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Making Employees Into "Ambassadors" (Part 2 of 3)


Last week... you read that the best brands in insurance create emotional connections. This week... read how developing employees into effective ambassadors requires conscious effort and explicit communication.

Culture Drives Engagement
Zappos. Southwest Airlines. Google. These are all examples of companies with strong brands supported by strong cultures. Strong brands do not emerge from organizations where employees feel undervalued, underpaid or unappreciated.

Developing a strong team of ambassadors that serve to reinforce the brand and ensure exceptional customer experiences involves more than simply telling employees to "be good ambassadors." In fact, American Collectors Insurance, Jill Bookman, CEO stresses, the first foundational step toward this desired end state is nurturing a culture where employees take pride in their work and their organizations and where they believe that they can truly make a difference for those they serve.

But the element of respect and pride among employees is only one piece. Developing employees into effective ambassadors requires conscious effort and explicit communication.

"We don't expect to hire someone and then just assume they're going to be a great brand ambassador," says Bookman. "We have to invest time in these new hires." Bookman says that the onboarding process can take anywhere from 60-90 days and includes education about the products as well as the hobby industry and the passions of the hobbyists that the company ultimately serves. "The dividends later on make it worthwhile," she says. "We really focus on providing our employees-our brand ambassadors-with the right environment, the right tools and the right training." Those are the three key components for successfully deploying ambassadors who support the goals, vision and culture of the organization.

Providing Training and Tools
Ealy believes that employees need to be more than just ambassadors for their organizations-they need to be evangelists. But he recognizes that their evangelism is not going to occur organically. They have to be taken beyond just positive feelings for their organization and its leaders to recognize specifically how they can support the organization in positive ways. To develop this awareness, Tom Ealy, the president of Encompass Insurance, based in Chicago has taken every one of his company's 1200 employees through an extensive product training program. "I didn't want to take for granted that all of our associates knew the features and benefits of our products. I wanted to make sure that everybody knew how to talk articulately about our points of difference."

He also arms employees with a brief "elevator pitch" that they can use whenever they encounter anybody who doesn't know what Encompass does, and insists that they commit the statement to memory. He then lets employees them know that at any time he might stop them in the hall, or at their desk, to test them on their pitch.

"Obviously, people put it in their own words, but I wanted there to be a structure and very specific content to our value proposition so that when people are evangelists for our brand they know what they are evangelizing for."

Next week... read how an employee ambassador program can be a win-win-win: for employees, for the company, and-most importantly-for the customer.

Lin Grensing-Pophal has written on topics ranging from health and wellness, to careers and HR-related topics, to marketing and social media. Her most recent book, "The Complete Idiot's Guide to Strategic Planning" (Penguin), was released in spring 2011. Lin is a member of the American Society of Journalists and Authors, the Association of Health Care Journalists, and the Society of Professional Journalists.