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.

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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.