No matter how much you spend on branding, the customer experience comes down to the people on your frontline: The hostesses, maître d’, servers and all your employees who are interacting with your customers on a day-to-day basis. Not only are they the face of your brand, they’re also the ones charged with delivering your brand promise.
Do your frontline employees think about that brand promise when they come to work? When they’re trying to decide how to handle a disgruntled guest, are their decisions guided by the values that support your brand? When you can engage them in the brand, the answer to both questions can be yes.
Frontline employees want to hear it from the top
In a recent national study (full disclosure: my company, Tribe, conducted this research), 84 percent of non-desk employees said they receive “not enough” communication from top management. If you’re like most companies with non-desk workers, you probably delegate communication with this group to their immediate managers. That’s a fine channel, but depending only on direct managers to communicate with key employees is a mistake. Communication should reach all levels of employees.
Lack of corporate communication is seen as lack of respect
This research indicates that non-desk employees interpret a lack of communication from corporate as evidence that the company does not value or respect them. Not only are these employees subsequently less engaged than they could be, they also have a poor understanding of what the brand represents. They are unclear on the vision, the values and the goals of the company, as well as the brand promise the company has made to consumers. That means the people who are interacting with customers are not prepared to deliver the desired customer experience upper management expects.
Connecting corporate with frontline employees
Establishing direct lines of communication between top management and the frontline people may not be as easy as it is with employees sitting in cubes, but it’s well worth the effort. Here are five ways to make it happen:
1. Face time: We’re seeing a trend, especially in industries like restaurant and hospitality, toward top management going out into the field for face time with frontline employees. When someone from corporate takes the time to go look those employees in the eye, it speaks volumes.
2. Leadership communications: There are plenty of ways to share the vision and the values with non-desk employees, in their leaders’ own voices. One way is to literally let them hear management’s voice, with pre-recorded messages on the brand promise or any other brand developments. Employees are given a toll-free number that they can call from either a cell phone or land line to hear a message from a member of the management team. Leadership blogs are also useful for sharing informational or inspirational brand messaging. A short interview with the c.e.o. can yield enough information for a writer to create drafts of several blog posts, expressed with that executive’s style of communication. The c.e.o. can then quickly review before approving them to be posted.
3. Two-way communication: Part of showing respect for someone is listening to his or her point of view, and it’s also extremely valuable because these are the people who are hearing from customers “on the ground.” Create at least one channel that gives employees a voice. For instance, if your intranet offers remote access, employees might check in from home and make comments on a management blog. In the example above of pre-recorded messages, the technology can also give them the option to record a response.
4. Use social media: Even if employees don’t have a computer at work, you can bet they’re online after their shifts. Facebook and LinkedIn might be too public for your management’s taste, but Twitter offers the possibility of a private group of followers. Your CEO can tweet and employees—both frontline and otherwise—can respond. Since the message is confined to 140 characters, it’s not a time-consuming method of communication. (There also are social media tools designed for internal communications only.)
5. Send it home: Although technology and social media provide all sorts of options we didn’t have even a few years ago, the printed word hasn’t lost its power. In fact, at a time when many organizations eschew print, you may “win” by being one of those in print. You’ll be different by going old school. Many companies still mail communications to employees’ homes, such as internal magazines or even simply a quarterly letter from the CEO.
However you do it, it’s imperative to engage frontline employees with the vision and values of your brand.
Elizabeth Cogswell Baskin is president and c.e.o. of Tribe, an internal communications agency that works with national and global clients. She is the author of several books, including the Amazon Top 1000 Bestseller How to Run Your Business Like a Girl: Successful Strategies from Entrepreneurial Women Who Made It Happen. She blogs on employee engagement, professional performance and quality of work-life at www.goodcompanyblog.com .