Elizabeth Cogswell Baskin

Does your CEO talk to the people delivering your brand promise?

Who creates the customer experience? The employees working in retail stores, hotels, restaurants, and call centers, of course. The frontline employees represent the face of your brand and they’re the ones who deliver on the brand promise — or not.

If you can engage the frontline as ambassadors, you’ve got some real fire power. Cascading communications through people managers works well for some topics, but it often takes top management to inspire them, to lead them to a place where they truly feel ownership of delivering your brand promise.

Frontline employees want to learn the soul of the company from their executive management. In one of Tribe’s national studies,  58 percent of frontline employees indicated that they’d like direct communication from top management about the company’s vision and values. And when they don’t hear from their leadership team, they often make the assumption that it’s because the top executives don’t respect them or their contributions to the success of the company.

How often does your CEO communicate directly to the frontline folks? That communication doesn’t necessarily mean an in-person plant visit or retail store appearance. It could be a streaming town hall, a leadership video, an interview in an employee magazine, or a CEO Corner on a mobile-friendly intranet. It could even be digital signage or a letter mailed home or a podcast. The important thing is that some culturally relevant communication comes straight from the top to the people doing the real work of the company.

Reaching the frontline is not as easy as reaching their colleagues sitting in cubes. But there are numerous ways to make it happen, if your company is willing to invest the effort and budget.

What it takes to build non-desk communication channels is a drop in the bucket compared to your company’s ad budget. You can spend a zillion dollars on brand awareness, but the customer experience comes down to that fast-food worker at the drive-thru window. It seems reasonable to invest some time and money in communication channels for that frontline audience, in order for them to fulfill the customer expectations you create with your brand promise.

Interested in helping your CEO create brand ambassadors of the frontline employees? Tribe can help.



Brittany Walker

Four reasons to communicate with frontline employees, even when it’s hard

Many companies with great internal communications have trouble reaching frontline employees. Why? Because communicating with employees who are hard to reach is difficult. Whether it is your sales force, retail team, physicians, manufacturing line or delivery drivers, frontline employees are often those who need to hear from corporate the most.

1. Communication builds engagement. Many companies leave all internal communications with frontline employees to their immediate supervisors. Tribe’s national study with the non-desk employee population indicates this is a missed opportunity to build engagement. What’s more, those employees who never hear from top management interpret that as a lack of respect for them and their contributions to the company’s success.

2. They often crave the visibility from corporate. Just because many companies aren’t talking to non-desk workers doesn’t mean they don’t want communication from top management regarding the internal brand. Trust us, employees who work the overnight shift often appreciate these communications more than anyone else. We know because they’ve told us.

3. Because non-desk workers can have a tremendous impact on the customer experience. Whether the customer is an individual consumer a business, they’re interacting with those non-desk workers. It is up to these employees to deliver on your brand promise.

4. You can’t expect employees to be aligned with the vision if they don’t know what it is. It’s no secret that many companies overlook communicating with non-desk employees. But it’s a huge mistake not to engage your frontline employees in the vision of the company to make them feel part of something bigger. In fact, Tribe’s research on non-desk workers underlines the importance of communicating the company’s vision and values to this employee population.

Mobile vs desktop communication: What do your employees need more and which is most effective?

When it comes to non-desk workers, generally mobile is the best way to reach those employees on the frontline, the manufacturing line or in the field employees. Although, mobile can often seem like a scary thought to some companies so desktop could be the key. The truth is it just depends on your organization. It could be that the answer is both.

For example, for a hospital trying to communicate with its nurses, the intranet might be the way to go. (Although nurses aren’t sitting in front of computers all day, they generally do have access to a desktop while they’re at work.)

On the other hand, say an organization has delivery drivers that never encounter a computer during the day but they do have smartphones or at least a cell phone. Companies like The Home Depot have created opt-in texting programs to give those employees wanting to stay in the loop an opportunity to do so.

