Michael Lowenstein, Ph.D., CMC Thought Leadership Principal, Beyond Philosophy
Whenever the subject of employee satisfaction and engagement arises, it is often difficult to differentiate between them. If you believe that “a satisfied employee IS an engaged employee.” It’s likely that you can’t articulate a distinction.
A satisfied employee can pretty much be described as one who is relatively happy or more than complacent about their day-to-day job experience: the work, pay, benefits, possibilities for growth, promotions and possibly more – – like training, work environment, and reward and recognition. These employees start their work day, they perform their job at acceptable levels, and they go home. Although satisfied employees are generally supportive of the business, they likely won’t go beyond doing the basics of their job descriptions.
An engaged employee, to follow the accepted definition of HR professionals and consultants, is aligned with the goals of the organization and is highly productive. These employees have some potential to impact the customer experience; and there is documented, often incidental, evidence of correlation between the two. However, there is little proven direct causation, the specific, defined linkage of employee thinking and behavior to customer loyalty and advocacy.
In part because of today’s greater emphasis on the emotional components of customer experience and customer value delivery, and how this must be an enterprise cultural priority, employees have become center stage in optimizing customer behavior. Company goals now include building a corps of employees who perform at proactive, customer-centric levels beyond engagement and satisfaction. These “employee ambassadors” have three key behavioral traits:
• Commitment to the company – Commitment to, and being positive about, the company (through personal satisfaction, fulfillment, and an expression of pride), and to being a contributing, loyal, and fully aligned, member of the culture
• Commitment to the product/service value proposition – Commitment to, and alignment with, the mission and goals of the company, as expressed through perceived excellence (benefits and solutions) provided by products and/or services
• Commitment to the customers – Commitment to understanding customer needs, and to performing in a manner which provides customers with optimal experiences and relationships, as well as delivering the highest level of product and/or service value
In content we’ve produced (webinars, white papers, posts, and a new book on the subject) the concept and value of employee ambassadorship, functioning within more humanistic and proactive organizations, has been fully laid out. In looking at the progression from satisfaction to engagement to ambassadorship, we have examined research conducted over the past three decades What we have observed are studies that examined some contributing factors of employee experience and value, such as reward and recognition, job fit, career opportunities, work environment, and departmental and management relationships. But the critical component often totally missing from all of this material is the definitive linkage and commitment to customers.
Employee ambassadorship identifies new categories and key drivers of employee subconscious emotional and rational commitment, while it is also liked with the emotional and rational aspects of customer commitment.
When offering results of research on employee satisfaction and engagement, companies will often emphasize things like brand image and social media activity as part of employee training and responsibility. Brand image and reputation are definitely important, as is staff willingness and capability to use digital media in support of their employer, But just because those employees have a solid understanding of the brand does not mean they will deliver on the product or service promise the enterprise has made to customers. Brand image needs to be complimented and supported by a culture and set of processes dedicated to both employee and customer experience. That brand promise has to be delivered by customers every time they interact with the company. Contribution to customer experience also needs to be baked into the organizational DNA and into every employee’s job description.
Our employee research employee is built around identifying drivers of ambassadorship. It brings in several components which build on, but differ markedly, from traditional, or standard, employee satisfaction and engagement techniques:
– For one difference, the attributes we examine actively include a significant proportion that are customer focus-related. We’ve seen employee surveys where there are no customer-related value elements.
– Next, we incorporate multiple overall ‘value indicators’, key factors which examine personal commitment to the organization, degree of positive and negative word of mouth on behalf of the company’s products and services, and strength of belief in the value of these products and services to customers.
– We also develop an emotional profile, i.e. how employees feel about the work they do for the company, and identify what employees desire most in their jobs
– Finally, we evaluate each of the attributes based on a) how employees rate them, i.e. agree/disagree, b) how much the employees want them, i.e their stated desirability, and c) their prioritized value to the organization.
Consider how frequently your customers interact with your employees, either directly or indirectly. Whether it is through a computer screen in a customer service chat, on the telephone, or in person, every employee, whether customer-facing or not, should be an enthusiastic and committed representative for the brand. If employee satisfaction and employee engagement are not designed to meet this critical objective of the customer experience, there will be a sub-optimal downstream result with regard to customer behavior.
In any group of employees, irrespective whether it’s a service department, technical specialists, or a branch office, there will be differing levels of commitment to the employer’s brand and the company itself, its value proposition, and its customers. If employees are negative to the point of undermining, and even sabotaging customer experience value, they will actively work against business goals. However, if employees are ambassadors, and whether they interact with customers directly, indirectly, or even not at all, they will better service and support customers.
For companies to create and sustain higher levels of employee ambassadorship, 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. Combined, the ambassadorship concept, research protocol, and job experience applications can lead and enable any organization to be more stakeholder-centric and dynamic. Often this journey begins with the recognition of its value by enterprise leaders, essential to plant the seeds of ambassadorship.