Customer service Engagement Marketing

Why I’m More Hopeful

Throughout my career there were times I felt like a tiny voice in the management void.

As an early advocate of internal marketing – a strategic blend of Marketing and Human Resources that focused on taking care of employees to take care of customers – I found companies bought into the concept but not its practice. A typical response: “It says right here in our annual report that employees are our most valuable asset, so we don’t need your services.”

Despite encountering executives unwilling to invest in internal marketing, my passion for employee-customer care kept me going. Perseverance also led me to business leaders who recognized internal marketing’s value and wanted me to help them do more.

My new favorite equation

Now I’m more hopeful than ever about internal marketing for two reasons:

  1. Thanks to the focus on the employee experience as a key competitive differentiator, there is continuing interest in applying internal marketing (also referred to as employer branding).
  2. I’m especially happy to share I’m no longer a voice in the wilderness as building a brand from the inside out is being embraced by a new generation of marketers that include Ron Johnson, co-founder and managing Director of Blueprint Creative.

Ron has taken my internal marketing approach of blending Marketing and HR further: he advocates a stronger, more formal integration of the two functions in “The Bhranding Equation: Branding + HR = Bhranding” that is reflected in his quote:

“Customers will never love a business that is hated by its employees.” Ron Johnson

My new favorite business book

Ron is also the author of Tighten Your Shoelaces: How the World’s Leading Companies Defend and Grow Their Brands During a Crisis (and How You Can, Too!), a book I recommend.

Along with explaining his Bhranding Equation, Ron shares real-life examples of how companies protected and strengthened their brands when faced with the global pandemic and other business, social, economic, and environmental crises. This book is insightful and easy to read as Ron writes in a way that makes readers feel as if he is speaking directly with them. I see “Tighten Your Shoelaces” becoming a classic that will stand the test of time in both crises and non-crises situations.

As internal marketing has evolved into Bhranding, it’s gratifying to know a new generation is carrying employee-customer care forward.

[Photo credit: image by Silvia from Pixabay]

Engagement Marketing

Strengthening Your Company’s Brand from the Inside-Out – Podcast Interview

What a joy to be a guest on the “Profitable Happiness™” Podcast, hosted by bestselling author and musician, Dr. Pelè, who focuses on workplace happiness as a key to success.

In our engaging 30 minute conversation, we talk about what lead me to bridge marketing and human resources with internal marketing to create a positive workplace culture that values employees and customers. We also discuss interesting issues such as how to identify happy workplaces, how to save money on outside consultants, and how to have a positive impact in a toxic environment.

Listen here for our conversation on Internal Workplace Wellness Marketing.

To learn more and listen to Dr. Pelè’s other interviews with “successful workplace happiness experts, executive coaches, and entrepreneurs, check out his website.



At the Heart of a Successful Brand

This powerful statement is from the late Bob Wood, former Chairman of Wood Dining Services, whom I had the privilege of interviewing for my first book on internal marketing, Taking Care of the People Who Matter Most: A Guide to Employee-Customer Care. 

Bob was the epitome of an engaged leader who truly cared about his employees and customers as reflected in this description of the company culture:

“The Wood Company’s recipe for success is developing and nurturing its people.
We value and understand the difference they can make in pleasing our customers.”

I wish there were more inspired leaders like Bob who knew how to nourish a successful brand from the inside out.


Ghosting at Work: Harmful to Your Brand

Caspar-the-friendly-ghost may be harmless, but ghosting at work is not —  for either the individual or employer brand.

The practice of “ghosting” – when one person ends a relationship without warning or explanation – has spread from the dating scene to the workplace. It occurs when people:

  • Don’t show up for job interviews
  • Don’t show up for their first day on the job or don’t return to work after starting a new job
  • Quit with no notice.

The term “ghosting” may be new but the phenomenon is not, as I recently learned. The long-time owner of a retail service business shared her experience with new employees who didn’t return to work after lunch their first day on the job. She attributed it to an inability to admit dislike of the work and/or an inflated sense of self-importance; i.e., “I don’t need to let the boss know I don’t care to work here anymore.”

According to HR professional Tina R. Hamilton, “Ghosting is the new word for an old problem.

“Since I entered the world of HR in the 1980’s, employees no-showed for work or seemed to drop off the face of the earth, and applicants suddenly disappeared just when you thought you had a good one. It is an unfortunate situation [and] I think that, in some cases, employers can look within and see if there is anything more they could have done to keep the employee/applicant more engaged in the process or in the job.”

The economy and some employers are also partly to blame
Today’s low unemployment, in which employees have more job opportunities and companies are challenged to find and keep talent, is one reason for increased ghosting at work.

The quality of a company’s culture and leadership also impacts ghosting. Frustrated and/or burned out employees find it easier to disengage from a toxic situation by leaving without notice; i.e., “If the people in management don’t care about me, why should I care about them?”

