In past generations, company loyalty boomed. There’s a good chance your grandfather worked for one company for decades, retiring from the same place he began his career. It’s not the same for today’s workforce though. Company loyalty has diminished, and with good reason. Today’s workers have seen large-scale job cuts, including cuts to workers who spent their entire careers with one company. For these disheartened employees, loyalty is a thing of the past. Workers today can expect to have as many as nine jobs between the ages of 18 and 36 according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.(1)
So how do you overcome this loss of loyalty and nurture it in your employees? And more importantly, why should you?
Because. Your employees are the voice of your brand. They represent your company each day as they interact with current and potential customers. Each time your employees interact with the public – at a trade show, via phone, or in your workspace – they impact how people feel about your organization. You don’t want customers to see a grumpy, overworked and resentful employee who clearly dislikes his or her job. You want them to see a waiter who enthusiastically recommends items from a menu he loves, a book store employee who knows his regulars by name, a car wash attendant who notices and tightens a loose hubcap. You want your customers to see brand stewards … employees who are loyal to your organization and truly love what they do for a living.
Some corporations have official brand stewards dedicated solely to hyping their brand. While this strategy works for many companies, brand stewards can be any employee who understands, promotes, and helps maintain a brand. An employee doesn’t need “brand steward” on his or her business card to champion your company. He or she just needs knowledge, inspiration, and a feeling of value that comes with believing in your company, product, or service.
What is a Brand Steward?
Some corporations have official brand stewards dedicated solely to hyping their brand. While this strategy works for many companies, brand stewards can be any employee who understands, promotes, and helps maintain a brand. An employee doesn't need "brand steward" on his or her business card to champion your company.
Whether you're launching a new brand or hiring employees to sell your existing one, educate them. Good employees need to know about much more than their job duties. They ought to know your brand story and your company's goals, so they feel a part of something. If you own a sushi bar, teach your waiters about sushi. Help them with the Japanese pronunciations. Explain the difference between the three types of tuna on your sashimi menu.
Empower Your Staff
Empower your employees to make decisions and give them the freedom and resources they need to provide outstanding service. If employees are properly educated about what's important to the organization, they will be able to make good decisions that are consistent with your brand strategy.
For Bob Farrell, founder of Farrell's Ice Cream Parlor and Restaurant, this lesson was hit home by a customer's pickle complaint. It seems this customer was a regular of Farrell's, coming for lunch at least twice a week. He asked for and always received an extra pickle slice with his lunch. Then one day, a new waitress refused the customer his pickle. Even after conferring with the manager, the waitress offered to sell him a side of pickles for a $1.25 or one pickle slice for a nickel. Thankfully, the customer wrote a letter, and Farrell was able to rectify the situation. But from then on, the pickle incident became his rallying cry for customer service.
Farrell’s waitress clearly didn’t feel empowered to give away anything—even something as insignificant as a pickle. Let your staff know if it’s okay to giveout extras from time to time. Some companies even provide employees with a discretionary budget they can use on a patron’s behalf. Sometimes employees may use the budget to satisfy a disgruntled customer. Other times, they can dip into it to provide that special extra experience. At a hotel, that might mean an employee runs out to buy the Wall Street Journal if they find out it is a guest’s preferred morning reading. At a coffee shop, maybe it’s simply the latitude to brew a certain flavor for a Monday morning regular.
It’s not just money that creates a good brand experience. Employees become brand stewards by sharing their time too. That means you may want to emphasize that serving the customer is more important than accomplishing a certain task. In a retail store, for example, you may want staff to stop stocking shelves when a customer asks about a product location, so they can escort them to the proper aisle. Or, you may need to free up some staff time so employees have the opportunity to “breathe” and be solicitous. At one hotel, a maintenance staffer used his extra time to wash customer car windows in the parking lot.
Finally, ask your employees what they need to be better brand stewards. Maybe your receptionist needs a headset so he can call up names in the database quicker without cradling the handset between his ear and shoulder. Or maybe he needs an extra phone by the copy machine, so he can answer it faster while running administrative errands. Perhaps your grocery store clerk will recommend a service initiative to assist handicapped shoppers.And maybe your shipping department will suggest handwritten “packed by” thank you notes in every box. Let your staff have fun with it. Encourage their ongoing creativity and remind your employees to be brand stewards throughout the year.
Some employees will go above and beyond for their employer no matter what, but the majority benefit from a little encouragement. When you see employees acting as brand stewards, show your appreciation. There are a number of ways to build stewardship among your employees and recognize their accomplishments: