The Human Element: Employees Offer The Best Boost For Brands

Mark de Bruijn

Developments such as chatbots, self-servicing, and machine learning mean that today a great deal of customer contact takes place without any human intervention, via bots and algorithms. But this one-sided focus on technology carries risk: alienating your brand’s target group.

Anyone who wants to win the hearts of customers and improve the CX must not forget about human contact.

Of course, brand ambassadors are anything but new. According to research, regular advertisements, via both offline and online channels, are “doing” worse and worse for consumers. Marketers are therefore placing more and more emphasis on peer reviews, influencer marketing, and content marketing.

Employees: The heart and soul of your brand

Sometimes, brand ambassadorship is also part of the marketing mix. But often, marketing departments only use this tool in two ways: Hire people separately for this position, or use enthusiastic customers or influencers for this purpose.

Both methods have their own pitfalls. Genuine engagement and messaging can be done much cheaper, smarter, and more effectively. After all, the best brand ambassadors are the people who put their heart and soul into the organization every day: Your own employees.

As far as I am concerned, there are five reasons to appoint employees as brand ambassadors:

1. Enthusiasm is contagious

Enthusiastic staff members share their positive attitude with the outside world. Anyone who sincerely believes in the company or brand they work with – and conveys this – sends an extremely powerful signal to others. Their energy results in positive perceptions of the brand, customer experience, and image.

2. People like people

Despite advancements to make the customer experience more seamless, people still like people most. A bot or an algorithm cannot express sincere emotions, cannot empathize with others, and cannot truly convey human enthusiasm. What’s more, they don’t give your brand a human face. On the contrary: Those who only communicate via automatic channels will quickly be perceived as impersonal and detached.

In contrast to, for example, external influencers, employees may incite this human component even more. After all, they are closely involved in day-to-day business and – presumably – know all the ins and outs of the brand, the products, and the market in which the organization operates.

3. Also (or perhaps especially) suitable for smaller budgets

Let’s be honest: Not every organization has the luxury of being able to spend millions on marketing. Small and medium-sized organizations, in particular, have to make do with small(er) budgets.

A brand ambassador program may cost you virtually nothing. All you have to do is redesign your business processes somewhat and perhaps give some training.

4. Brand ambassadors increase your online footprint and appearance

According to research, 81% of consumers perform online research before buying. In B2B, too, business deals will not be closed until the parties have studied each other extensively online. When people encounter many other people during that online search, it conveys a completely different image than if you only come across specification lists and factual information.

Employees who are active on social media, in particular, can greatly increase online reach. Suppose you employ 500 active social media users. Each individual employee has an average of around 200 contacts on their social media. This results in a potential reach of 500 * 200 = 10,000 people.

And that’s just the beginning, because those contacts also have their own contacts, allowing the total reach to quickly grow to huge figures. Compare that with the reach of the company’s own social media channels, or those of one or two hired social media gurus.

5. It attracts new talent

Talented employees are always looking for the best employers. The best business card that you can possess as an employer is not a flashy website or a smooth vacancy text, but enthusiastic professionals who enthuse like-minded people to join the organization.

How to make employees brand ambassadors

Employees do not become brand ambassadors overnight. Certainly, in some organizations, it requires a culture change. Of course, this is a bit easier for an organization that employs 10 people than one with 1,000 colleagues on the payroll.

Nevertheless, these tips and points of attention apply to organizations of all sizes:

1. Make the entire team brand ambassadors

A separate position as ‘brand ambassador’ may seem rather forced and unbelievable. Millennials in particular need authenticity. This is not in line with the slick PR speeches of certain people, simply because their job descriptions dictate it. Moreover, all work is done by one or two at the most.

So it’s best to make the whole team a brand ambassador. Every employee can have a positive influence on the brand and customer experience through an open, positive attitude, both online and offline. So, consider everyone in your plan, from front office employee to CEO.

2. Train everyone, but force no one

Nothing is as deadly for the brand experience as a forced approach, especially when it comes to social media. Do not force anyone to place five postings on LinkedIn or Twitter about how great the company is every day. This only creates frustration and does not enhance customer contact and the credibility of the enthusiasm.

Instead, make sure that everyone knows what the ‘social rules’ are, and provide every employee with good training in customer contact, manners, and social media use. Bottom line, this produces the most results.

And at least as important: Make sure that every employee understands what the company is actually doing. That sounds very logical, but especially at tech companies, for example, it’s only the product managers and account managers who are really familiar with their own products and services.

3. Pay extra attention to the ‘final stretch’

The moments when the company actually has human contact with the organization are crucial. Let’s take delivery as an example. It may be tempting to outsource this to external carriers, couriers, or postal operators. A missed opportunity: employees of such service companies do not do their work with your branding, your vision, and your manners.

Coolblue, a Dutch retailer, is a good example of a company that has taken care of this to the last detail. They deliver their own packages in their own distinctive blue vans. The delivery is done by their own people, who are trained in customer interaction. For them, this personal delivery is an important, recognizable component of the customer experience, used to distinguish themselves.

4. Abolish the social department

Why would you keep a separate social media department up and running if every employee contributes to this? Okay, maybe one or two experts are needed to draw up policy and monitor the broad outlines. But it makes no sense to put the social media contact with the target group in the hands of a few unless this team also handles the customer support. Take KLM as an example, where the social media team answers all incoming questions via social media.

5. Give employees room to maneuver

Happy employees are much better brand ambassadors than those who complain about their boss at parties. Therefore, it is important that employees feel happy, valued, and useful.

Of course, many HR and management blogs have been written about this. The best advice I can give in this respect is this: Give people room to maneuver. Space to organize their own work, but also to develop themselves. They need to feel that they really belong and are part of a greater whole, without being wage slaves.

A work atmosphere determined by micromanagement, unrealistic KPIs, and unhealthy workloads does not create brand ambassadors.

Creating a unique customer experience is not always a matter of huge investments, the latest technology, or hiring the most expensive talents. Enthusiastic employees give organizations of all types and sizes an indispensable lead.

Learn more about improving CX at the customer experience event of the year!

This article originally appeared on The Future of Customer Engagement and Commerce.


Mark de Bruijn

About Mark de Bruijn

Mark is an energetic and positive marketer with a focus on creativity, teamwork, digital, data and technology. Responsible for SAP Hybris in the EMEA region (Europe, the Middle East and Africa). He is passionate about SAP Hybris solutions for marketing, sales, service, commerce and billing.