But how do we even know either of these will work? It depends on the organization. Mobile might be a better choice for Gen Y employees, since they use mobile more for their personal communication than they do a computer. But, if your organization’s employees are less mobile savvy, desktop could be the way to go.

In Tribe’s recent work with a large retail client, we found that roughly 95% of their store employees owned smartphones. Compare that with the statistic for adults in the US overall (over 50%). So we decided to jump on that band wagon and made suggestions such as linking their intranet to employees’ mobile devices.

Don’t count desktop out just yet though. Desktop is also usually the most viable form of communication for many organizations. Mobile communications can be costly so simply extending who has access to existing computers can cut cost in a big way. Desktop communications give you an opportunity to work with what you’ve got.

As stated above, the answer could be that you need a mix of both of these outlets to optimize your engagement. Some employees in certain departments often need to be reached differently than those in other departments. So it could be you implement desktop communications for your workers on the floor and opt-in mobile communications for your remote employees.

At Tribe we know each organization is different. Do you need help finding out how to effectively engage your employees? If so, we’d love to help!

Insight Two: Lack of Communication Interpreted as Lack of Respect

This is the second of seven weekly posts sharing insights from a national study on communicating with frontline and field employees. Tribe recently fielded quantitative and qualitative research with non-desk employees in companies with 1,000 or more employees. The complete white paper is available for download on the Tribe site.

Right or wrong, non-desk employees equate the level of corporate communication they receive with a lack of respect from senior leadership. They don’t see the issues in being able to send direct communication to employees without access to a computer. Instead, the common reaction is for them to think senior leadership is withholding information because they believe frontline and field employees are not important enough.

They want to know how they’re impacting the business. Regardless of level, employees are going to be more engaged and motivated if they feel they’re truly making a difference. Non-desk workers rarely hear the “why” behind the decision and simply do what is asked of them without fully understanding the rationale or how it can help drive business.

Often, these non-desk workers will undervalue their contributions to the company. Because they’re not receiving communication explaining the who, what, when and why behind a business decision, they can underestimate their role. Only 22 percent of respondents in our survey said they consider their job to be an important element of the company vision. Given that this group of employees is typically interacting with the customer, that number is alarmingly low.

There’s also a strong correlation between regular corporate communication and trust in management. We found that the more corporate communication an employee receives, the more likely they’ll be to trust the sender’s message. Of the minority who do receive frequent corporate communication, 73 percent felt that the information is typically “upfront and honest.” Conversely, more than three-quarters of the group who said they “hardly ever” receive communication from corporate either “take all corporate communications with a grain of salt” or “feel they tend to only communicate the good news.”

All employees want to feel valued and respected. When asked if they feel connected with the rest of the company beyond their immediate team, only 10 percent responded “very much so.” The easiest way to show respect to non-desk workers is by keeping them in the loop on corporate communication so they feel connected and engaged with more than just their peers.

Elizabeth Cogswell Baskin

The Importance of Communicating With Non-Desk Employees

Does every single employee at your company spend the workday sitting in front of a computer? Yeah, I didn’t think so. In companies across virtually every industry, the non-desk worker is a large part of the employee population.

Yet, when it comes to internal communications, non-desk workers are often overlooked. It’s not because IC professionals don’t value those employees. It’s because it can be so dang hard to reach them.

It used to be worse.  A decade ago, it was very common for a company to completely dismiss the need to address the non-desk employee. When Tribe would begin an assignment by asking about the total employee population, we would often hear, “Oh, we’re just talking about the people at corporate. Don’t even worry about all those other employees on the manufacturing line/in the warehouse/out in the field.” Now, thank goodness, we’re seeing more and more companies acknowledge the importance of this audience.

Because the non-desk workers can have a tremendous impact on the customer experience. Whether the customer is an individual consumer or a business, they’re interacting with those non-desk workers — like the sales associates in your stores, the cashier at your drive-thru windows, or the guys in your delivery trucks.

