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Jacqueline Mitchell

The Survey Initiative

Consultant

Read more about Jacqueline Mitchell

Are your employees your brand advocates?

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Building and maintaining brand loyalty is the ‘Golden Chalice’ for businesses all over the world – without it, businesses lack identity; customers and staff feel no loyalty and trade is lost.If you are to succeed over time and avoid being a flash in the pan, it is absolutely essential that everyone who comes into contact with your brand understands what it represents and what it says about the business. 

First, let me state from the outset that if your culture doesn’t reflect your brand, trying to get your staff to, will be like trying to force a square peg into a round hole. Brand advocacy will only work when it is adopted by staff in a natural manner rather than forced upon.

The first place to start is your business culture. By developing a culture that is integral with your brand, it will make it far easier for your staff to understand what the organisation they work for represents – without that level of understanding, how can they possibly reflect your brand’s values?

The all important link to positive customer experience

The digital age heralded the dawn of online shopping, with social media hot on its tails.  This highly reactive combination has made the retail marketplace even more competitive, with people shopping online for brands they both recognise and trust.  Whether online or on the high street customers are more discerning about where they take their business and the level of service they expect, forcing businesses to respond to customer demands quicker than ever before, as poor customer experiences can go viral in seconds.

I was talking with a trainer of sales staff a couple of weeks ago; we talked about how selling a product is no longer about getting a quick sale at the highest margin, but about forging a relationship built on trust. Social media means that when things go wrong we use feedback forums such as TripAdvisor to tell thousands of people of our experience, no longer just the handful of people we meet down the pub. So managing the brand is about the culture of the organisation, as  it starts (and can end) at the front door with the person we meet or speak to. We can't expect our staff to be our brand and deliver the service we want to our customers, if we don't reflect that internally.

Let’s compare two of the UK’s biggest brands – Tesco and the John Lewis Partnership.  Recent bad press aside, the Tesco brand is strangely, despite all the inventive advertising, quite an impersonal one. Sure, prices are competitive and you can buy most of what you want under the one roof, but do the staff seem happy? According to a Which? poll Tesco came bottom out of all the major supermarket chains with just 45% for customer service, whereas Waitrose came top with 82%. Unwittingly then perhaps, does the Tesco employee reflect more the business culture Tesco operates and the value that Tesco’s has for them rather the brand it would like us all to buy into?

In contrast, you have the John Lewis Partnership, which is a great example of positive employee brand advocacy. The business, which famously calls all of its employees partners regardless of their position, is the largest employee-owned business in the UK and for a very good reason – staff understand and trust the brand, and the John Lewis culture reflects what it wants to stand for on the outside through how it operates on the inside.  The staff therefore  embrace the John Lewis brand and their relationships with customers are far superior as a consequence.

How to measure staff engagement in the brand?

As I indicated earlier, if your company culture doesn’t clearly and accurately reflect your brand, encouraging your staff to become advocates is not something that will happen overnight. You can’t show them some all singing, all dancing PowerPoint presentation that will inspire them to want to embody your brand. It has to come from the top down and must be intrinsically woven into the culture of the entire business. 

To measure how your brand is perceived internally, a well planned and executed staff survey – across all levels from the shop floor to the boardroom – is worth its weight in gold. If properly conducted and then analysed, it can tell you where the process is slipping. For example, does your internal culture reflect and support your brand?  Do staff understand the brand? Do they feel engaged and happy? Is it being adopted by everyone in the business and is it fully supported at every level? Also run customer experience research and ensure it reflects data in your staff surveys too.

By listening to your employees’ needs and reacting accordingly, you will increase the likelihood of them wanting to support your brand.  If you achieve this, anyone they come into contact with on a professional or personal level will hear only good stories about your business, helping you to avoid the potentially huge negative impact on your brand that disgruntled staff can cause.

Don’t ‘do a Ratner’

Also, spare a thought about your own actions and attitude.  Do you embody your brand? Do you live by your brand’s principles and importantly, do you believe in them? A great, albeit it extreme example to use here is Gerald Ratner, who wiped £500 million from the value of Ratners jewellers with one speech in 1991, by laughing at his own products.

However strong you are at engendering brand advocacy, don’t ever become complacent. Review your processes and levels of employee advocacy on a regular basis. Rome wasn’t built in a day, but Pompeii was destroyed in mere seconds. Protect your brand at all times by being in tune with your staff because there really is such a thing as a bad public relations story and your staff could be at the root of it.

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Jacqueline Mitchell

Consultant

Read more from Jacqueline Mitchell
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