This article was originally posted on CustomerThink.com
Do companies recognize the high customer experience (CX) value of employee advocates? Shouldn’t they want to cultivate the kind of behavior advocacy represents?
That’s my belief. And, because of dramatic, behavior-shaping trends in the world of talent and skills availability, significant and lasting disruptions in the way people work, and the greater independence of today’s employees, I’m convinced they should both recognize and cultivate it.
The EX/CX Connection
Employees are the key, critical common denominator in optimizing the customer experience. Very often, either directly or indirectly, they are at the intersection of customer/vendor 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 seek to understand, and leverage, the impact employees have on customer behavior. Further, and equally important, they must focus on optimizing the employee experience.
Supporters of employee satisfaction and engagement programs, research and training 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, fueled by emotion and subconscious intuition.
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 of connection or cause.
Powerful and advanced research can generate insights which enable B2B and B2C companies to identify current levels of employee commitment, and it provides actionable direction on how to help them become more contributory and active brand advocates. Employee advocacy, as an advanced EX core concept and research protocol, was designed to build and sustain stronger and more commitment-based and rewarding employee experiences and also improved customer experiences, driving the loyalty and advocacy behavior of both stakeholder groups, and in turn increasing sales and profits.
It is often stated (especially by corporate CEOs) that the greatest asset of a company is its employees. Emotionally-based research has uncovered specifically how an organization can link, drive and leverage employee attitudes and behavior to expand customer-brand bonding and bottom-line performance. This is advanced EX, some might even say it is revolutionary! Employee advocacy research can be combined with existing customer and employee loyalty solutions to provide companies with comprehensive and actionable insights on the state of their employees’ attitudes and action propensities, and how those may be affecting customer behavior.
Employee advocacy identifies new categories and key drivers of employee subconscious emotional and rational commitment, while it also links with the emotional and rational aspects of customer commitment. At the positive and negative poles, these employee-focused commitment categories include:
Defining Employee Advocates (And Employee Saboteurs)
– Advocates, the employees who are most committed to their employer. Advocates 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 their employer. 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 of whether they are in a service department, technical specialty, or a branch office, there will be differing levels of commitment to the company, its value proposition and brands, and its customers. If employees are negative to the point of undermining, and even sabotaging customer experience value and company or brand reputation, they will actively work against business goals. However, if employees are advocates, and whether they interact with customers directly, indirectly, or even not at all, they will better serve and support the organization’s customers.
Employee Advocates are Essential to Customer Experience—and Overall—Success
Where customer experience is concerned, it is essential to remember that organizations and brands looking to succeed in today’s competitive climate have successfully embedded CX into their cultures, from the C-level executive to the frontline employee. They prosper by using insights generated from a variety of channels and touchpoints, including employees, integrated with customer data from multiple sources, mined by sophisticated text analytics technologies, and then channeled to steer and guide every corner of their businesses.
The more successful the brand and organization, the more evident that the approaches taken are both bottom-up and top-down. This helps ensure a more strategic and real-world view of stakeholder behavior. Truly effective organizations have wisely invested key resources in the stakeholder experience. and at every level of the enterprise. Their leaders, likewise, focus on both individual and collective accomplishment.
This kind of achievement and fulfillment requires that experiences be optimized for all stakeholders. It’s a simple, basic premise, but it works – now and for the future. Ideally, there should be a direct linkage back and forth between the leader, the employee, and the customer. This is where employee advocacy, like the edelweiss flower, can bloom and grow.