Leave those employees out of the loop, and your brand promise can fall on its face. Because to a large extent, the brand experience is created by those employees who spend their days in front of the customer — not the computer.

Communicating with Non-Desk Workers

The business world is more connected than ever. If you need to get in touch with someone today, it seems as though you have an endless selection of outlets to choose from: email, text, office phone, cell phone, Facebook, LinkedIn, so on and so forth. However, for field employees these communication tools are not always readily available and can be cumbersome to their job. So what are some practices to handle employees of this description when every trend in our world today is towards instant communication?

For starters, don’t lose sight of the effectiveness of face-to-face communication despite their nomadic responsibilities. Even with all the latest trends and innovations the most impactful way to deliver a message is still through word-of-mouth, in-person communication. If you have a workforce that spends most of their time in the field, place an increased emphasis on internal meetings and announcements when they’re actually at the facility. Find times during the day when you expect the majority of your staff to be there and ensure that their immediate supervisor is using that time to talk with them on a routine basis. Start with the most important announcements or discussions while you know you have their attention and they don’t feel rushed to get on with their tasks outside the building.

Next, respect the privacy of your employees. Many employees that work in the field have chosen to do so because of the independence that it allows. Respect this fact and condense communication to what’s important and what truly impacts them. If they are consistently receiving communication while in the field that they feel is bothersome or a distraction then they will likely begin to tune the messages out. Conversely, if you are diligent with how you communicate they will understand that any communication with them in the field affects what they do and is important.

Finally, revert back to traditional communication to ensure all employees get the message. If there is a percentage of your field staff that doesn’t have an email address or smartphones, utilize “old school” communication outlets to reach them. For a company like UPS, they’re able to keep all employees apprised of the latest news and developments of the company through their quarterly publication, InsideUPS. By having a consistent communication piece such as this, employees both behind a desk and in the field have come to rely on it as a one-stop source of company information. While it may not be the latest and greatest innovation, it continually serves its purpose.

3 Online Methods to Help You Engage Your Employees

Like a 24-hour diner, the Internet is always open for business. Its easy accessibility provides companies with the perfect vehicle to connect with employees while at work or surfing online at home.

The Power of the Inbox – With the advent of social media, some have considered traditional email to be falling by the wayside. This may be a debatable point for social interaction, but in the business world, email is still alive and well. Checking their inbox is a morning ritual for most people and besides the actual receiving of messages, it can be the connection point for other content on the web such as blogs, videos or podcasts.

Removing the Middleman (or Woman!) – A blog allows corporate executives to speak directly to the most important part of their company: their people. Blogs take some of the burden off of mid-level managers to communicate every aspect of a company message by having the information communicated directly from leadership. Although a great communication vehicle, writing blogs can sometimes be a challenge for busy executives who find themselves on a tight schedule. To ease the level of time committed to the blog, Tribe is often used as a ghostwriting resource. Using a brief over the phone interview conducted by Tribe with the executive, multiple blogs can be written on various subjects important to building the internal culture of the company.

Watch, Listen and Learn – Online video messages allow for company leadership to speak directly to their employees in a more engaging format. Video provides the ability to use movable graphics to illustrate a point and can also contain web links to information online that provides in depth details on a particular subject. The video format can change based on the message or point being delivered. It could be a direct speech, an interview or a group roundtable. Each of these are options employee viewers could relate to and would provide them with a clear understanding of the messages being communicated.

And for Those Away from their Desks – ipadio has introduced FieldTalk. This unique software program lets two-way communications take place between companies and their employees who generally work away from an office or computer. FieldTalk works like this: An interview or presentation takes place with company management. Employees are then texted the number to call in and listen. After listening, employees are able to vote on topics or provide feedback via texting. This provides a great resource for companies looking to increase their employee engagement levels with those hard to reach employees on the road or working in the field.