Another contributing factor is the backlash to years of HR ghosting when prospective employees get no response to applying for jobs (with their resumes “falling into HR’s black hole”) and when serious job candidates hear nothing from a company after completing one or more interviews. Here’s Hamilton’s take on this:

“As far as employers notifying applicants, there are so many options with technology that can notify applicants automatically that there is almost no excuse to not notify applicants. Even if an employer does not have an applicant tracking system, they can save reject applicants with a simple email reply. It fairs poorly on the employer if they do not respond in some way, especially if it involves an applicant who has spent time in a live interview process.

“In a tight labor market like we have today, it is critical to have your company look its best in the eyes of the applicants.”

Regardless of the economy, employers and employees need to be professional and responsible when dealing with each other.

When it comes to communicating about applying for, starting, or leaving a job, any form of ghosting is unacceptable as it reflects poorly on the source. In this case, no news isn’t good news.


Low Unemployment – What It Means for Employee Engagement

“Companies are in a talent war. It’s a race to get the best candidates quickly since unemployment rates are lower than they’ve been in years.”

“The days of employees being thankful just to have a job are over and likely will not return for a while. Instead, the onus is on employers to cultivate and appreciate talent.”

“With the labor market as tight as it is, employers would be wise to do everything in their power to retain exceptional employees while simultaneously recruiting strong candidates.”

Business media contain similar quotes on today’s low unemployment situation. As an employee engagement advocate, you’d think I’d be excited about the flurry of attention given to employee recruitment and retention. But I’m not.

Reactive engagement

In the current economy, company execs concerned with repositioning their employer brands to be more attractive for recruiting purposes and/or seeking to hold on to their employees have re-discovered employee engagement. “We need qualified employees who want to work here and not jump ship for other opportunities. So what can we do now to engage them given the tight labor market?”

Here’s what bothers me about this situational response. Reactive engagement isn’t sustainable — particularly when applied as a short-term solution by short-sighted executives. Because what happens when the economy cycles back to high unemployment? That’s when these same execs revert to treating their employees as commodities, and management’s message changes from “What can we do to keep you here?” to “You’re lucky to have a job!”

Engagement matters regardless of the unemployment situation

Even when unemployment rates go up, companies need to invest in employee engagement, development, and retention. Because high unemployment also means reduced consumer spending; i.e., when fewer people are working, they tend to spend less. So even though companies might enjoy a “buyers market” when it comes to employees, they have to work harder to compete for customers. And to effectively attract and retain customers, you need highly engaged employees.

“If your employees don’t feel valued, neither will your customers.”  Sybil F. Stershic


There’s No “Me” in Leadership

I spoke recently with a colleague about the organizational damage done by CEOs whose egos outweigh their management and people skills. Rather than creating a legacy of their greatness, these executives often leave a toxic workplace in their wake.

“If a leader with a big ego and threatening manner takes over, employees become focused on satisfying the leader instead of focusing on the organization’s mission. … Big threatening egos produce apathy as they focus on the ‘me’ instead of ‘we.’  They refocus most people on protecting themselves from the wrath of egos. Hardly the path to success.”  Kate Nasser in a post about leadership.

Ultimately, as my colleague pointed out, “The organization’s culture should be bigger than any one person.” The good news is most organizations are resilient and can survive such executives.

But at what cost?

The fallout is low morale, high disengagement, and high turnover that result in a weakened internal brand struggling to retain or attract talent. With the right leader in place, however, the organization can recover.

It just takes a lot longer for employees who had to suffer through the former CEO’s reign of terror.


Engagement Marketing Training & Development

My Top 7 Blog Posts

Reviewing my blog’s top posts over the past few years, I was surprised with the popularity of my “favorite employee engagement quotes” posts. So I’ll continue to share the best quotes on workplace engagement compiled from both current and classic articles on the subject.

Here are Quality Service Marketing’s top seven blog posts:

A special thank you to my many blog readers for your continued encouragement and support!

Engagement Marketing

Culture + Brand = Passion for Engagement: Volunteers in Medicine

The value of having a favorable brand is that it inspires public trust and confidence – the stronger the brand, the more likely people will associate with it. A most important contributor to brand strength, and one that is difficult to duplicate, is the organization’s culture.

“Over time … we ultimately came to the realization that a company’s culture and a company’s brand are really just two sides of the same coin.”  Tony Hsieh

A strong culture and brand also support effective workplace engagement. Volunteers in Medicine (VIM) is a perfect example of this culture-brand-engagement relationship. With nearly 100 community clinics throughout the U.S., VIM’s mission is to “promote and guide the development of a national network of free clinics emphasizing the use of retired medical and community volunteers within a culture of caring to improve access to health care for America’s under-served, particularly the uninsured.”

Amy Hamlin, VIM Executive Director, with speaker Sybil Stershic
Amy Hamlin, VIM Executive Director, with speaker Sybil Stershic

I had the honor of working with this organization as a speaker at their Volunteers in Medicine Alliance Conference. Preparing for and participating in the conference, I was impressed by VIM’s Culture of Caring, a hallmark of its clinics and overall brand that appeals to patients, volunteers, and staff.

