A friend of mine recently posted this Richard Branson quote on LinkedIn: “If you look after your staff, they’ll look after your customers. It’s that simple”.
I sat back and thought about this for a minute - surely that was oversimplifying it? An employer just needs their staff to do what they need them to do to fulfil order quotas. Full stop. Right?
An organisation’s employees (in retail and from an S4RB ‘One Team’ point of view, this includes head office colleagues, shop floor colleagues and suppliers) can be a significant marketing asset. An engaged employee who lives and breathes your brand values will reflect that in interactions they have with your customers.
If an organisation wants to provide legendary customer experience, they need to train their employees to deliver that experience. However, creating a workforce that is educated about the organisation's goals and is enthusiastic about meeting those goals is not easy. Businesses must make serious efforts so that every employee is working towards common goals. A disengaged workforce is an easy way to lose business.
Don't ignore the obvious market
When you think of marketing you’re more than likely to concentrate on your external customers: how can you persuade more people to buy what you sell?
But another “market” is just as important: your employees. These are the very people who can make your brand come alive for your customers. Additionally, and just as important, are your suppliers. Consider this: who is more engaged with your brand than the very people who supply in to you? This is an incredibly influential brand advocate group that many retailers fail to recognise as such or tap in to.
Employee engagement to build brand belief
Internal marketing and employee engagement help employees make a powerful connection with the products and services you sell. Without that connection, employees may inadvertently undermine the expectations set with customers. In some cases, this is because they simply don’t understand what you have promised the customer, so they end up working at cross-purposes. In other cases, it may be they don’t actually believe in the brand and feel disengaged or worse, hostile towards the organisation.
Employees who care about and believe in the brand, are motivated to work harder and have increased loyalty to the organisation. Employees are unified and inspired by a common sense of purpose and identity.
There are a few principles that can be applied to your organisation’s way of working that are key to ensuring your employees (including supplier teams) are engaged with, and ultimately become ambassadors of, your brand:
Timeliness of communication
Continuous improvement is important for any organisation. However, when you are selling a vision to customers, if your internal processes don’t underpin this, it can leave employees feeling confused and disconnected.
For example, think about change initiatives. Most people have limited tolerance for change and therefore you should consider the timeliness and frequency with which changes occur and how often they are communicated to stakeholders. The change messages delivered should ensure employee energy is channelled positively instead of eliciting a collective groan and rolling of the eyes at “more changes”.
Leading from the front
Employees expect to hear from leaders. They also expect their superiors to be leading by example and living and breathing the values of the brand: a top-down approach. A message from a strong leader who is clear and consistent is very powerful.
A forward-thinking leader will seek to understand how engaged employees are through a regular “temperature check”. They will do this by using various marketing tools including surveys and focus groups etc. However, these methods are only effective if your organisation promotes an open and honest culture.
By surveying employees in this way, you will not only understand engagement levels, you will also understand any immediate concerns that need to be addressed and subsequently ensure you are setting your employees up for success. This positivity will ultimately filter through to your customers in the form of excellent customer service.
Bring the message to life
The overarching goal of an internal marketing campaign is very similar to that of an external campaign: to create an emotional connection to your brand that transcends any one particular experience. In the case of employees, you also want the connection to inform the way they approach their jobs, even if they don’t interact with customers.
When it comes to your internal marketing messages they should be consistent with your external marketing campaigns, your brand, your organisation’s vision, your infrastructure, internal behaviours and your organisational culture.
Giving conflicting messages by setting one expectation with customers and then portraying something else internally will confuse employees, and this confusion could be detrimental to your brand.
One way of checking if you are consistent is by reviewing the day-to-day interactions that influence the way people experience the workplace e.g. internal policies. Do these currently reflect your organisation’s values? For example, does your brand promote sustainability but does not in any way shape or form action this in any of their employee policies (e.g. a cycle to work scheme in the Travel Policy)? Consider how this message will resonate with staff.
Be true to your audiences
While their messages must be aligned, companies must also keep external promises a little ahead of internal realities without pushing this promise too far ahead causing it to lose credibility. A word of caution: if attention is drawn to the gap between the promise and the reality, employees may become demoralised, especially if they are proud of the work they have done to date. This demoralised mind-set may filter through to their customer interactions.
On-brand internal experience = on-brand customer experience
By weaving on-brand messages into employees’ everyday experiences, you can encourage on-brand behaviour to become intrinsic which in turn leads to an on-brand experience for the customer.
All in all, employees and suppliers are customers of your brand too. If we take the ‘Big Four’ UK supermarket retailers as an example; employees, suppliers and relatives of these organisations amass to thousands of customers who can either be brand advocates or brand detractors. Can the retailers really afford to not tap in to this group with their marketing campaigns?
When talking about customer experience, it’s not solely relating to the shopping experience. Read my colleague Kieran’s blog on why good shopping experience doesn’t necessarily mean more sales.