08 Jan Employees are the brand ambassadors
Customer-facing FM employees are the brand ambassadors for properties and service providers
Contemporary customers are not merely buying a product or availing a service, they are rather buying into an experience or an idea. In response, businesses have shifted their focus to facilitating these priorities, keeping the needs of their end users paramount. This realignment also holds true of facility managers, who have witnessed significant transformation in their roles and responsibilities in recent years, transitioning from service providers to customer-facing experience managers.
Business branding is now about tangible customer benefits
Marketing, advertising and driving brand awareness are often high on the priority list of building owners. Branding is vital in helping commercial real estate businesses retain their existing tenants, besides attracting potential new clients and securing the perceived value of a property. Traditionally, one of the strategies used to enhance brand perception was to collaborate with celebrity endorsees, introducing them as brand ambassadors in advertising and other marketing strategies. With customers exhibiting increasingly sophisticated and discerning behavior, this conventional understanding of the term ‘brand ambassador’ is being reconsidered.
Lately, FM employees, who are of often the face of a commercial real estate operation by virtue of their visibility, have begun to assume the role of influencers, on the basis of their interactions with building occupants and the quality of the services they provide. In effect, these workforces are emerging as facilitators of customer experiences, and consequently brand ambassadors of a different variety.
This new branding strategy is down to multiple reasons. Customers increasingly assess brands on the basis of whether or not they are receiving consistently high quality experiences, across an entire spectrum of their needs, as opposed to corporate marketing. The natural response to this trend is evident in the new-found popularity of employee ambassadorship programs, within customer-centric organizations.
The inherent strengths of making employees brand ambassadors
Employee engagement has been proven productive in terms of motivating, empowering and engaging the workforce. Engaged FM employees are natural brand ambassadors, capable of connecting with end users and promoting the business. In a built environment, FM employees and customers tend to interact with each other on a regular basis. This has come to amplify the impact of the quality and manner of service delivery, with customers giving far more credibility to routine interactions, in comparison to corporate advertising. In fact, according to one estimate, employee interactions were found to be eight times more effective than corporate marketing strategies. Positive employee interactions translate to better customer retention, and give advocacy marketing initiatives a context, as well as a far more receptive audience, in a crowded market.
Turning employees into brand ambassadors comes with hardly any pressures, in terms of additional investment and ROI concerns. In fact, in some instances, engaged FM employees have driven profitability and customer loyalty, while management has concurrently cut costs associated with external branding services. Compared to the revenue generated, costs incurred through in-house employee ambassador programs are nominal.
A closer look at the intricacies involved
A critical part of ensuring the success of such programs is staff buy-in. FM leaders should address the “what’s-in-it-for-me?” question from employees. In order to do this, the program must clearly articulate its big picture benefits. Performance related bonuses, a chance for employees to enhance their professional skills and career opportunities, as well as the creation of a business-wide aspiration for excellence, are all valid means to achieve this.
Ambassador programs usually include soft skills training, general awareness on emerging trends, understanding of company goals, access to resource materials, and lessons on how to use them, among other elements. Measures should be taken to ensure the programs are fun and interactive, so that it does not become burdensome and time-consuming task, perceived by employees as a distraction or additional workload. Such initiatives should also be periodically updated in response to disruptive events and change. Employee ambassadors who excel in their roles, and bring about tangible benefits, should be rewarded with approbation, salary bonuses and promotions.
One of the major roadblocks to effective employee engagement in contemporary business culture is impersonal interactions. Be it HR programs, information flow, work delegation and more, business processes are devoid of personalization, which has inhibited employee potential. Aristotle, the great Greek philosopher, is reputed to have said, “pleasure in the job puts perfection in the work”. The commonsensical truism of these words will remain valid in any era. Human contact creates the most deep seated goodwill for a brand, among customers, and FM employees are in a unique position to constantly reinforce this positive perception, through excellence in their everyday activities.
If we ask ourselves who knows the brand best, the answer is ’employees’. They are privy to organizational inner workings as much as they are aware of end user expectations. While traditional corporate branding strategies have broader reach, they fail to connect with customers on a personal level; an area where employee brand ambassadors excel. Properties managed by motivated FM employees run efficiently, leading to positive effect on key performance indicators (KPIs). Service providers, on the other hand, can unlock the economic benefits of employee engagement and in-house ambassador programmes, which are designed to help employees illuminate their blind spots and hidden strengths.