Brand Ambassadors: Hidden Gems You May Be Overlooking

Evangelists aren't always customers. Here's how to uncover the employees who make your brand stand out among the competition.

When asked to think of meaningful, influential careers, most people will probably not find "doorman" to be top of mind. Most people will mention doctor, teacher, politician, the rich and the famous. But most people have not met Gil Perez.

According to clients of prestigious Christie's Auction House, Gil is "the greatest doorman in New York City." Actually, he's no longer called doorman. Today Gil has the title of assistant vice president (see photo below of Gil dressed for an auction of items fromthe Roy Rogers and Dale Evans Museum last year). For close to 30 years Gil has transformed a seemingly mundane task-opening the door-into a meaningful human experience. He remembers birthdays, hails cabs in the rain, befriends the younger generation, and takes a genuine interest in the lives of Christie's clients.

After 9/11 Christie's clients worldwide reached out to Gil to make sure he and his family were OK. It's unlikely that anybody called Christie's headquarters to make sure the building was still standing, that the gavels went unscathed, but they did call the person who had made an impression on their lives.

Mining for gold

Every organization has similar stories about employees who aren't just serving customers, they are relating to them. These Brand Ambassadors' great work and commitment to customer service helps to create legions of loyal customers who passionately promote a business and its brand(s) to others.

The challenge many companies face is being able to systematically uncover these stories. One of the best ways to unearth your Brand Ambassadors is to solicit feedback from customers. By asking customers if there is somebody they would like to recognize, managers can share immediate, real-time kudos with the employees who are going above and beyond.

And the business value to doing this is significant.

Three organizations that have been systematically capturing and sharing customer recognition with their staff have realized the following benefits:

  • Fixed-based operation finds recognition drives customer loyalty: This multi-location organization knows that when it comes to fuelling, maintenance, and passenger services great service is the route to differentiation. This business has uncovered a correlation between customer recognition and customer loyalty. Specifically, locations with staff that encourage a high volume of recognition from customers also have the highest levels of customer loyalty.

  • Million-dollar service in casual dining: Guests who recognize their server for providing excellent service are much more loyal and engaged than are those who do not (an 18 point gap). Across one casual dining chain's footprint, this boost in server recognition is projected to lead to 30,000 more visits per annum. With a $35 average check size, this equates to more than $1 million dollars in additional revenue from great service alone.

  • Accounting firm links recognition, client engagement, and share of budget: About half of all clients of one accounting firm who generated Recognition Alerts about employees were found to be Fully Engaged (that is, they would keep working with the firm and recommend it to others), compared to just over one fourth of clients who did not create an alert. Additionally, Fully Engaged clients allocate 40 percent more of their total accounting budget to this provider than do those who are merely ambivalent.

Making brand ambassadorship contagious

Excellence begets excellence.

As sharing customer recognition becomes part of the fabric of an organization, recognition increases. The casual dining chain referenced above found a statistically significant jump in the proportion of guests recognizing servers over time.

In the initial months of the program, recognition hovered around 34 percent (that is around one in three guests took the time to recognize their server). By the second period, this had jumped to 40 percent.

Social networks influence nearly every aspect of our lives from how happy we feel, how heavy we are, and how likely we are to go out of our way for someone. It's "like schools of fish changing direction in unison, we are consciously and unconsciously led by the people around us," write Nicholas Christakis and James H Fowler in Connected: The Surprising Power of Our Social Networks and How They Shape Our Lives.

Knowing that our actions are highly influenced by those around us has significant implications for customer service performance. Systematically celebrating and recognizing the successes of your best people, makes Brand Ambassadorship contagious. Their existence in your company encourages everyone's work to be raised to another level. And the result is consistently better customer experiences and, ultimately, better business performance.

After all, as Gil Perez knows, business is never about doors, but always about the people who walk through them.

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About the Author: Kate Feather is executive vice president of PeopleMetrics