• September 20, 2022
  • By Andrew Duffy, cofounder and CEO, SparkPlug

Building Brand Ambassadors: How to Boost CX Through Employee Empowerment

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At the early onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, amid shelter-in-place orders and social distancing mandates, the future of brick-and-mortar retail looked bleak; it seemed that consumers were more than happy to do their shopping from their couch indefinitely. Our “new normal” meant no waiting in line and, most importantly, no risk of exposure.

More than two years later, it seems the tide is turning once again. Vaccines, pent-up discretionary spending, and prolonged social isolation means consumers are excited to leave their homes and yearning to experience the world once again. More than half of all consumers now prefer to find new products in-store. Another study found that 73 percent of consumers say customer experience is an important factor in their purchasing decisions and 86 percent say they’re willing to pay more for a better customer experience.

So what now? How do businesses utilize the customer experience to drive brand loyalty and sales? The concept of great customer experience in a physical retail environment hinges on the customers’ interaction with the store employees. In that sense, a great customer experience begins with a great employee experience. Frontline employees have significant influence over consumer purchasing decisions, the more passionate an employee is about their job, the more passionately they evangelize products and the better customer service they provide. Brands and retailers alike will spend huge amounts on digital advertising and sponsored influence posts to promote their business, but too often they overlook the most valuable influencers already on their payrolls.

It is crucial for businesses to recognize that frontline employees have the ability to positively affect customer purchasing behavior. Employees are the true product experts who are conversing with countless consumers each day, all while understanding their needs and ultimately recommending and guiding the customer to the right products. It is in the interest of all parties involved to leverage and invest in the powerful influence frontline workers have right at the point of purchase.

Why Invest in Retail Workers?

Traditional advertising and influencer marketing use a one-size-fits-all approach to product promotion. Although their ads might be viewed by a wide audience, only a fraction of those views convert to sales. Furthermore, the world of online advertising is becoming increasingly competitive, with PPC (price-per-click) and CPM (cost-per-thousand-impressions) rising dramatically over the past two years.

What’s more, online influencers are demanding hefty investments from their brand partners, often offering little visibility into ROI in return. Brands can expect to pay upwards of $5,000 to $10,000 per sponsored post from a credible online influencer with a decent following. Luckily, there are other ways businesses can increase sales with predictable results and without gambling their marketing budget: by activating their frontline brand ambassadors—in-store employees.

Consider the following:

Human touch and consultation are irreplaceable. Eighty-three percent of U.S. consumers prefer human interaction over digital channels to solve customer service issues and to get advice. Consider how many customers walk into a store with just a general idea of what they are looking for, ultimately walking out with a purchase that was prompted by an employee’s recommendation. Customers trust employees to help them make an informed decision based on their specific needs. Personalization in digital advertising is getting better every day, but nothing beats a helpful store associate, happily discussing a customer’s needs and speaking to their own experience.

When trained and motivated properly, employees serve as brand evangelists. From a recent survey on compensation and motivation of frontlines in the foodservice industry, it was found that tips are not the most motivating factor for employees to perform well in their job. Beyond what they earn, workers care about career progression and opportunities for growth–they want to impress management and sharpen their skills to keep growing in their industry. Training provides employees with the right skills and knowledge to perform their job, and an incentive-based compensation structure makes them feel valued and integral to the business.

Loyal customers spend more money. Keeping the right customer is oftentimes more valuable than acquiring a new one. It costs far less to keep loyal customers than to acquire new customers—anywhere from five times to 25 times cheaper. What’s more, increasing customer retention rates by 5 percent increases profits by 25 to 95 percent. On the flip side, companies in the U.S. lose $1.6 trillion due to poor customer service. It all boils down to the quality of service that frontline workers provide. A great customer experience is the foundation that business-customer relationships are built upon and providing an environment where employees want to succeed will only strengthen your repeat customers over time.

How Can Businesses Position Their Employees as Valuable Brand Influencers?

It is clear that outstanding customer experience is derived from a shared customer experience-driven strategy and vision across departments. Businesses should be inclined to empower their employees to do right by customers, ultimately harnessing the influence of their most valuable brand ambassadors.

From that perspective, effective incentivization tools like commission programs that reward sales can motivate and empower employees to deliver exceptional, personalized customer experiences that drive revenue. When employees are properly incentivized, they seek our product education and make better recommendations to customers. When employees are happy, engaged, and motivated, customers not only notice, but they spend more.

As a final note, it's important to value long-term customers over short-term profits, and businesses need to empower staff to make things right when things go wrong. It is not enough to be a customer-focused business. Exceptional customer experience and employee satisfaction always go hand-in-hand. Proper employee motivation using incentive programs creates a chain reaction that results in greater customer satisfaction and higher average baskets—a rare win-win for businesses, teams, and customers.

Andrew Duffy is cofounder and CEO of SparkPlug, the first employee incentive management platform for retailers and restaurants. By leveraging deep industry experience in finance and retail technology, Duffy has been instrumental in shaping SparkPlug’s mission: to fix the broken hourly labor market, deliver actual actionable data to brick-and-mortar businesses, and motivate retail and restaurant employees with performance-based rewards. SparkPlug works with more than 1,000 businesses across the United States and has delivered over $1 million in supplemental income to frontline hourly employees.

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