Eyes On The Customer Experience Prize: Will 2016 (Finally) Be The Year Of The Emotionally-Driven Employee Ambassador?

by Michael Lowenstein on April 1, 2016

Michael Lowenstein, Ph.D., CMC Thought Leadership Principal, Beyond Philosophy

We think so.  And, building on recently completed, groundbreaking employee ambassadorship research which supports our perspective, we’re convinced of it.

Employees are the common denominator in optimizing the customer experience. Making the experience for customers positive and attractive at each point where the company interacts with them requires an in-depth understanding of both customer needs and how what the company currently does achieves that goal, particularly through the employees. That means that companies must understand, and leverage, the impact employees have on customer behavior.

Supporters of employee satisfaction and engagement research techniques, with their focus on retention, productivity, and fit or alignment with business objectives, have made some broad, bold, and often unchallenged, assertions with respect to how these states impact customer behavior.  Chief among these is that, beyond skills, everyday performance, and even commitment to act in the best interest of their employers, employees have natural tendencies and abilities to deliver customer value.  Though on the surface this sounds plausible, and even rather convincing; a thorough examination of how employee satisfaction and engagement link to customer behavior will yield only a tenuous, assumptive and anecdotal connection. In other words, there is much vocal punditry, and even whole books, on this subject, but little substantive proof.

Powerful new research has produced results which allow companies to identify current levels of employee commitment and provides actionable direction on how to help them become more committed and active brand ambassadors. Employee ambassadorship focuses on how to improve customer experiences, and their loyalty and advocacy behavior, and in turn increase sales and profits,

It is often stated that the greatest asset of a company is its employees, and this research has uncovered how an organization can link, drive and leverage employee attitudes and behavior to expand customer-brand bonding and bottom-line performance—and this is revolutionary!  Employee ambassadorship research can be combined with existing customer and employee loyalty solutions to provide companies comprehensive and actionable insights on the state of their employees’ attitudes and action propensities, and how those may be affecting customer behavior..

Employee ambassadorship identifies new categories and drivers of employee emotional and rational commitment, while it also links with the emotional and rational aspects of customer commitment.  At the poles, these employee-focused commitment categories include:

– Ambassadors, the employees who are most committed to a brand. Ambassadors represent employees who are strongly committed to the company’s brand promise, the organization itself, and its customers. They also behave and communicate in a consistently positive manner toward the company, both inside and outside.

– Saboteurs, the employees who are the least committed to a brand. Saboteurs are active and frequently vocal detractors about the organization itself, its culture and policies, and its products and services. These individuals are negative advocates, communicating their low opinions and unfavorable perspectives both to peers inside the company and to customers, and others, outside the company.

In any group of employees, irrespective whether it’s a service department or a branch office, there will be differing levels of commitment to a brand and company, its value proposition, and its customers. If the employees are negative to the point of being saboteurs, they will actively work against your 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 your customers.

Our research process 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.

  • Next, we incorporate multiple overall ‘value indicators’, 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, and c) their prioritized value to the organization.

In the coming months, we will provide material demonstrating what our employee research has identified, and why even usually risk-averse HR directors actively support, and recognize the value of, new insights we’ve uncovered. For now, here are some highlights, from a recent ambassadorship study conducted on behalf of the customer service operation of a major insurer:

  • In prior engagement studies, our client had identified poorly performed employee attributes.  They put some initiatives in place based on this research, with little real result.  Our research, however, uncovered previously unidentified subconscious employee priorities:  Customer focus and ‘bonding’ elements had particular promise for the organization.  Dedication to provide value to customers, using employee feedback for improvement within the department, leveraging teamwork, recognizing that employees have an effect on customer behavior, and enabling employees with more personal decision-making in their jobs.  These, we determined, would provide the most enterprise value.  

  • Conversely, lack of freedom to express ideas, poor implementation of ideas, insufficient cross-training, feeling little value as a team member, lack of feedback, feeling that leadership has less commitment to service value than the rank-and-file, and low belief that other groups within the company have equal customer focus were undermining, even destroying, employee value to the enterprise.

  • Our client had the belief that very few of the over 500 customer service operation employees included in the study had tenure of more than ten years; however, employees with this length of service represented close to one-quarter of all who participated.  More important, tenure had a significant impact on degree of employee commitment.  Commitment declined after one year of service, went further downhill at five years, was even lower at ten years, and remained low among those with over ten years of service.

This, as noted, is the tip of the employee emotion, attitude, and behavior research insights iceberg. There’s a lot more to tell.

Republished with permission from CustomerThink.com

Michael Lowenstein provides strategic consulting, research design and in-depth, leading-edge analysis that helps clients deliver outstanding business results through deeper customer experience, communication, relationship, employee and brand equity insights. Beyond Philosophy provide consulting, specialised research & training from our Global Headquarters in Tampa, Florida, USA.
Share this post:
Michael LowensteinEyes On The Customer Experience Prize: Will 2016 (Finally) Be The Year Of The Emotionally-Driven Employee Ambassador?