It was the evening of Oct. 5, and Dr. Paul O. Radde, Ph.D, a professional speaker, trainer, and coach, was inside the Apple Store in Boulder, CO, being personally tended to on a PowerPoint question concerning his Mac by a store associate, as part of Apple’s One to One service program. Suddenly, the store’s manager called for everyone’s attention over the speaker system.
“We have a tradition of ‘clapping out’ Apple employees when they leave the store at the end of shifts,” the manager said. “We have been informed that Steve Jobs just passed away, and we would like you all to join us as we clap him out.”
After a split second of stunned silence, the approximately 50 people in the Apple Store—customers and employees alike—applauded continuously for three minutes. “I was, frankly, honored to be a part of it,” Radde says, adding, “It was like witnessing a piece of history. The Apple Store is an amazing place, like a community center. People go in with a sense of excitement. The employees know what they’re doing. There’s a camaraderie. We were all, in a sense, thanking our benefactor.”
Apple is perhaps the greatest, most visible example of a fully engaged company. Following the death of its genius founder and longtime CEO, not only did tens of thousands of employees attend Jobs’ outdoor memorial service at Apple’s Cupertino, CA, headquarters, but its worldwide legion of customers and fans created memorials in front of all Apple Stores and paid homage online. “They believe in the organization as much as its people,” points out Jeff Grisamore, president of New York-based engagement agency EGR International. “They are its apostles.”
Apple, in a very real sense, pioneered the core concept of 360-degree engagement: emphasizing the connection between passionate employees and customer retention and thus business profitability. Here are four simple lessons from the Apple model that Jobs created—and examples of how some lesser-known companies are putting them into practice.
1. Build a Culture of Fandom
Of all the fans of Apple and its products, probably none are more enthusiastic than the company’s own employees. One of the chief reasons is that Apple allows employees to use many of its latest products on a daily basis. Apple employee discounts usually fall in the 15 to 25 percent range, making it easy for staff to buy the latest, “gotta have” Apple products for friends and family. Apple frequently gives every employee gifts ranging from the iPod shuffle to the iPhone. Also, before Apple recycles a computer, it gives employees the opportunity to take it home. All of this makes every employee a brand ambassador.
This is classic enterprise engagement theory: control or influence employee impact on consumer and channel partner relationships.
Fundamentally, enterprise engagement is making an organizational connection with employees, customers, and channel partners that aligns them to the business’ mission and goals, says Bruce Bolger, managing director of the Enterprise Engagement Alliance (EEA), whose own mission is to develop research and dialogue, an education curriculum and practical tools, and support in the corporate community. “It gives each audience a clear vision and uses integrated training, communications, leadership, rewards and recognition, technology, and measurement,” says Bolger.
“Building trust and strengthening relationships cuts across all constituents in any business model,” says Patty Saari, vice president of client services for the major incentive, engagement, and loyalty firm Aimia (formerly known as Carlson Marketing), an EEA founding sponsor. “If you don’t deliver on those components, the model starts to break down,” she notes.
Jim Dittman, president of New Brunswick, NJ-based Dittman Incentive Marketing, another EEA founding sponsor, similarly likens a corporation to an intricate machine. If one part fails, so do the others. Says Dittman, “If the people inside the company don’t understand the brand promise, customer interaction becomes a danger. Channel partners ignore you.”
“The face you present to the public must be the same one you reinforce inside the organization. We’re seeing more companies becoming more aware of this,” adds Beth Schelske, vice president of the performance solutions group at Des Moines, IA-based employee, sales, channel, and customer loyalty firm ITAGroup.
Dittman asserts that in an age where most companies produce highly similar products and services, the one enduring competitive edge any organization can leverage is engaged employees and end-users, especially for consumer companies. “You look at the most admired and profitable companies, and there is a correlation to high engagement,” he says.
2. Emphasize Employee Retention
The Apple attitude has a lasting impact on its employees. Even after leaving the company, former employees say they still “bleed six colors,” in reference to the original six-color Apple logo, according to Joe Moreno, a former Apple engineer.
Communication plays a big part in creating that loyalty. At Apple, employees can raise issues with upper management by posting on the Can We Talk section of the internal human resources web site.
Looking for that lasting impact, Nicor National, which sells energy-efficiency services and warranties for in-home utility repairs and handles customer service for several regional U.S. utilities out of its call center in Naperville, IL, used a communications-heavy employee engagement program. It reduced its operating cost by $1.8 million and cost per sale by 19 percent through engagement and customer satisfaction. Its 250-employee turnover rate from 2008 through 2010 was a low 22 percent in the high-turnover call center industry, which typically has rates of over 70 percent.
“When we looked at drivers for our employees, they wanted to feel helpful, competent, confident, and respected,” notes Barbara Porter, vice president of customer service and business development for Nicor National. “When we looked at drivers for engaged customers, they were employees who were knowledgeable and helpful in solving problems and employees who produced no surprises and went the extra mile in providing energy-efficiency tips and communicating the cost-lowering benefits of our products.”
Nicor National’s comprehensive employee engagement strategies reflect the integrated concept of communications, leadership, training, rewards and recognition, technology, and measurement. An employee ambassador team, elected annually by staff peers, is involved with corporate in the creation of internal employee communications and generally ensuring that company core values are practiced. Company managers are trained to hand-write congratulatory notes, and each month, there is a management roundtable where several employees are randomly selected to participate and debrief customer comments and brainstorm customer service ideas. “Instilling the leadership mindset has been the foundation of our company,” notes Porter.
