How Essential Is Employee Engagement For Your Brand?

On Friday, I was asked to tag along to visit several dealerships in a hunt for a new car. Having grown up around cars in my late father's car repair shop, my entourage believe that I bring added insight to the matter, a misconception I maintain thanks to Google and the internet.

When we set out on our grand tour, my companion told me beforehand which brand dealerships they had visited and which car had ranked more points in in the quest for it to be The One.

As we hopped from one dealership to another, met with their salespeople, discussed the various vehicles specs and budgets and eventually had our own post review discussion, it dawned on me that there was a close correlation between some specific wording used by the salespeople and how we perceived the brand from our angle as customers.
Out of 5 dealerships we visited I noticed the following:

  • 3 dealerships left us unimpressed, one of which was completely unpleasant
  • 2 dealerships were great, one of which was really excellent.

I am not going to mention which is which because this is not the point of this piece and because there are enough people on blogs whoring themselves out to brands. What I will mention though is the common denominator among the 3 dealerships which offered the most disappointing experience. During our visit to each of those, we naturally asked a lot of questions about the exhibited vehicles, their features, the lack of certain options and models and whether they might be bringing those into the local market. In retrospect, I noticed that in each case the salesperson would refer to his own dealership  as "they". To be clear, they did not refer to the brand but to the local dealership (management)
  • They chose not to include these options in the car
  • They chose not to bring this model to Lebanon
  • They decided to raise the price
  • They prefer not to sell this...

This was aggravated by a more detached body language that made us feel that the salespeople just wanted to be done with answering the questions in order to go take a break.
Compared to the two locations where we had a good experience, this inferred a major disconnect between management and its employees. In both locations that made it to the final selection lists, salespeople distinguished themselves by:
  • A more upbeat demeanor: they would immediately notice a new client walking in, greet promptly and engage in helpful but non intrusive discussion.
  • They ALWAYS talked about their offerings and vehicles by using "WE":
    • We have the best rated vehicles
    • We have superior after sales
    • We have the best deal in this range of vehicles
This forced me to do some introspection about my own behavior in various instances of jobs, associations and activities that I had been a part of. I can safely say that the correlation applied also to me.  The best example I can give is my past experience in the Telecom sector:
  • While working with Cellis (FTML) one of the first two mobile operators in Lebanon, my speech always used the "We" form.
  • When Cellis was substituted by what is now Alfa and the plethora of companies that have subsequently managed this brand name ("managed" being an overstatement here), myself and several of my colleagues drifted slowly but surely to using "They" when referring to the company even while we still worked there.
In essence, no matter how deep business owners, management teams or any person in charge of  brands choose to bury their heads in the sands of "employees are here to slave for me", at some point they need to wake up to the smell of disgruntled staff passively sabotaging the business just by their demeanor and body language (to begin with).
The only time a business can carry on not giving a damn about it's employees and not suffer the consequences is when it is monopolizing a sector (and we know all about that in Lebanon).

It goes beyond any doubt that whatever you seed internally in terms of employee engagement will surely trickle down to you customers. It won't matter how many discounts you do, how many offers you release, your brand will be always associated with the resentment emanating from your customer-facing staff.
Good luck getting rid of that stench!

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