The Role of Employee Engagement in Customer Loyalty Strategies

Despite the fact that technology drives a considerable portion of brand dynamics and perception, loyalty marketers realize that success boils down to the human element, effectively engaging their employees that, ultimately, impacts and strengthens consumer relationships that lead to customer loyalty.
That was the focal point from Thursday’s Loyalty360 webinar titled, “Executive Perspectives: Employee Engagement & Customer Loyalty.”
Loyalty360 CEO and CMO Mark Johnson told attendees that the “Executive Perspectives” reports seek to provide unique data points that makes them more relatable.
Experts define employee engagement as an employee’s emotional connection to the organization and a commitment to its goals. As an association focused on customer, channel, and brand loyalty, Loyalty360’s goal is to ask open-ended questions to help frame the challenges and opportunities in a much deeper way, seeking to go beyond the limitations of prescriptive or quantitative surveys to enable a true discourse and open an enriching discussion. 
Last year, Loyalty360 gathered numerous responses from thought leaders across a comprehensive range of industries that answered the following question: How does employee loyalty and/or employee engagement fit into the customer loyalty discussion?
Marketers noted the following success factors for employee engagement in support of customer loyalty: Culture from the Top Down; Educating Everybody in the Organization; Hiring the Right People; Using Employee Incentives; Providing an Effective Work Environment; and Using Employee Feedback.
Here is a sampling of the responses:
Culture from the Top Down
Jamie Russo, Head of Loyalty and Customer Engagement, Choice Hotels International:
“It’s a tremendous part of it, really across the board, because the idea of people believing in the idea of loyalty—especially at the highest levels of the organization that controls the resources and money—is paramount to having done what we’ve been able to do. The investments we made in loyalty would not have been possible without our chief commercial officer, the president of our company, and our CEO saying that loyalty was going to be one of the pillars that we were going to stand on as part of adding more value to our customers. Then as we think about our team, the loyalty the organization team has to have passion. You have to love what you do and love the idea of the game of loyalty as well the impact it can have on customers. Our employees are incredibly passionate about what they do: listening to customer calls and understanding what drives our customers because they are different than other brands. This ensures that what we are doing is adding value to those members and that extends on to our customer service organization. Our associates answering the phones need to be able to understand and articulate the value of the program so that they can help us recover heroically from any customer issues.”
Educating Everybody in the Organization
Meredith Wenz, Director of Marketing, Auntie Anne’s:
“Employee engagement is key. We make sure the crew members are engaged and have bought into the program. They are the ones selling it. We also have close relationships with our franchisees. We work with them all of the time to get their input and to make sure they have the tools needed to pass onto their crew members. It is the person at the counter that is providing that experience to the guest and promoting all of the products and programs that we have.”
Hiring the Right People
Norman Vossschulte, Director of Guest Experience, Philadelphia Eagles:
“We try to do for our staff what we want them to do for our fans. We always felt like the better way is not give them a fish, but teach them how to fish. Our approach is not to tell them what to do. They know what to do because they have worked for other sports teams in the past. It is easy to take an admission ticket. What is not so easy is helping my staff members smile and talk to the fan as well. If the fan says, ‘This is my first Eagles game!’ he will ask where they are sitting, write it down, then follow up so we can do something for the fan.”
Using Employee Incentives
Adrian Sosa, SVP of Membership and Analytics, BJ’s Wholesale Club:
“The employees are very important to us, and we are doing things around employee loyalty to ensure that we have an engaged population. Employees love the incentives that we set up and the contests we run. We want to reward them for being great employees. We are also looking at creating other incentive programs that can reward cashiers in the same vein that upsell other members into the loyalty program.”
Providing an Effective Work Environment
Renee Cacchillo, VP of Digital and Customer Innovation, Safelite AutoGlass:
“Honestly, it all begins with our employee engagement. We believe happy people equal happy customers. We talk about consumers’ needs changing in the way that they want to interact with companies. It’s the same thing for the people serving them. You think about the millennials in the workforce. They’re not arriving soon; they are already here in our workforce. How they want to interact with us is something to consider. They likely prefer to work more on an app rather than on a laptop or a desktop. We need to consider this to provide a great experience for our employees. In fact, we just launched an innovation lab called Safelite Works. It’s designed to create solutions for our people, our customers, and our clients. It’s going to be a place where we look at new ideas that are either adjacent to our business or transformative to our business and some will stay close to the core.”
Using Employee Feedback
Eric Messerschmidt, SVP Marketing Strategy, Loyalty, and CRM, Ulta Beauty:
“They share the passion. I would say most of our associates in our stores and on the front lines are beauty enthusiasts. They love beauty, and that is why the love working at Ulta. Every one of our associates is a member of our loyalty program. They can experience the benefits just like our customers can and they love it. It makes them ambassadors that are more powerful because they get the same kinds of communications, catalogs, and emails that our members get. They know when the bonuses occur and they play them to their advantage just like our best customers do. It’s great to see the excitement and the passion, and when something is going wrong with the program, they are the first ones on top of it letting us know so we can correct it right away. It’s wonderful what we’ve seen over the last few years and why our membership is growing faster than 25 percent a year. Our employees do a tremendous job of converting a non-member into a member at the point of sale. That’s because our associates understand the value for the program and can articulate that to the guest, they’re excited about it. They also understand the value of the program to Ulta. By signing up members of the program and capturing their content information, we are better able to serve those customers. The customers come in more often, and the store does better, so our employees are very engaged in the program.”

Johnson said that the socialization is very important within these companies, how they’re talking about employee engagement, and how they’re looking at education.

“They realize that the education process is very, very important,” Johnson said. “A fit for the culture is very important as well. Having a flexible test and learn process helps drive greater employee engagement.”

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