Employee engagement is an essential part of overall digital customer experience initiatives. Yet many organizations neglect to create a clear employee engagement strategy, or view it as secondary to customer engagement strategies.
The research shows that the two strategies should be intertwined, with company content targeting not only your buyers, but also the men and women who tell your story on the sales floor, telephone, or social channels day in and day out.
Shaping The Employee Journey
By now, most of us have embraced content marketing as a means to connect and communicate with customers. This content ideally weaves brand messaging and product information into a narrative that is meaningful to the customer, and mirrors the customer journey. How can you also create content to inform and inspire the employee journey?
At some stage of the journey, customers will speak to or interact with one of your employees, even if they don’t meet face to face. When employees have a deep understanding of your products and services and a true appreciation for your brand, their enthusiasm will be infectious. And beyond building excitement, they will be able to answer specific and complex customer questions, and tell compelling stories rooted in their personal experience.
Indeed, researchers confirm a strong correlation between employee engagement and customer satisfaction. An investment in employee knowledge and satisfaction “can lead to improved business outcomes.” Some speculate that it only works the other way around, and employees become engaged when businesses are successful. But organizational psychologists found that employee engagement affects business growth more than growth affects engagement. Not only is the effect stronger, it is longer lasting: “While the impact of [business] performance on [employee] attitudes diminishes after one year, the impact of attitudes on performance lasts up to three years.”
Gallup research also shows that empowered employees are a common feature of the most successful companies across industries. “An employee engagement strategy that is linked to bottom-line outcomes” will help organizations succeed in the competitive digital marketplace.
Three Ways Employee Engagement Can Build Customer Loyalty
Your employees may be a customer’s first point of interaction with your brand. That first impression matters: a negative, confusing, or even mediocre first encounter can send a prospect to your competitor for good. When an employee is a true brand advocate, the customer experience improves, leading to repeat purchases, word-of-mouth recommendations, and continued online engagement through social channels and apps.
Employee-customer interactions take multiple forms, and aren’t limited to the sales floor. Here are three ways employees can connect with and influence your customers.
1. Engaging community in-store: As Jim Brett, president of West Elm, recognized, “brick and mortar is an amazing opportunity to use our stores and store staff as a vehicle to engage with community.” The furniture retailer reinvented its outlets as “community hubs” defined by personal, human interactions. Employees were trained to get to know the person before them and make local recommendations, moving away from pushy sales tactics to valuable interactions that benefit the customer.
West Elm VP of brand marketing Abigail Jacobs explains, “Most people have an affinity to a person who’s constantly introducing them to new things: She’s always got something interesting going on or she’s sending me a new article or telling me about an app she downloaded. That’s the kind of friend we want to be.”
Engaging your customers in-store influences their perception of your brand, leading them to feel that personal connection even when they browse on their laptop or mobile device. Customers will also feel more comfortable reaching out to customer service departments with questions and feedback, and sharing their information with you. In-store engagement can forge a personal connection that allows you to move past competing on price point and building lasting, loyal customer relationships.
2. Building a digitally connected sales team: Even without a brick-and-mortar location, people are still critical to customer experience. Airbnb has helped to revolutionize both the online and offline customer experience without opening any storefronts. The company’s customer experiences extend beyond Web sites and mobile apps to face-to-face interactions all over the globe.
The unique Airbnb model includes thousands of hosts who are not direct employees of the company, but are still key representatives of the brand who personally interact with customers. If a renter has a great digital experience, but a terrible stay at their Airbnb home, the real-life experience is going to make the bigger impact. That’s why the company trains its hosts in a customer service approach that is consistent with the brand’s digital experiences. And to ensure that hosts put their best face forward, the company uses a system of public ratings. Interestingly, the ratings go both ways: hosts can rate renters, helping other hosts avoid bad experiences and stay committed to renting through Airbnb.
As Airbnb CEO Brian Chesky puts it, “Our business isn’t [renting] the house. Our business is the entire trip.” To support the entire trip, they are working on additional services that will create a consistent Airbnb experience wherever renters travel—for example, a cleaning service for keeping sheets and towels fresh on extended stays.
3. Bridging employees and customers for enhanced experiences: Employees have a key role in creating positive customer experiences, even when there is no brick-and-mortar. The Uber app has taken off, and its brand name is beginning to replace the word “taxi” in our vocabulary. Its success is largely based on the fact that the company solved one of the main problems of the transit experience: it’s not fun being crammed in the back of a cab. The impersonal bars and plexiglass aren’t so different from a police car. The Uber experience begins with a direct connection with a driver, who then picks you up in his or her private vehicle. Each ride feels unique, and is based on a one-to-one connection between driver and passenger.
The popular Starbucks app is another great example of uniting employees and customers. For regulars who make their venti latte pitstop each morning, it streamlines the ordering and payment process without removing the positive personal interactions. The app offers “shake to pay” to give customers instant access to their payment or gift cards. And a digital tip function makes tipping easy, but still lets the user give to the barista of their choice. The app serves to merge the best of digital with the feel-good benefits of face-to-face transactions. For many companies, employees are the glue that binds loyal customers to a particular brand. As you transition deeper into digital, make sure you don’t disrupt these bonds.
Customer Engagement And Employee Engagement Are Intertwined
Your employees are on the front lines, representing and relating your brand to customers both online and off. Provide your employees with the training, information, and inspiration to become committed brand advocates, and customer experiences will improve along with business outcomes.