Why Customer Advocacy Should Start with your Employees

Customer loyalty is a thing of the past and no more so than for supermarkets. The recession and the rise of budget supermarkets has broken the hold the “big 4” once had. Poor results have been reported, stores closed and senior heads have rolled. Buying patterns have shifted and shoppers are now highly unlikey to forgive and forget a poor customer service experience.

In the new post-recession world, what matters more than ever for supermarkets, is engaging your employees to maximise customer loyalty and, more importantly, to minimise their disloyalty.

With engaged employees, supermarkets can maintain and grow market share. Recent research by Gallup showed that engaged employees are more productive, create better customer experiences and are more likely to remain with their employers. Simply put, engaged employees mean engaged customers.

Engaged employees are enthusiastic about their work and their company. Their enthusiasm is contagious. Employee promoters power strong business performance because they provide better experiences for customers, approach the job with energy and come up with creative and innovative ideas for product, process and service improvements.

So how do supermarkets and other employers ensure that their employees are engaged? At The Frank Agency, we believe that these brands need to start by understanding what truly motivates an employee. That comes by truly listening to them. It is not enough to run an employee engagement survey (although that may be a place to start). It means digging deeper and uncovering the real issues that bother staff. Your engagement survey may initially throw up issues such as not having enough choice in the canteen or uncomfortable seating but ultimately these are just hygiene issues. Research suggests that a majority of employees are troubled largely by 2 things – a need to be listened to and to be recognised for their efforts.

Employees want to feel that the company they work for genuinely cares about them and their development and they want to feel included. Just think of a retail brand you know well, where the employees are partners in the business and there is a culture of empowerment. Now think about whether customers get a good experience in their stores. Is it a coincidence that the two go hand-in-hand?

Moreover, in order to be active advocates of your brand, employees need to understand what it stands for and what differentiates it from your competitors. Leaders need to explain their vision for the company and keep explaining it before employees will start to connect with that vision. This needs to be done in good times and in bad.

At The Frank Agency, we don’t believe that customer loyalty is dead but it is harder earned and much more easily lost than in the past. To us, it makes perfect sense to start with employee advocacy when looking to build customer advocacy.

Big Data. Is it really the Holy Grail?

Big Data – it does what it says on the tin…. It’s data, lots of data. They are two words that can frighten not only marketeers, but consumers alike and they are words that are too easily banded around in our modern marketing world. It’s all very nice having hundreds of thousands of contacts sat in a database, but big data often means that it’s harder to get to insight that might not be worth the effort to get to. Are those contacts even relevant to what you are trying to achieve from your marketing? One thing to consider about Big Data is that Consumers are becoming increasingly aware of who is and isn’t capturing their data, and they are more territorial over any information that might be stored on them. Google and the ‘right to be forgotten’ is a clear indication that consumers are standing up for their rights, which has lead to a new EU ruling on data protection. But for me, more importantly, let’s not forget that we are all human, we aren’t just a Unique Reference Number in a big data set. Who wants to be run through an algorithm to determine whether or not you are worthy of receiving a piece of marketing communication? I want to receive emails or DM’s based on the fact that a company has begun to know me as a person and my habits around marketing, and I’m not just talking about marketing automation here. I want to know that there is a person considering human quirks when picking who to send that email to, not some soulless computer server sat in some bland warehouse on an industrial estate. I don’t want to be sent the details of a newly launched car just based on the fact that it’s the new model from what I bought two years ago. I am challenging companies to be more savvy than that. Take into consideration that I am a woman, that I am a certain age, what tyres I have bought to replace those fitted by the manufacturer – that I opened and clicked through on other emails that you’ve more than likely already sent me. Have you even considered, that I might want to move on from that model? Yes this can be drawn from Big Data, but it can also be captured in smaller data sets. How about rather than worrying about big data – we just use, to maximum capability the data that we do have in our smaller data sets? Yes, I know it’s not on trend, but you can still gather great insight from the smaller side of data. Who of you has a data set with 100k plus contacts and can honestly say that they are sending those contacts on a personalised consumer journey? It takes a steely and slightly brave marketeer to decide and admit that their data is in a slightly dubious state, and to ‘start again’ with their database is what is needed in order to increase consumer engagement, but ladies and gentleman that is exactly where we are with one of our clients. It’s such a fresh place to be in, we can do testing to the data, whittle out the deadwood in their big database to get to the core contacts that are going to help the brand grow and get their consumers to become brand ambassadors. We can choose to ignore the insight that we know today and open our eyes to new insights that might even contradict the insight that we thought we knew to be true. Big Data has a time and a place, but remember that time and place may not be now, and that’s OK because really the consumer needs to come first in marketing.

How much selling do we really need to do?

Here at The Frank Agency even we believe that the endless joy of work should occasionally be interrupted by a holiday. Which is why I’m taking this week off and heading to Cornwall for a rather belated summer break.

Straying from our usual self-catering strategy, we’ve decided to spend five days at a family friendly hotel. A novel concept to me, our destination not only offers beautiful views of the beach, spa facilities and a grown up restaurant, it also comes with a ‘free’ kids club, baby sitting and dog friendly rooms. Could this mean a lie-in? Time to read the paper? Dinner a deux? Oh my dog. And all for a pretty reasonable price.

Curiously, even though I don’t know anyone who has stayed there and I’ve never set foot in the place, such is my excitement at its promised benefits that I’ve already started bigging it up to friends and family.

