

Employees often complain that while they are working harder than ever (and with fewer resources), their contributions or thoughts on anything beyond their immediate jobs are rarely sought. Says an employee in a communications company, “I have lots of ideas for how my company could be more effective on the Internet but I’m not one of the inner circle of people making those decisions and don’t know how to approach them. They all sit in adjacent offices and seem to talk more to each other than anyone else. There’s little reaching out to a broad array of employees for ideas and input.”

Employees who feel underutilized or ignored become unproductive and often seek jobs elsewhere. That’s why Michael Bonsignore, former chairman and chief executive of Honeywell International, spent two days a week traveling to Honeywell plants and offices in the U.S. and abroad to meet staff. While time-consuming and often exhaustive, these meetings are a crucial way, as Bonsignore saw it, to keep employees motivated. On a typical week Bonsignore visited one or two sites, held a general town meeting followed by another meeting with 20 ‘high potential’ employees, answering questions and listening to their thoughts. It was at the smaller gathering where the CEO’s real learning often happened. Said Bonsignore, “Since no other executives but me is present at those small meetings, there’s an atmosphere of candor and a chance to get a unique perspective I would never get if I stayed in my office.”

Floors, not miles, were what separated employees of The Richards Group, an ad agency based in Dallas;.and that fact worried founder Stan Richards. Beginning in 1997, when the company became big enough to occupy two floors in the same building, Richards was concerned that something special about the culture would be lost. Said Richards, “Everything changes when you move to multiple floors. People become tribal. Communication becomes more formal—and less effective.”

So, Richards devised a unique solution. He began holding regular meetings in the stairwell between the two floors so that staffers could learn about company news directly from him. Recognizing the importance of staff intimacy and open communication Richards noted, “Agencies can be hotbeds of paranoia. The best way to combat that tendency is simply not to keep secrets from each other.” We’ve experienced similar paranoia, cloistering, and information hoarding in many organizations, irrespective of industry or size. It’s dangerous and culture-eroding.

To foster effective communication with staff, consider the following:

• Practice radical inclusion. Letting people hear news at exactly the same time sends a signal that everyone is valued and no one is excluded from ‘the know.’

• To minimize the rumor mill, practice spontaneous communication. Stan Richards strived to communicate with his employees within 15 minutes of receiving the information. His philosophy: people should hear good news or bad right way.

• The larger the group, the smaller the attention span. Keep larger group meetings short and sweet.

• Be engaging. Make e-mails, newsletters, intranet sites, bulletin boards, etc. fun and interesting to read. Employees love to see their names and pictures in print. This inclusion increases readership.

• Be on the lookout for unique and novel ways to communicate with staff. From panel discussions, to town meetings to special messages on payroll checks, use a variety of forums to connect with staff.

These approaches are just the tip of the iceberg. All are directed at creating the winning employee-customer behavior equation.

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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