One of the most powerful and influential touchpoints your brand has is its “Brand Ambassadors.” These can be loyal customers who sing your brands praises and tell anyone who will listen how much they love your restaurant. They can also be your employees who so love working for your organization that it shows in their job performance, in their customer service and in their words when they speak about your brand.
In this case, we will focus on cultivating passionate, engaged employees as Brand Ambassadors. This can be one of your biggest brand assets, but it may also be the area where you must invest the most time and energy. There are a few companies that understand this and have been relentless in ensuring that their employees are brand enthusiasts. This happens when you are known as a best place to work.
Zappos is often cited as a company known for its helpful and enthusiastic employees. While the company has a solid business model and operations to sell shoes and clothing online, that is not its focus. For Zappos, the real power is in the emotional connection it builds with its customers. The emotional connection is built through consistent excellent service and memorable experiences. Rather than making numbers and sales quotas, Zappos employees are focused on “wowing” customers.
Customer service members that field customers’ calls are given free rein to make customers happy. It requires a special skill set to field calls for hours a day and to solve problems without a script. There is a training period for new hires with an offer at the end – an offer to quit and receive pay for time worked, plus $1,000 bonus. This policy may seem crazy, but it weeds out those who may not embrace the company’s mission, vision and passion for excellent customer service.
Similarly, Southwest Airlines is not just another company that will fly you from Point A to Point B, it is a customer service company that transports commercial flight passengers. An experience with Southwest involves personality, humor and efficiency (or as efficient as they can be in the airline industry). For Southwest, an employee’s attitude is as important as their experience and skills. Like Zappos, Southwest empowers its employees to do whatever it takes to make customers happy and to treat them like friends and family. Happy customers make great Brand Ambassadors, but so do the employees who love working for your organization.
Now that you’ve seen two examples of the positive benefits of employee Brand Ambassadors, we’ll show you how to cultivate internal Brand fans. If you want enthusiastic employees, you have to be a great restaurant at which to work. Here are five guidelines to help you build a great workplace environment.
1. Know your brand. You must be clear on your restaurant’s brand, mission, vision and goals and you must know how to communicate these to current, new and potential employees. You should also have a brand book that is given to all employees. Everyone must understand the brand so that they are able to do their part in delivering a consistent brand experience and message.
Your brand planning should include steps to make sure that your restaurant is not only the place to dine, but also the place to work. Think about unique benefits that you can offer to employees. Rather than a one-size fits all approach, you might offer a variety of things such as salary, flexible schedule, opportunities to develop a career, health benefits, pleasant and helpful coworkers and a company culture that rewards respect, integrity, innovation and thoughtfulness. Remember to include your employees and their role when explaining your brand. People are driven to exceed when they feel like they have a purpose – show and tell them that they are key to the success of the restaurant and the brand.
2. Hiring Process. Once you have your brand down pat, you will be able to explain it to potential new hires and give the brand book for reference and reminders. Finding the right employees will be a key step in developing your Brand Ambassadors. When interviewing candidates, be prepared to invest time in interviewing and really listening to what people have to say. It is your job to find out if their values are aligned with that of your brand, why they want the job and if they will be a good fit. By listening carefully, you will also be able to determine what benefits you will be able to offer an ideal candidate. For example, one person may be looking for a career path – which you could offer, while another may be looking for part-time work while in school – your flexible scheduling may appeal to this person.
Think about what skills you believe are most important for an employee’s success. Danny Meyer, renowned restaurateur and author has his own “51% rule” when hiring or evaluating people. Technical job performance counts for 49% and emotional job performance, how people perform duties and relate to others, counts for 51%. He believes that he can train someone the proper way to present menus, take orders, describe specials, season food or sear a scallop, but training for emotional skills is near impossible. People are either naturally caring, curious, empathetic, self-aware, hard working and proud of their work or they aren’t.
Furthermore, “like attracts like.” When you hire people who are caring, empathetic and strive to do their best, you may end up with a great working environment and which translates into a very warm ambiance at your restaurant that is enjoyed by a group of intensely loyal, wonderful repeat customers.
3. Tools for success. Once you bring a new employee on board, you should have a training protocol in place that helps them to become more familiar with the brand and to understand how things work. Don’t just throw them in and expect them to swim; encourage learning in your culture. Spend some time teaching more seasoned employees leadership and training skills that will make them great mentors. New employees should feel comfortable asking questions and seeking help. This builds trust, which is discussed further in Step 4.
Pave a path towards mastery for your employees. People embrace challenge, mastery and contribution. You will need to spend time figuring out what these pathways are and which of your more seasoned employees can mentor the newer ones. The benefit is two fold: Your skilled employees will be happy and you will have peace of mind knowing that you are able to trust your staff and give them autonomy. At this point, you can tell your employees to “do what it takes to delight customers” and they will know what to do without asking for permission or reading a manual. They may find a way to cook something that is not on the menu, provide a round of drinks if a wait is too long or track down a customer who left their phone in the restaurant. Your customers will be delighted and your employees will have stories about how they solved a problem and made someone happy. Both groups will have reasons to sing your praises.
4. Create an environment of Trust. This step is critical and probably takes the most time, but will become a foundational part of your restaurant’s culture and a key to your success. Building trust starts at the top with you and your management team creating an environment where people can speak up and ask for help or make suggestions without fearing serious repercussions, such as being regarded as inferior or, worse, getting fired. When people feel trust, they are able to focus on work and the task at hand rather than competing with coworkers or covering themselves. Trust also allows people to feel comfortable making suggestions, to voice disagreement and to do what’s best for the restaurant (rather than for themselves). When people are able to speak up and disagree, they know that they are being heard which makes them feel that they are important to the organization. When they feel like they are important to the restaurant’s success, they will commit to the task at hand and do their best. They will also expect the best from themselves and their colleagues. Finally, with all these pieces in place, employees will care about the success of the restaurant, the well-being of their coworkers and the happiness of the customers.
5. Monitor your Brand Ambassador efforts. This is not a set-it-and-forget-it program. You will have to make sure that your brand is being well represented and that your employees are delivering a consistent experience in your restaurant. If you see that there are inconsistencies, have a brand refresher course that includes the important role that they play in the restaurant and its success. You will need to have staff meetings to make sure that your employees are happy and the team is performing well together. You will have to be available to listen to employees on an individual basis and be prepared to hear about the “good stuff” like how they solved a problem or made a customer’s day – enjoy those stories and share them with employees and customers. You will also have to hear about the “bad stuff” like a team member who is not working out or that you need to intervene in a disagreement; view these as learning opportunities and problem-solving exercises. You will also have to listen to your customers in person, on the phone, over email, on social media and review sites and see what they are saying about your staff.
Cultivating employees who will be your best Brand Ambassadors will take time and effort, but it will pay off. You know it is important to delight your customers, but remember to delight your staff and make your restaurant a great place to work. Happy employees who love working for you will strengthen your brand, will sing your praises and will create memorable experiences for customers who will want to come back again and again.
Jocelyn Ring is co-founder of Brain Tattoo Publishing and is a business strategist, entrepreneur and visual facilitator.