So how can it be that purely on the strength of a pleasant phone call and a well considered website, the sheer expectation of this experience has been enough to turn me into an advocate? Could it be that by offering customers exactly what they want at the time they want it, very little ‘selling’ is actually required…?

(Next week I’ll let you know if it was worth all my hype.)

Do brands suffer from Shakespearean hubris?

Can you tell I studied English literature at university? To be honest it’s not often I draw upon my degree as part of marketing, however, sometimes there is a strong whiff of Shakespeare in the business world.

I am thinking more about the Tragedies rather than Midsummer Night’s Dream (although there are times when marketing sometimes becomes slightly farcical…Snapchat’s Ouija promo being a case in point). When I look at the rather obvious contender, Tesco, I can’t help drawing comparisons to one of the bard’s most infamous protagonists, Macbeth. Without being overly dramatic, one can plot each step in which the brand has dis-engaged with its consumer in the belief that they are somehow invincible. At least this is how it seems, and certainly UK consumers appear to be voting with their feet on this one.

Tesco, of course, are not the first nor will they be the last. Apple, or rather Macintosh, was not always the lauded brand it is today. It disappeared from view after IBM overtook it in terms of sales, only to rise again, and it remains to be seen what will happen next without the influence of Steve Jobs. Blockbuster, famously disregarded the digital revolution until it was too late. And the demise of Woolworths left a gaping hole in our high streets until Pound Land took over. HMV, whilst still hanging on by a thread in various guises, is certainly not the ‘go to’ brand for music in the same way as i-Tunes has now become.

The common theme? They mistook repeat sales for loyalty. And in doing so they forgot that customers will always be far bigger than the brand. Macbeth always thought (with the encouragement of his Mrs.) that if he could kill the competition (literally) and anyone else who stood in his way, all else would follow. And, as is the nature of all Shakespearean tragedies, his hubris was his undoing.

I realise I sound like the voice of doom, however, customers will always do what they want, fickle bunch that they are. That means brands have to know their place. And their place is a grateful participant in their customer’s lives. This means giving them what they want, how they want and when they want. Not the other way around. Of course this is not an easy task. Brands that succeed in appealing to customers by their actions and their philosophy, I am thinking of Ben and Jerrys, have something of the humble about them. Something that Macbeth could have done with.

Ten tips on the art of Frank conversation

1. We have two ears and one mouth. Listen. Really listen. Don’t just think about what you’re going to say.

2. If you are interested, you will appear interesting.

3. Avoid repeating their name just for affect. You’ll sound like a 1970’s car salesman.

4. Learn from Harold Pinter. There is beauty in a pause.

5. There are always going to be people who talk over you. Grit your teeth and know that silence can be golden.

6. Be succinct.

7. Use those adjectives judiciously. Less is definitely more.

8. Summarise what you have just heard. This handily ensures that the other person feels they have been listened to and that you understand.

9. Be in the moment. Of course you are busy. Everyone is busy planning the next hour/day/week/month. But if you are planning in your head, it will show. Unless you an expert poker player.

10. It’s ok to show emotion. No really it is. In fact a face that registers nothing is distinctly unnerving. However, if you are likely to show a trace of anger, take a breath. The mere act of doing so releases the tension in your face.

Frank conversation is not just about your friends, colleagues and peers. It’s about your customers too. Every single one of these points are absolutely pertinent to your communication strategy

1. We have two ears and one mouth. Listen. Really listen. Don’t just think about what you’re going to say. Brands can no longer talk at customers. They need to talk to. And this means asking for, accepting and acting on, feedback.

2. If you are interested, you will appear interesting. Brands who deliver content relevant to me, in the channel of my choosing, are interesting.

3. Avoid repeating their name just for affect. You’ll sound like a 1970’s car salesman. Personalisation is great. No-one likes an email that reads ‘Dear valued someone’. However, be careful that you don’t over do it. Re-engagement is a wonderful tool but you can feel stalked if the opt out isn’t clear.

4. Learn from Harold Pinter. There is beauty in a pause. Ask your customers how often they want to hear from you. Both M&S and John Lewis have taken this to heart. Your data team won’t love you but your customers will.

5. There are always going to be people who talk over you. Grit your teeth and know that silence can be golden. Be the brand that consistently listens.

6. Be succinct. Be benefit lead. Always. Why should someone listen?

7. Use those adjectives judiciously. Less is definitely more. Creatives everywhere wince as clients and client services insist on adjective confetti. Slice, dice and cut through it all.

8. Summarise what you have just heard. This handily ensures that the other person feels they have been listened to and that you understand. Use any means to get feedback. Then tell your customers what you are doing about it.

9. Be in the moment. Of course you are busy. Everyone is busy planning their next hour/day/week/month. But if you are planning in your head, it will show. Unless you an expert poker player. Of course you have a 12 month marketing plan. But deployment is not the end. Measurement is vital to drive the next phase. If you are always thinking ahead to next campaign you will miss the insight coming out of this one.

10. It’s ok to show emotion. No really it is. In fact a face that registers nothing is distinctly unnerving. However, if you are likely to show a trace of anger, take a breath. The mere act of doing so releases the tension in your face. Well no brands should ever be angry with their customers (as frustrating as they can be). However, there are numerous examples of brands not treating customers with respect or empathy. A metaphorical breath is ensuring you have good social media and customer service governance.