It all begins with a common goal — your brand promise. This promise could be to have the best customer service, or to offer customers the best value for their dollar. The important thing is to remember that no one organization can do everything well. You have to pick and choose. Frances Frei put it best when she said that to be the best in class at something, in order to be great — you have to be bad. And that the well-intentioned desire to be great at everything is exactly what leads to “exhausted mediocrity.” To differentiate yourself, your brand promise must be enterprise-wide, sustainable and measurable. Once the promise is identified, it needs to permeate from the top down and employee engagement is how you do that.
This is important because a recent Gallup report found ”an alarming 70% of American employees aren't working to their full potential.” Of those 70%, 52% are not engaged and another 18% are actively not engaged, which can lead to their lack of productivity, more likelihood that they will drive customers away and disloyalty to their employers.
The linkage between the salesperson on the frontline and the CEO who is making a promise to the marketplace must be aligned in order to nurture loyal customers. An example of this done well was Commerce Bank who decided to differentiate itself by focusing on service. They did this by focusing all their hiring, training and engagement strategies around service that stretched across the entire corporation. This lead to huge growth for this bank and ended up outpacing larger traditional banks . . . why? Because the customers who were attracted to Commerce Bank’s brand promise didn’t mind paying a little more to get what they most valued…service. Competitors that tried to copy this experience ultimately failed, because it didn’t fit their budget or their brand promise.
Though the VP of Marketing is making decisions on what he or she is going to say in the marketplace about a company’s brand, he/she must consider how the frontline will be able to deliver. If there is a communication breakdown along the way where the brand promise cannot be realized by your frontline staff, you are going to create a scenario that only delivers conflict, displeased consumers and a frustrated frontline. If a brand is making promises that the frontline can’t deliver, then both are set to fail. This is why organization-wide alignment is so important.
Employee engagement is much more than simply offering performance-driven incentives, which we find is actually a weak approach compared to true engagement strategies that include empowerment, encouragement, community and contribution. Coaching is an effective method of employee engagement that benefits all staff, especially the frontline. This is because client-facing staff are often directly associated with a bad or good experience surrounding a consumer’s relationship with the brand. The ability to empower and educate your frontline with coaching will not only increase your employees’ confidence, but also positively impact the caliber of service they offer your customers. Coaching is an investment of time, resources and attention — but it is worth the effort to show your frontline staff that they are invaluable as client-facing ambassadors, and also to prepare and empower them for any challenge they may be faced with.
Reported benefits of coaching for employee engagement:
1. Improved relationships with direct reports (77%).
2. Improved relationships with peers (63%).
3. Better teamwork (67%).
4. Increased job satisfaction (61%).
Organizational benefits include better:
1. Productivity (53%).
2. Quality (48%).
3. Organizational strength (48%).
4. Customer service (39%).
5. Retention (32%).
Giving your employees an active role in the success of the brand and making sure this aligns with your brand promise is key to a successful outcome. The “do this, get that” doesn’t work for consumers and it doesn’t work for employees. Yes, people want to be rewarded for their efforts, but intrinsically there isn’t any emotional attachment on a performance-based metric, compared to the contribution or the sense of building something that great employees get in great organizations.
1. Define your brand promise in as simple terms as possible. You can’t be all things to all people and if you try to be, you will fail — it’s that simple. Pick the most important thing to your brand that aligns with your values and culture.
2. Filter every decision and criteria around how you’re going to enable your employees and your customers along that continuum of experience. This includes training, incentives, motivation, values, communication — and all these things need to line up like tumblers in a lock.
3. Measure your degrees of separation from your promise and, that way, if you didn’t deliver on your promise, you can assess where the challenge is. You’ll find out whether it was an issue of alignment, empowerment, engagement or simple miscommunication. Find the root cause of the disconnect — often it’s the frontline, because they are in closest proximity to the consumer — and find out how to make the right decision.
The reality is that everyone in your organization has a role to play. Think about it — while your CMO may be 6 or 7 degrees of separation from the person-to-person delivery of the brand promise, every decision he or she makes has a huge influence on how customers actually experience your brand. The connection is employee engagement, ensuring everyone through that continuum — from frontline to C Level leaders — is aligned around a common goal. That goal manifests itself in the way that policies are set and decisions are made, and the way that ideas come together to support that brand promise.
If you can’t have your executive team meeting with every customer, make sure your frontline sounds just like them…engaged and aligned.