Employee Advocacy And Ambassadorship: Connecting the Dots Between Employee Attitudes, Emotions, and Actions and Customer Behavior
On regard to how, why and and when employees become advocates research, the 2015 Spherion Emerging Workforce Study (Sphperion/Harris) found that 93% of corporate leaders believe their employees are important brand and enterprise ambassadors. To underscore findings, Tony Hsieh, late CEO of Zappos, said: “The brand is a lagging indicator of the company’s culture.”
Only 35% of employees (2,000+ adults who are employed full-time) in the same study would speak positively about their employer. The remainder were neutral, negative, or silent. Employees’ actions, including expressing themselves face-to-face and through digital means, directly and indirectly impact much of what we understand about customer experience emotion and memory, leading to downstream behavior. So, there are challenges, but also rewards, with generating insights about employee emotions, attitudes, and actions.
When employees become advocacates research includes multiple categories of attributes, many of which would be found, in one form or another, in engagement studies: Cohesion, Satisfaction, Business Alignment, Career and Growth, Management Effectiveness, and Morale and Culture. What employee engagement studies don’t include, however, is Customer Focus as a key attribute category, with diagnostics such as:
- The functions I perform contribute to the company’s delivery of customer value
- Cross-training enables me to provide better value to customers
- The company focuses on the customer
- I understand customers’ value priorities
- Management listens to my ideas on creating value for customers
- The company has a clearly defined mission for creating customer value
- The company clearly communicates new products and services for customers internally.
- I have the tools and resources I need to provide value to customers
This is just a small sample. In employees becoming advocates research, there are typically between 20 and 25 Customer Focus attributes, and the remaining diagnostics are traditional engagement questions. What they reveal, even in basic driver analysis, speaks volumes about the degree of cross-enterprise customer-centricity and stakeholder-centricity by various functional groups within a company.
Bottom line; employee engagement claims to influence customer behavior, and it’s true in the way customer satisfaction influences customer behavior. In other words, the relationship is incidental, passive, and superficial.
Advocacy chooses a contemporary path, considering employees as assets and focusing on customers and customer value. This broader and more contributory role for employees is similar to the path described in Robert Frost’s classic poem, “The Road Not Taken.”
“Two roads diverged in a wood,
I took the one less traveled by,
and that has made all the difference.”
Employee advocacy is distinct from satisfaction and engagement as it encompasses commitment to the organization and beyond. Advocacy is also identified by commitment to the organization’s product and service value proposition, to fellow employees, and, uniquely, to the customers.
Employees becoming advocates research also asks employees the following value-indicator questions (as part of the dependent variable measurement framework) regarding their propensity to be amplifiers and supporters of their employer:
a. How often do you tell others how good the company’s products and services are?
b. How often do you tell others how bad the company’s products and services are?
c. How often do you tell others how good the company is as a place to be employed?
d. How often do you tell others how bad the company is as a place to be employed?
e. How strongly would you recommend the company as a place to work?
f. Do the company’s products and services exceed customer expectations, even delight them?
Employee advocacy and ambassadorship link employee behavior directly to outcomes related to customer experience (CX) and relationship improvement (XI). This connection supports brand-related, customer-centric, and stakeholder-centric initiatives.
Begin with the SERVQUAL Model to better understand how organizations conceive employee advocacy and the value it represents. The SERVQUAL Model is now close to 40 years old. Some aspects of the model remain useful and applicable, such as aligning value delivery perceptions between employees and customers. However, we are currently in a vastly different world for both employees and customers.
We now understand that stakeholder decision dynamics are far more emotional and relationship-based than what was considered when SERVQUAL was created in 1985. As noted, employee satisfaction elements are largely tactical and rational in nature. So, to influence key elements of customer experience, even employee engagement, as defined, has only inferential and superficial effect.
While we’re taking on established models, we can also include the venerable and venerated Service Profit Chain, which has been a reference point for connecting employee and customer behavior outcomes for many years. Unfortunately, the Service Profit Chain, while initially important for connecting customers and employees, overlooks significant contemporary realities. For example, this is a quote from one of my blogs on the subject, this one written in 2011:
“The service-profit chain postulated that employee satisfaction drives customer satisfaction. Today’s demanding and continuously changing customer environment requires tools for better understanding both customer behavioral drivers and drivers of employee attitude and action that extend well beyond conventional-wisdom communication and satisfaction feedback approaches.”
Employee advocacy recognizes that there’s a definite, and powerful, linkage of behavior between stakeholder groups. Customers who actively (vocal, level of favorability, reduced consideration set, etc.) express their personal commitment to a supplier can be strongly positive (advocates and brand loyalists), neutral, or negative (saboteurs). The level of commitment and advocacy/bonding is based on customers’ rational and emotional response to experiences and relationships.
