Have you ever wondered why Starbucks employees ask for your name when they take your order? I discovered the real reason in Joseph Michelli’s book, The Starbucks Experience: 5 Principles for Turning Ordinary Into Extraordinary (McGraw-Hill, 2006). It is so the employees can learn your name and ultimately attach it to your order. As a certified Starbucks caffeine junky, I can attest that it is not unusual for someone to welcome me to “my” store by my first name and for the drink to already be made when I reach the counter.
This shows how Starbucks has worked behind the scenes to establish formal “rules” that create a warm, informal feel and make customers welcome. More than that, their employees clearly like working there. It’s the epitome of an employee ambassador.
Many companies, while understanding that their frontline employees are often the first connection to their most important clients, often forget that those employees have to actually like the company—and their job—to serve as employee ambassadors and “spread the right message” of goodwill. These employees must also be given the right tools and information.
So, how do you build ambassadors of goodwill? Try these four suggestions:
- Make sure the frontline employee knows why the company is great.
Annual reports go to the stockholders, but the details are often lost on the frontline ambassadors. Decipher corporate information in a way that is relevant to the frontline employee. During quarterly meetings and weekly team meetings, explain how the company is doing and tell people how their work is contributing to the success. That will help employees talk positively about their job and their company.
The call center director for a large Nashville, Tennessee, insurance company conducts what he calls his “annual road show” to visit call centers in three cities. His “show” includes fun and prizes, along with silly songs and videos. But the key reason for the visit is to share vital details about the success of the company and the impact that the call center has on that success. His call center employees know how they make their company great.
- Make sure you are hiring frontline employees with ambassador skills.
Recently, on a Southwest flight, I experienced the usual silliness of the flight crew. There was the “rapping” of the seat-belt announcement and the birthday song to the person in Row 12. When the flight attendant came down the aisle to tell me to turn off my cell phone, she did it not with animosity but with sarcasm—asking me if I was “talking to someone more important than the 200 people I was holding up on the plane?” She smiled at me as I told the person I had to go. And she thanked me for making the choice everyone around me appreciated. Those within ear-shot broke into a round of applause.
During the flight, I asked her what the company did to “make them so fun and customer focused.” She said, “They don’t make us this way; they hire us this way.”
Whom are you hiring, and why? Do your hiring managers have a clear picture of the attitude you want a new person to have? Or are they hiring to meet a hurried quota? Ambassadors are chosen based on their skills and personality. New employees should be, too. I have met very few Southwest employees who were not good ambassadors for the company. The book, Nuts!: Southwest Airlines’ Crazy Recipe for Business and Personal Success (Bard Press, 1996), by Kevin and Jackie Freiberg will give you several unusual ways to create company ambassadors.
- Make sure frontline employees feel valued in their job.
Here is a good question for your next employee survey: “If you were to describe your job to one of your friends, what words would you use?”
Do your employees feel valued in their job? Do they understand how they fit into the success of the company? Are your frontline supervisors building relationships that allow their team members to flourish? A typical full-time frontline employee spends almost 40 percent of his or her awake time on the job. If the relationships at work are not positive and engaging, odds are that the relationships between your employees and your customers won’t be, either. Most Fortune 1,000 companies regularly survey employees to measure employee satisfaction. If you don’t ask your employees, in a consistent and confidential manner, what they really think about their job, you’ll never know where to focus money and resources.
- Remind your employees of their role as ambassadors.
At Starbucks, leaders constantly remind their employees of their role as ambassador. Employees understand they are not just selling coffee but also selling relationships. Do your employees understand their roles? It is important they know that people base their buying decisions on more than products and services.
Whether they’re buying coffee, considering life insurance or flying, most customers would rather do business with a company of frontline service ambassadors.