How to motivate your frontline employees to become brand champions

Learn how Zappos, Starbucks and the others do it in style.

 Your blue-collar workforce is the most visible part of your brand.  

Your blue-collar workforce is the most visible part of your brand.  

The CEO of fashion e-tailer Zappos often recalls this story:

After a Skechers’ conference in Santa Monica, Tony Hsieh (the aforementioned CEO) took a few company representatives on a bar-hopping expedition across town. By the time the group got back to the hotel to order food, room-service was closed.

Hsieh then coaxed the pizza-craving Skechers rep to place an order through the Zappos hotline.

The atypical request initially confused the call center rep. But she quickly recovered, put the call on hold, and returned with a list of five closest late-night pizza restaurants.

The Skechers’ rep was floored, and became a Zappos convert for life.

What prompted a call center rep employed with a fashion etailer to look for pizza outlets?

The answer lies within what Zappos articulates as its goal “..The company that provides the absolute best service online — not just in shoes, but in any category.”

The Zappos rep was just practicing the ethos of the brand.

Getting employees to wear company T-shirts is one thing. Getting them to wear their hearts on their sleeve and become brand champions, is another thing altogether.

This is true especially when dealing with frontline employees, or deskless workers as they are commonly called. That’s because they are almost always on the field, have time-bound deliverables and are spread across multiple locations.

Clearly, deskless workers aren’t your cubicle-resident white-collar workers.

But, because they are always on the field, they are also the most visible representatives of your brand. If making them a brand champion is your company’s goal, then they need to know that you have their best interests at heart.

In all probability, they would act just like a founder would and become the brand ambassador you always wanted them to be.

But what policies should your company adopt to effect such a radical change in their personality?

Zappos does this by trusting employees implicitly, and empowering them with decision making capabilities. Typically, call center reps are often asked to stick to a script. Beyond a point, their hands are tied and there’s little else that they can do to help a customer. And so a vicious cycle of unhappy customers and disgruntled employees ensues.

Zappos reversed this cycle by introducing a no-script rule. By giving employees full freedom to do whatever it takes deliver a “Wow” experience, it created the perfect setting for happy customers and happier employees. The result: thousands of customer-service stories that put a good portion of the Zappos branding activity on auto-pilot.

This is just one of the many initiatives that companies have taken to empower their frontline employees. We bring to you a few more of these:

The Container Store

  The Container Store has won the Fortune’s “100 Best Companies to Work For” award 16 times in a row. Read on to know what it does right by its employees. Image source    here   .

The Container Store has won the Fortune’s “100 Best Companies to Work For” award 16 times in a row. Read on to know what it does right by its employees. Image source here.

The US-based retail chain specializes in storage products, employs over 6,000 people and has an annual employee turnover rate of around 10%, compared to an industry average of 100%. It has set gold standards in customer service. Besides taking care of their employees by paying them well (more 50% higher than industry average) here’s another important step they’ve taken to empower their employees to become brand ambassadors.

Making communication paramount

“Simply put, we want every single employee in our company to know absolutely everything,” says the company on its website.

A sense of familiarity offered by a constant flow of communication, guarantees that the employees know why the company is doing what it is doing.

Doing this takes time and it is possible that some information they share could fall into competitors’ hands, “but the advantages far outweigh the risks,” says the company.

Starbucks

  These are Starbucks Partners of Englewood in Chicago, a locality that has a higher than average unemployment rates and crime incidences. All of them are devoted to Starbucks because the company instills a sense of responsibility towards a still-recovering community. You can read about it    here

These are Starbucks Partners of Englewood in Chicago, a locality that has a higher than average unemployment rates and crime incidences. All of them are devoted to Starbucks because the company instills a sense of responsibility towards a still-recovering community. You can read about it here

Starbucks has mastered the art of transforming their employees into brand champions, making it the $83 billion company that it is today. Here’s what the company does right:

(1) Develop a mission statement that matters

To inspire and nurture the human spirit — one person, one cup and one neighbourhood at a time.

Starbuck’s mission statement has two elements to it: It can be easily understood, and gives employees a sense of larger purpose.

And it is known to frequently pitch in to support the neighborhood it occupies: Post Hurricane Katrina, the company pooled efforts, contributed 54,000 volunteer hours during the week, and invested more than $1 million in rebuilding projects.

Effecting and witnessing such large-scale changes first-hand is a continuous theme of empowerment in the Starbucks community.

(2) Invest in employees’ training and wellbeing

When executive chairman Howard Schultz retook control of Starbucks in 2007, the company was on a downward spiral due to a deteriorating focus on quality and operations.

The first item on his agenda was to shut down all US stores for a day, costing the company $6 million.

Why?

So that the company train them all to make the perfect espresso.

This day-long training kicked off a series of commitments towards employees that included healthcare and tuition benefits.

The company also provides an opportunity for their baristas to study the coffee-making process, right from growing coffee, to making that perfect cup of espresso, helping them sell the brand story effectively to customers.

Starbucks went the distance to lengths to educate and empower employees. And that reflects in the brand it has been able to carve out for itself.

The takeaway:

If each of the above companies had not taken the steps they took to empower their employees: be it with giving them decision-making powers, or providing an open communication channel or even investing in their education, the companies would have been smaller versions of what they are today.

Be more open with your employees. Engage with them, empower them and watch them transform into the brand evangelists you were always on the lookout for.

The potential brand evangelists are right in front of your eyes, and in large numbers. All you have to do is open-up.