Volunteers in Medicine’s Culture of Caring is an approach:
based on an ethical standard in medicine acknowledging that how people are treated during a clinic visit is as important as the actual medical care they receive. We believe that people who come to a VIM clinic are our friends and neighbors, good people in need of help. Surviving on limited resources, they often exhibit great courage simply trying to get through each day. Recognizing the strengths of those in need and respecting their dignity, the ‘Culture of Caring’ seeks to heal not only physical illness, but also the injury caused by bias, prejudice and indifference.”

As the foundation of its mission and brand, this special culture enables VIM clinics to successfully attract, engage, and retain physician and medical volunteers, as well as administrative volunteers, by offering them high-impact, meaningful opportunities to:

  • serve people in need
  • in a patient-focused environment
  • and with greater scheduling flexibility and more control than in traditional healthcare settings.

The chance to “practice the art of medicine, not the business of healthcare” through its culture of caring to engage volunteers and staff is critical to VIM’s brand strength and sustainability — a winning formula for patients, VIM volunteers and staff, and the communities VIM serves.

How does your culture and brand impact your organization’s engagement with employees and customers?

Marketing Training & Development

Is Your Recruiting Hurting Your Brand?

Talk about first impressions! Managers responsible for recruiting new employees have a significant impact on both the employer brand and their organization’s overall brand.

Here are two examples of how an ineffective recruiting experience – described by a potential candidate looking for work in the nonprofit sector – resulted in a negative brand impression. [Note: I’ve heard similar job applicant horror stories in the for-profit sector as well. ]

Example #1. “I had a telephone interview for a grant writer position in an arts-related organization. It was clear during the interview that the supervisor had no interviewing skills — she did not seem to know what she wanted to ask, nor could she process my responses. She was very busy concentrating on what to say next rather than evaluating my answers. Mid-way through the interview she sighed with exasperation and said she had no idea how to talk with me because I was not ‘part of the art world.’  At the conclusion of the interview the HR person asked if I would be available for an onsite interview, and I said yes. I never heard from them again.”

Example #2. “In my experience with another organization, the telephone interview was a fiasco. Three people on a speaker phone interviewed me; I could barely hear one of them and was never quite sure who was speaking.  The first question asked why I had applied for the position. My response addressed the unique combination of duties, appeal of the variety of work involved, etc. When I finished my response they told me they were no longer certain that the position would be structured as posted. They then asked a series of narrowly focused questions that indicated very clearly that they had not read my resume or that they were incapable of shaping the questions to elicit additional information. At the conclusion of the interview, the convener told me that additional interviews were being scheduled the following week and that he would be in touch ‘either way.’ Two months passed and I received an email from him saying they had decided to put the position on hold while they reviewed and possibly revised the position’s responsibilities.”

Bottom line brand impact

The job candidate had previously worked in HR. Here’s what she had to say about her experiences with the two organizations that interviewed her:

“As a former HR and management professional, I am appalled at the ridiculous turn the interview process has apparently taken. I am struck dumb by how little regard or understanding these folks have of their role as brand slayers. They seem completely unaware of the fact that an interview is not a one-way street.  While they are asking questions and making some attempt to assess the applicant, the applicant is gaining a great deal of insight into the nature of the organization and the people who inhabit it!  My respect for these organizations is diminished, my interest in supporting them in any way is erased, and my new and distinctly negative view of their capacity is going to be a topic of conversation for some time to come.”

Do the people who recruit and interview potential employees for your organization understand how their actions affect perceptions of your employer and external brand?


Engagement Marketing

Internal Marketing Goes South

I was honored to be one of three speakers from the U.S. invited to participate in the 6th International Marketing Congress: Marketing from the Inside, hosted by Asomercadeo, the Colombian Marketing Association. My Atlanta-based colleagues, Debra Semans and Ron Strauss, and I journeyed to Medellin, Colombia, recently to share our perspectives on internal marketing and internal branding. Stershic presentation at AsomercadeoMore than 400 business professionals gathered at the Congress to focus on the strategic impact of internal marketing in organizations “where there is a synergy between the areas of marketing, communications, human resources, and senior management.” Speakers addressed the elements of employee engagement, corporate culture, corporate social responsibility, marketing’s relationship within the organization, and leadership on brand-building.

For me, the highlight of this conference was learning that the core business concepts that my North American-based marketing colleagues and I advocate are becoming more universal in practice. This revelation was reinforced in the following themes repeated frequently during the conference:

  • People are the central axis of a company.
  • Employees and customers need to feel valued.
  • Organizational culture nourishes the brand.
  • Marketing, Human Resources, Operations, Finance, and all other areas of an organization need to work together as a team.
  • CEOs talk about human capital, but few actively engage them.

Another highlight of the trip was experiencing the ultimate in southern hospitality. Cristina Jaramillo Lopera, Academic Leader of the International Marketing Congress, and Asomercadeo’s leaders and event staff were most welcoming and accommodating. Truthfully, I was apprehensive about traveling to Medellin given the area’s reputation and that fact that I don’t speak Spanish. Cristina graciously hosted us on a wonderful tour of Medellin. The city and country-side are truly beautiful; the city is also aptly recognized as Innovative City of the Year.  I was impressed with its public access to arts & culture. The strong sense of pride that residents and businesses have in Medellin and Colombia is palpable. And I look forward to returning someday.