Your employees are your brand
In retail, it can be difficult to see training expenditures as part of your marketing initiatives. We accept that in retail we’ll have high turnover, and it can be frustrating to train employees only to have them move on. However, in retail the challenge is now the opportunity. Where other companies fail to build employee engagement, the best companies are building engagement because they know it has a direct, positive impact on their customer experience. In our experience, there is a direct tie to loyalty and retention between how companies treat their employees and how they treat their customers.
Making the investment
At Allen we try to help companies see that training and employee education is actually another investment into their customers. How much money do you spend on marketing, sales and store design? We have found that much of that spend can be applied to or repurposed as employee education. Since, for the most part, your employees are a captive audience, results are easier to achieve than with your customers.
Front-line employees are one of the biggest factors in your customer experience, and if they are empowered, knowledgeable brand advocates, customer engagement will rise. All of us have walked into a store and been able to tell the difference between someone who is just selling you something and someone who is actually selling you the brand. According to Gallup’s State of the American Workplace, successful employee and customer engagement boosts performance-related business outcomes by 240 percent. You can create those employees who provide a good customer experience and know and are invested in your brand through training programs that put your brand front and center.
Building employee engagement
Let’s talk about employee engagement. What are the necessary conditions to create employee engagement?
In the omnichannel world retail has become, customers can find out every product specification before ever talking to an employee. We must change how we train employees, empowering them with information so they feel like experts, and raising the bar on how they contextualize the product as part of your brand and user experience. We must give employees some level of inside knowledge — even if it’s anecdotal — so they have information that transforms them into brand ambassadors. Helping employees know your brand and products means they will feel confident and empowered to engage with customers and give them a different and better experience than they would have gotten alone.
Some people in retail feel the key to hiring is simply to look for the “right” personality; they want only bubbly extroverts. But this is too narrow a perspective. What we should do is help all employees learn to tell the brand story. By focusing on storytelling skills rather than simply conveying facts, you help employees engage customers with more than the product. Customers are drawn into a lifestyle and the entire brand feel. This discussion does not need to be tied to brick-and-mortar stores. Communicating stories should happen across all channels. By helping create employees who understand how to communicate with customers, you are speaking to a broader customer base.
Employees know how you treat customers; they see it firsthand. Treating employees like you do your customers, increases engagement. By investing in employees, you show them your commitment to a good experience. This, in turn, creates employees who are more eager to do whatever is needed for customers, whether it’s finding the right size or helping them go online to purchase a product that’s out of stock. And people who have a good experience as employees continue their brand advocacy long after their time with you has ended.
We have seen a shift in the way strong brands think about training. It’s less about checking the boxes of product knowledge, and more about integrating with marketing efforts by imparting brand and cultural knowledge to employees. Empowering employees with knowledge, communication skills and building their commitment to your brand creates long term brand ambassadors that raise your net promotor score. This is what creates brand loyalty from customers and makes them willing to overlook a shortcoming or inconvenience — higher prices, more distant location — because the experience is positive enough to outweigh other issues. When employees are interested and engaged, they work hard to create that positive experience.
Companies that know the power of their brand, those that are heavily branded and invested in the brand message, treat employees like customers. They know that engaged employees create loyal customers and they become loyal customers. You have the power to influence customers because you have the power to influence employees. Use it.
Ron Zamir Ron Zamir is the president, CEO and co-owner of Allen Communication, a learning and development company based in Salt Lake City. Ron is an honors graduate of Hebrew University, and completed MBA studies at Bradford University. www