Your Employees, Not Your Customers, Are the Key To Successful Brand Loyalty

When companies think about the final point of contact—or touchpoint—for generating brand loyalty, they usually focus on the customer. After all, customers buy your product, recommend it to friends and are less likely to switch brands. Equally critical to customer satisfaction and long-term loyalty are your employees. After all, it is your employees who are the last point of contact with your brand. They are the face of your brand, and they must be engaged and on message with their company’s brand at this crucial juncture.


Scott M. Davis and Michael Dunne wrote about this in one of my favorite books, Building the Brand-Driven Business. The reasons your people are key is pretty straightforward. They write: “It provides a tangible reason for employees to believe in a company, which keeps them motivated and energized. It allows each employee to see how he or she fits into the grand scheme of delivering the brand vision (and) provides a great recruiting tactic as well as a powerful retention tool.”


And that is never more important than in this hypercompetitive, post-2008 time of economic uncertainty.


A brand defines the relationship customers have with your company, and nowhere is that relationship stronger than in the contact between your employees and your customers. If you’re a CEO reading this blog, ask yourself: When was the last time I had one-on-one contact with my customers? I’ll bet it was quite a while ago. If ever.


You know that a brand is more than just a company name—it’s a promise to deliver consistently a specific set of features, benefits and services. Again, it’s your employees who make that delivery.


You don’t need celebrities or athletes to be brand ambassadors—your employees are the best ambassadors you have. They’re on the front line of your company. Employees want to believe in the company. They want to believe in your brand. Your employees must be engaged to deliver on the brand. They must know what your company stands for and what makes it different—and better—than your competitors. They must be able to explain it and then be empowered to deliver it.


Engaged employees help create loyal customers and provide a human connection in this age of online purchasing. In fact, studies show there is a powerful connection between levels of employee engagement and business performance.


Imagine the difference between employees at a Ritz-Carlton and those at a Walmart. The staff of the Ritz actually lives the brand, whereas Walmart’s workers are typically unhappy and now want to start a union.


And take a look at McDonald’s. How many times have you gone to their drive-thru but your order was screwed up and you didn’t notice until you got home? Sure, McDonald’s has great brand recognition, but their employees just go through the motions while making $7.25 an hour. Next time you’ll probably buy your burgers at another franchise, even though they’re all staffed with minimum-wage employees.


Then there’s Chick-fil-A, which truly cares about its employees, and its employees, in turn, deliver on the company brand exceptionally well for minimum wage. Chick-fil-A is a faith-driven business that is closed on Sundays, and yet their sales exceed $4.6 billion. Chick-fil-A is said by some to have the best business model in America. McDonald’s could sure learn a lot from that model.


Of course, Starbucks does it well, too. They hire on brand. Working there is “cool”. Their baristas—Starbucks calls them “partners”—are into music. They call you by your first name. Yet, Starbucks pays their employees less than $9 per hour. And their employees consistently deliver a positive brand experience. They are true brand ambassadors.


No matter what a CEO has created at the top of the organization, customers won’t believe it at the cash register if they’ve had a bad experience. So how does a CEO get his message to be delivered at every point of contact, by each and every employee across the organization?


He has to hire on brand. He has to hire people who share the organization’s values. He can’t just hire people—he has to actively invest and communicate his vision to all of his employees. Too many businesses create a program for an employee’s first 90 days (or whatever period of time) to see if they’re a good fit. That’s backwards. If the organization is attracting employees who share the same values, it should have already hired the fit and should have hired on brand to start with. Then those first 90 days could be used to help new employees engage with the brand and the company, assuring that the investment of time and expense is not wasted. You want employees who come to work happy, living your brand and delivering on your brand.


Employees touch your customers at the finish line. If you have unhappy employees, potential customers will not have an enjoyable purchasing experience. And it doesn’t matter what business you’re in—dry cleaning, hotel, burgers, a private school, shoes—if it’s not done well, that’s a brand fail.


Brand development is a top-down strategy that permeates the entire organization. All communication with employees needs to be ongoing and authentic. The key to successful branding is building a brand-based culture within your business. Treat your people as you do your customers, and you will reap the profits.


Remember: Happy employees make happy customers. It may be a cliché. But, it’s also true.