After years of economic downturn and drastic cost reduction customers are grumbling more loudly and more clearly than ever. Therefore, 2011 is the year companies will have to start using customer engagement for their own benefit through increased use of employee empowerment. Why? Because, as Marketing legend Philip Kotler says: “In order to remain relevant in Marketing 3.0, companies must approach consumers as humans.” How can they do this? By using the power from people’s hearts.

The consumer has lost confidence in business. In particular, financial sector trust is still low. Consumers feel they have been betrayed. With the prospect of sky-high bonuses, faceless companies haven’t focused on the fulfillment of promises made in campaigns. Instead, they have hidden behind carefully-worded statements, outsourced call centers and endless telephone systems. In this way, they lost touch with customers and employees.


The Dutch still have little confidence in ‘oil leaker’ BP. The multinational did not excel in open and honest communication about the disaster in the Gulf of Mexico. The relentless criticism on put-up smoke screens and closed communication was mainly reflected in social media. Chief executive Tony Hayward threw in the towel as a result of this media pressure. Nevertheless, nearly five months after the disaster 10 percent of BP customers still said they were less likely to fill up at a BP station.

Social media is one of the fastest growing specialties within online marketing. More and more companies are seeing the opportunities of this new form of communication. Many organizations still do not know how to analyze or to use online discussion data. According to Harvard Business Review research, as a result most of them continue to send marketing messages. Too bad. Too risky. If you’re not careful, you can achieve exactly the opposite of what you are after.


Social media are designed for interaction between those who want to share knowledge and to help each other. This creates an equal relationship, based on commitment. There are no ranks or positions. Social media cannot be managed. You cannot control what is said about you or your company. However, you can act in a way that creates positive buzz. You can keep your promises and be open to receiving criticism, which you can learn from.

In social media anyone can be a spokesperson. Whether it says so on your business card or not. A wonderful opportunity for your company to show its human side. Using a large group of employees. Condition tot this is that employees feel empowered and free to respond on behalf of their employer. The first doesn’t appear to be the case in most companies.


According to the 2011 Employee Engagement Report, less than 30 percent of European workers feel really involved with the company they work for and are even less proud of it. This is such a shame, because if they do not believe in their products and services, why should their customers? If you would make other choices, your employees and customers could be your best ambassadors. And you could save a lot of marketing budget and reputational costs.

Several studies – including those of Tower and Perrin, amongst 40 companies worldwide – have shown that companies whose employees and customers are committed to the company, consistently achieve better results. Both in terms of operational (19 percent) and shareholder profit (11 percent). Gallup research found earlier that companies which do well on both customer and employee engagement show best results: up to 240 percent better than those with low scores.


How can you foster employee empowerment? Focus on authenticity and humanity. Sustainable relationships within and outside your company. This engenderes durable capital. The key to success lies in people, both in customers and employees. The advent of social media has made the world much more personal. Twitter, Facebook and LinkedIn have created the possibility to contact people directly. Not only official external relationship officials, but all truly committed human beings, who are open to this out of personal interest.

Customers get involved in a company if its employees are involved. Positive contact between customers and employees often has more impact on customer loyalty than a campaign. Besides: humanity that you show and the experience you create is difficult to copy. As Rohit Bhargava, author of the award winning Influential Marketing blog and the book Personality Not Included, says: “Give your business a face and leave clients to contact the people behind your brand.” With a little luck, this results in word-of-mouth.

Treat employees the way you want them to treat customers. Give them the opportunity to be human, authentic and gentle. Give them the means to make a difference. Provide them with their own budgets, which they can use to really help customers. Give them a chance to speak from their hearts, to build a continuous emotional bond with the company, each other and their customers. This way they can help restore lasting confidence.


Doing this, doesn’t mean you’re there yet. Because employees don’t necessarily prove to be fans. Forrester asked 5,519 information workers how likely it was that they would recommend products or services of the company they work for to their family or friends. Marketers found themselves more likely advising against the use of what they market than recommending it (NPS -10). Customer Service workers appeared most likely to be detractors, whereas employees working in social media turned out to be the most positive (NPS 26). Almost half (48 percent) indicated that they strongly recommended the use of their employer’s products and services.

Improve your business from the inside. Listen to the input of your staff and customers. Find out what they like about their jobs and what you can do to improve. Make sure that employees embrace the company’s policy and that management openly supports this. In words and deeds. From what can employees conclude that their leaders really think it is important to act in the client’s interest? What do they do themselves? Bring the objectives to which employees’ performance is assessed in line with what you want to achieve. Remember: you get what you ask for.

Want to know more about trends? Order the full 2011 PIM Marketing Trend Report, available via Platform Innovation in Marketing (PIM).

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