Adam Goran, Divisional Director of Customer Engagement, Grass Roots Group, takes a look at employee and customer engagement and how omnichannel brands can stay connected with customers.
In the current competitive retail landscape, retailers are looking increasingly to enhance their presence within the market. With the ever-increasing influence of technology in our daily lives, many are looking to develop their omnichannel strategy, with a particular focus upon their online presence. However, there needs to be an equal focus placed on ensuring brand values are consistently reflected throughout online and physical stores, which is where many are missing a vital element to the bigger picture that is omnichannel.
Traditionally, retailers have used advertising, email marketing and in-store promotions to drive sales and encourage customer loyalty; however the most readily available, yet least utilised tool that should be high on retailers’ agenda are the employees themselves.
In the past, employees have simply been seen as just another part of the retail mechanism, but their potential to dramatically boost sales and breathe life into an omnichannel campaign in-store, is a vital resource that many retailers have yet to use to their advantage. Employees are the main interface for a brand to interact with customers and the key tool to ensure core values are consistent across all channels of communications, both on- and offline. There are so many touchpoints in the customer journey that retailers simultaneously do and don’t have control of, whether its face-to-face in-store, on the phone and beyond into social media, the best place to start is at the heart of an organisation – the employee.
Employee engagement is about collective and shared behaviours that represent the brand and in doing so, deliver commercial objectives for a business. It is these behaviours that provide employees with the tools and the motivation to truly understand the business they work for and the investment that business makes towards their career development and wellbeing. If brands activate these employees, they are even more valuable through their ability to grow awareness and find new customers in an authentic and personal way. Critical to the bottom line however, is a workforce who is completely in tune with the customer brand values and offerings; whether that’s in-store or online.
Engaging employees has never been so imperative; customers have become increasingly savvy shoppers who no longer like a hard sell, causing retailers to focus on moving from customer acquisition to retention, placing employees at the forefront of recruiting loyal brand advocates.
Brand advocates are vocal, passionate, and engaged customers who, as well as recommending brands to their friends in person, also inhabit various blogs and social media sites, from Twitter to Facebook and TripAdvisor. They will happily share their thoughts and experiences of a brand with their community, significantly helping to shape and influence actions and attitudes towards the brand, and open up valuable customer feedback channels.
Once time and effort has been invested in employees, brands can look to reflect advocates’ favourability of social media and the internet and incorporate an omnichannel strategy – interacting with customers through mobile, online and in-store. However, omnichannel is far more than just using different channels to engage customers. It is about ensuring that wherever a customer touches a brand their experience is seamless, consistent, and on the customer’s own terms. For example, brands cannot afford for customers to only have a great experience when they visit their website or mobile app, only for it to be fundamentally different when they then they visit a store, or make a call to customer services. To avoid this, brands must ensure they focus equally on engaging their employees (and channel partners) to ensure the philosophy, culture and tonality is passed through them and embedded in every single customer touchpoint – which is wherever the employee and omnichannel strategies become intertwined.
"When the employees are on board the customers will naturally follow"
Those that successfully implement an omnichannel strategy – for example, British Airways and Apple – understand their customers and how best to engage with them through each channel, ensure a seamless experience and provide different layers of interaction to enrich and enhance each customer’s experience. They will utilise transactional and emotional data from all these touchpoints to garner a single, holistic view of the customer – insight that can be used to further improve future engagement. Their customers recognise the value of enhanced engagement, therefore build trust and become loyal. Bottom line, a brand gains a loyal following of long-term customers by adding value through omnichannel engagement.
Although those looking to create omnichannel advocates should start with employees, it is vital that each and every brand lives and breathes both customer and employee engagement. Brand activation – the alignment of all parts of the employee value proposition to the brand values – requires a relentless desire to measure and challenge. It’s only by understanding and improving the employee values before it becomes customer-facing, can brands see a real boost in customer satisfaction whilst, at the same time, giving their employees a real sense of pride and ownership.
When the employees are on board the customers will naturally follow. The value of any brand advocate, employee or consumer, should not be underestimated. It is a widely accepted philosophy that word of mouth recommendations are one of the most effective forms of advertising, with 92% of consumers (according to Nielsen research), trusting a brand advocate’s opinions. If we then consider that the internet has facilitated the self-educating buyer, it is fair to say that today’s customer wants access to useful content that will shape their buying decisions before they’ve even left home. Advocates are often the savvy shoppers’ first point of contact, reading their posts and watching their videos before making a purchase decision.
Our recent research revealed some interesting findings into consumer perspectives of the retail banking industry. A distinct correlation was found between banks that scored well on employing and training the most knowledgeable staff and those that also received favourable scoring on the occurrence of the main three frustrations of charging for going slightly overdrawn, poor staff attitude and errors on customers’ accounts. Our research also found that good service reputation is a factor influencing the choice of the customer of 2015, with 85 per cent who received a very good service stating their current bank is their first choice for new products. This goes to show that employee knowledge and engagement has a direct link to an organisation’s continued success and growth.
Santander is a prime example of an organisation with a successful employee engagement strategy which can be directly linked to an improvement in customer experience. Prior to the launch of the 1,2,3 Current Account, Santander launched the scheme internally to their employees three years in advance, aligning the recognition and performance programmes with the core propositional values - simple, personal and fair. By doing so, Santander’s employees were able to bring the product to life, which ultimately made it the success it is today.
By implementing a strategy that supports the development needs of employees in an omnichannel environment, brand advocacy programmes have far reaching benefits. These include, but are not limited to, an increase in sales, an increase in customer loyalty amongst a broader section of customers, a happier workforce and a greater share of voice. The brands that fail to do this, those that deliver a disjointed customer experience, will risk losing customers to their competitors that instil greater confidence in their brand through omnichannel engagement.