Marketers Need to Cultivate Customer Advocates and
By Michael Lowenstein | 2.16.18
Today’s demanding and continuously changing customer value environment requires marketing leaders to understand the links between and drivers behind customer behavior and employee attitude and action.
Employees are key contributors to, and sustainers of, customer value delivery and brand success — regardless of their role and level within a company. They’re frequently the difference between positive experiences or negative customer experiences, as well as the determining factor as to whether customers stay or go.
It’s almost impossible to have customer commitment and advocacy without employee ambassadors. These highly engaged employees understand their role as customer experience partners — through cultural orientation, training, rewards and recognition, etc. They live that role as customer value delivery agents and brand advocates.
As the brand “owner,” marketing leaders must partner with HR to determine the links between and causal factors underpinning customer behavior and employee attitude and action; and then, set a course of action to cultivate more employee ambassadors. More about this in just a bit.
In identifying the basics of how, and where, employee behavior indirectly and directly links to customer behavior, it’s useful to have qualitative and quantitative insights into perceived value delivery from both groups.
We recommend using “mirroring,” that is including at least one cell of the company’s staff — from areas such as field sales, operations, marketing, and, especially, customer service — to examine key interactions and elements of customer centricity. Simply ask those employees the same questions asked of customers and specify that they answer the questions the way they believe customers will rate and evaluate them as a supplier.
In the example below, one retail financial services firm’s employees had significantly different perceptions of performance than its customers, especially in need anticipation and making the customer feel special — both key components of relationship and emotional bond creation. Employees felt they were doing an excellent job. The reality gap, based on the customers’ perspectives, was far different in nature.
As with this example, often customers consider the emotional, relationship-based aspects of value delivery — honesty and trust, communication, interactive/collaborative components of service, anticipation of needs, brand equity, etc. — much more important than the functional aspects of the relationship. (Thus, they’re more indicative of advocacy and loyalty behaviors.) Customers tend to see the functional aspects of delivery as basic and expected. In other words, functional value is one-dimensional table stakes, not a competitive differentiator.
With today’s greater focus on customer experience, one might expect tendencies for these perceptual gaps between vendors and customers to have narrowed or disappeared. But, not so. In fact, a recent study by a customer experience management consulting organization evaluated 1,000 B2C brands and showed that these serious perceptual gaps are still with us:
When companies were asked if employees contribute to negative customer experiences, only 29% said yes; yet, 74% of consumers say they do
When asked about the degree of impact employees have on negative customer experiences, 78% of consumers cited moderate to high risk, compared to only 55% of companies
Increasingly, we are coming to understand, and even predict, the effect of employees on the customer experience and customer advocacy behavior. This is a true Holy Grail for many organizations, as they strive to leverage human capital to best effect.
As Fortune columnist Thomas Stewart said two decades ago, “Human beings want to pledge allegiance to something. The desire to belong is a foundation value, underlying all others.”
When that “something” is loyalty to a brand, driven in large part by employee participation and investment in reaching that goal, all parties benefit. Central to that participation and investment is collaboration between human resources and marketing to build and sustain employee ambassadorship. The reason: For employee ambassadorship to thrive, humanity and leadership must be embedded into organizational DNA, and be evident every day throughout
Here is one of my favorite quotes in this regard, from Hal Rosenbluth, former CEO of Rosenbluth International (now part of American Express Travel Services): “Companies are only fooling themselves when they believe that ‘The Customer Comes First.’ People do not inherently put the customer first, and they certainly don’t do it because their employer expects it. We’re not saying choose your people over your customers. We’re saying focus on your people because of your customers. That way, everybody wins.”
About the Author
Michael Lowenstein, Ph.D. CMC CCXP, is Thought Leadership principal and director, BP Qualitative Insight Services, at Beyond Philosophy. Michael provides strategic consulting, research design, and in-depth analysis focused on customer experience, communication, and employee and brand equity insights.
Most recently, he served as EVP of Market Probe, a global research and consulting organization. Prior to joining Market Probe, Michael was SVP and senior consultant, Stakeholder Relationship Consulting, with Harris Interactive, and SVP, North America Operations, Customer Management Center of Excellence, at GfK.