Meanwhile, there is a company Wall of Fame, a weekly newsletter recognizes top performers and staff members who’ve lived company values or improved the most, and a quarterly newsletter communicates insights into Nicor National’s business and outlook. Each month, there are parallel contests for branded merchandise—one that is themed around a company value and the other based on peer recognition—as well as lunch-and-learns on topics ranging from financial management to personal wellness.
All of these efforts are linked to data collected by an enterprise feedback management platform from South Jordan, UT-based Allegiance Software. The software funnels all the feedback surveys that Nicor National conducts, including those for employees, annual customer satisfaction, and customer transaction quality, along with unsolicited customer feedback submitted through the company’s website, into one place for Porter.
“I can look at our ‘voice of the employee’ and ‘voice of the customer’ numbers on a daily basis and identify when engagement starts to decline, put actions into place, see how it rebounds, and learn what we’re doing right,” Porter says. “We use an engagement index for both employees and customers, and we correlated that when our employee engagement went up, our customer service performance went up.”
3. Create Great Customer Experiences
Apple believes a high-quality buying experience, with knowledgeable sales staff who convey the value of its products and services, greatly enhances its ability to attract and retain customers. The One to One service that Radde enjoyed at the Apple Store in Boulder, CO, the night Steve Jobs died is a good example of that commitment. Apple’s service program offers customers personal training sessions with the company’s frontline employees on all things Mac, iPhone, iPad, and iPod.
Targeting a high-quality experience for its patrons, St. Louis-based Isle of Capri Casinos, which operates 15 properties in six states, in the past three-plus years has aligned a companywide employee engagement and marketing plan called “See. Say. Smile.” with its brand promise of being the undisputed leader in customer courtesy and witnessed significant results, says Jim White, vice president of guest satisfaction.
In fact, the gaming company’s operating philosophy, which it posts on its web site, notes of using “human resources programs to reward” staff for “executing the operating plan,” in which two of the five pillars are elevating the customer experience and leveraging human capital. And, to demonstrate its internal “face” to the public, See. Say. Smile. has its own profile page on the web site.
When Isle of Capri Casinos began
See. Say. Smile. in May 2008, the metric it uses to evaluate customer courtesy by frontline employees was 59.5 percent across the company. The score is now 91.6 percent, and White says positive customer email feedback has jumped by 45 percent. A less direct metric, visitor count, has increased at most Isle of Capri properties over the last three years, he adds.
In See. Say. Smile.—which has a brand logo (pictured on opposite page), mission statement, internal marketing collateral, and incentive program—employees are monitored by mystery shoppers and scored on making eye contact with guests, extending friendly greetings, and smiling. Besides the $7.5 million in employee cash awards that Isle of Capri has doled out, White says general managers and management teams at each property have been responsible for developing non-cash awards and recognition and keeping the program fresh. Gift cards, Visa prepaid cards, merchandise, and promotional products are meted out quarterly to departments that score highest or show the most improvement.
In another instance of the inside interfacing with the outside, 12 of 15 Isle of Capri properties have had the honor of displaying publicly the Smile Cup, a trophy that goes to the highest-scoring property each month. Other glimpses of See. Say. Smile. that guests have had are the brand’s pins and buttons that frontline employees wear on their lapels. In a short span, the program created a passionate culture of dedicated employees who have elevated the guest experience, which has led to repeat visits. White notes that customer feedback emails have consistently praised the friendliness and happiness of its employees.
4. Focus on Projects, Not Silos
At Apple, it’s never “How long have you worked for the company?” but rather “How many projects have you worked on?” It’s not uncommon for employees to move between several different divisions and jobs. This is directly related to one of Steve Jobs’ core values for himself: focus on specific projects, and the roles of the departments will fall into place.
Ira M. Ozer, founder and president of Chappaqua, NY-based Engagement Partners, a consultancy that helps corporations with problem-solving and sourcing engagement tools and suppliers, notes, “Companies remain quite ‘siloed.’ In individual departments, programs that are designed to recognize and engage people are frequently not consolidated to a become a collaborative solution that can improve culture and focus on the customer.”
“Companies operating in silos often run into conflicts. You have HR looking at employees, the sales department at channel programs, and a completely different section at consumers,” echoes Beau Ballin, marketing director for Minneapolis-based MotivAction. None of them had “talked together” until now, he says, as they “are beginning to see how an employee engagement program impacts the channel and consumer purchasing behaviors.”
Making that happen requires a C-level and senior management commitment to change, which is another familiar engagement best practice. “It starts at the top. All successful companies have CEOs that look at themselves as chief engagement officers,” says Bolger of the EEA. It’s a sentiment shared by Ozer: “It is critical that the CEO and top executives communicate the vision and back it up with programs and processes that support it.”
That was the case at Isle of Capri Casinos, where White notes, “The push came from the very top, James B. Perry (then-CEO and now executive chairman), who said, ‘We are going to do this, and this is how it’s going to happen.’ And that push is still ever-present.”
When the C-level is not inherently attuned to engagement, demonstrating its return on investment in terms that senior executives can quantify to the bottom line is crucial. Saari at Aimia says clients showing active interest in enterprise engagement are seeking “a dollars and cents perspective.” “If they commit investment dollars, how is it going to benefit? They want to measure quick, tangible results,” she says.
“One reason why we have our measurement processes in place is so we can link them to business outcomes that the C-level is expecting,” says Porter at Nicor National. “By showing that employee engagement and customer loyalty delivers operational results, we make sure the C-level stays engaged with our programs, and we’ve been able to increase our engagement budget.”
Enterprise engagement is revamping not just corporations but also incentive industry suppliers. Find out how here.