Today’s demanding and continuously changing customer value environment, made even more demanding by lasting effects of the Covid-19 pandemic, and the accompanying employee YOLO and high resignation landscape, requires marketing leaders to understand the links between and drivers behind customer behavior and employee attitude and action.
Employees are now recognized (or should be recognized) as key contributors to, and sustainers of, customer value delivery and brand success — regardless of their role and level within a company. They’re frequently the difference between positive experiences or negative customer experiences, as well as the determining factor as to whether customers stay or go.
It’s almost impossible to have customer commitment and advocacy without employee commitment. These highly invested employees understand their role as customer experience partners — through cultural orientation, training, rewards and recognition, etc. They live that role as customer value delivery agents and brand advocates.
As the brand “owner,” marketing, operations, service, and corporate leaders must partner with HR to determine the links between and causal factors underpinning customer behavior and employee attitude and action; and then, set a course of action to cultivate more employee advocates. More about this in just a bit.
In identifying the basics of how, and where, employee behavior indirectly and directly links to customer behavior, it’s useful to have qualitative and quantitative insights into perceived value delivery from both groups.
We recommend using employee viewpoint “mirroring”, that is including at least one cell of the company’s staff — from areas such as field sales, operations, marketing, and, especially, customer service — to examine key interactions and elements of stakeholder centricity and value focus. Simply ask those employees the same questions asked of customers and specify that they answer the questions the way they believe customers will rate and evaluate them as a supplier.
As an example, one retail financial services firm’s employees had significantly different perceptions of performance than its customers, especially in need anticipation and making the customer feel special — both key linkage components of relationship and emotional bond creation. Employees, in sum, felt they were doing an excellent job in these areas. The reality gap, based on the customers’ perspectives, was far different in nature. Results on these two performance elements indicated a real and troublesome insufficiency of employee investment regarding proactive, differentiating customer value delivery.
As with this example, often customers consider the emotional, relationship-based aspects of value delivery — fairness, honesty and trust, communication, interactive/collaborative components of service, anticipation of needs, brand equity, etc. — much more important than the functional aspects of the relationship. (Thus, they’re more indicative of advocacy and loyalty behaviors.) Customers tend to see the functional aspects of delivery as basic and expected. In other words, functional value is one-dimensional table stakes, not a competitive decision-influencing differentiator. These factors are also essential to employee commitment, to the organization and its customers, with employee advocacy having social participation and emotional connection as added behavioral components.
With today’s greater focus on customer experience, one might expect tendencies for these perceptual gaps between vendors and customers to have narrowed or disappeared. But, not so. In fact, a recent study by a customer experience management consulting organization evaluated 1,000 B2C brands and showed that these serious perceptual gaps are still with us:
– When companies were asked if employees contribute to negative customer experiences, only 29% said YES; yet, 74% of consumers say they do
– When asked about the degree of impact employees have on negative customer experiences, 78% of consumers cited moderate to high risk, compared to only 55% of companies
Increasingly, as practitioners we are coming to understand, and even predict, the effect of employees on the customer experience and customer advocacy behavior. This is a true Holy Grail for many organizations, as they strive to leverage human capital – in the form of commitment, advocacy and CX-EX linkage – to best effect.
As Fortune columnist Thomas Stewart said two decades ago, “Human beings want to pledge allegiance to something. The desire to belong is a foundation value, underlying all others.” This is not a statement of social connection. It is about employees actively contributing, as an enterprise asset, to customer value.
When that “something” is connection and loyalty to a brand, driven in large part by employee participation and investment in reaching that goal, all parties benefit. Central to that participation and investment is collaboration between human resources, operations and marketing to build and sustain employee commitment and advocacy. The reason: For employee commitment and advocacy to thrive, humanity and leadership must be embedded into organizational DNA, and be evident to everyone, every day, throughout the enterprise.