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.

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.