Employees can impact customer loyalty behavior towards their employer through attitudes and behaviors for the brand, company, and customer. These attitudes and behaviors, like those of customers, can range from highly positive, to indifferent, to highly negative.
Typically, we focus on what drives active, positive, vocal commitment, i.e., employee advocacy. However, identifying the existence, causes, and solutions of employee indifference and negativism, which can lead to sabotage attitudes and actions, is equally important. In the next section, we will outline what initiates an employee’s journey towards the South Pole, where sabotage is located, analogous to the North Pole being employee advocacy.
The Roots of Employee Negativism
A study was conducted through a major polling service among close to 1,200 full-time employees, 18 and over, to better understand this. One of the first objectives with survey questions was to identify employees’ overall commitment level, loyalty, and impression about the company and its ability to earn customers’ trust and loyalty.
A series of four simple agree-disagree statements accomplished this. On two of the questions, commitment to the organization’s success and ability to earn customer trust and loyalty, there was fairly high positivism. The two statements which addressed overall impression and loyalty, however, showed significantly greater negativity:
The younger age group (18-24 years old) gave lower percentages of ‘Yes’ scores on all measures. For instance, on the statement ‘I am very committed to the success of my employer organization,’ 63% of 18-24 year olds answered ‘Yes.’ Respondents aged 50-64 and 65 and older gave higher scores of 83% and 86%, respectively. Those with $34,900 or less income gave lower scores, and respondents in the South more frequently gave ‘Yes’ scores on all statements. Female respondents were more loyal, positive, and trusting of their organizations (81% vs. 72%).
Just as with consumer opinions and decision-making dynamics, informal online and offline communication from employees, i.e. word-of-mouth, has a great deal to do with impressions of an organization, both inside by other employees and outside by customers, vendors and the general public. We asked if employees tell others how bad their company is as a place to work. A total of 43% said they do (7% frequently, and 36% sometimes).
Here again, there were differences by age, with greater frequency of saying negative things about their employer among Echo Boomers (49%), significantly lower percentages among Matures, 62+ (25%). Also, negativism was higher among males than females and lower among African Americans, and it was also higher among those with lowest income (48%), and lower among highest income respondents (37%). Finally, respondents with disabilities had a higher level of negativism (52%) compared to those without disabilities (40%).
The Potential Impacts of Negativism
We also wanted to understand how employee negativity affects the organization and its stakeholders. We asked respondents if they ever tell others about how bad the products and/or services of their employer are; and over one-third said they do, either frequently (3%) or sometimes (32%).
Demographically, this is higher in the East, and among African American respondents (41%); but, consistent with feelings about their employer, lower among respondents 50 to 64 (28%) and those over 65 (25%), but higher among 18- to 24-year-olds (42%). Males are also more negative about their company’s products and services than are females (39% vs. 30%). Those who identified their sexual orientation as LGBTQ also were significantly more negative (60%).
Income level had a marked impact on polarity, with 44% of respondents earning $34,900 or less showing a certain polarity, compared to only 31% of those earning $75,000 or more. Finally, there was greater tendency to tell consumers negative things (compared to businesses) and to speak negatively about products compared to services.
We asked respondents why their company doesn’t earn customers’ trust and loyalty. Poor customer interaction, trust and confidence issues, and unfair treatment were key reasons.
Learning from factors contributing to “The Great Resignation,” all organizations must actively understand and consider these negatives. This because they represent a lack of emotionally based trust.
Leveraging Employee Positivism (And Reducing or Eliminating Negativism)
Polar employee positivism, the essence of advocacy, is absolutely critical for companies to be optimally customer centric and stakeholder centric. Executing and sustaining tightly managed customer experience management processes is virtually impossible without the enthusiastic and real support of employees. Employee interactions greatly influence customer loyalty behavior.
Many studies have determined that customers who complain to an organization and have their complaints satisfactorily resolved. They tell an average of 5 other people about the good treatment they received. Further, they tell at least 20 people if they receive poor treatment. The studies were conducted before the Internet. So, in today’s viral and mobile world, the potential for negative informal communication (via blogs, forums, chat rooms, online communities, rating sites, etc.) is much stronger.
The studies on customer service indicate that resolving complaints results in 54-70% of customers returning. If customers feel that their complaints are resolved professionally, quickly, and proactively, this percentage increases to 95%. Achieving this level of customer satisfaction depends on both effective systems and positive employee attitudes and actions.
Great companies – Google, Southwest Airlines, Ritz-Carlton, Wegmans, Zappos, TD Bank, Costco, Whole Foods Market, USAA, and Trader Joe’s – with great leaders like Richard Branson of Virgin understand what culturally embedded advocacy behavior, across the entire enterprise, can mean for the organization, its brand, its customers, and its employees. The perspectives of these exemplars on the value of human capital as assets. Their role as contributors and internal brand-builders is crucial to their greatness.