Peter Nuttall: Happy staff equals happy customers

Employees have long been recognised as organisations’ most valuable asset. An engaged employee is a sought-after employee, willing to go above and beyond their prescribed job role.

Yet, employee engagement remains one of the three top challenges facing organisations.

It is important that employees are treated as customers, sovereign within an employer’s internal marketing efforts and crucial to the delivery of an organisation’s promise to its external consumers. Underestimating the emotional bonds employees desire to have with the organisation and its brands may have adverse effects, notably a loss of trust in the organisation and the creation of what is known as the engagement gap.

Among the most recognised and novel perspectives to view strong customer engagement is the concept of brand communities, entailing groups of customers bound by a strong loyalty towards the brand.

So, if the brand communities concept is such a potent phenomenon in the marketplace, could it be effectively applied to the intra-organisational context?

In a year-long research project, a team of business students from the University of Bath, with the support of accountancy firm Baker Tilly, recognised the potential of viewing employees as part of an intra-organisational brand community to produce a novel perspective on employee engagement.

Employee communities based on activities and interactions around the brand exist in every organisation, albeit to a varying degree. However, within a strong intra-organisational brand community, employees are not only more loyal, displaying community citizenship behaviours at greater intensity, but they are also more authentic and sincere brand ambassadors.

To harness existing intra-organisational brand communities, managers should appreciate their characteristics and become familiar with their workings. Internal branding and human resource practices should be adapted accordingly, allowing for open communication while empowering employees.

Although employers may consider this a risk, as it requires management to loosen some of its control over the employer’s brand, trust in the sovereignty of employees to develop and engage in their own shared vision of the organisation’s offerings creates a powerful backbone from the heart of the organisation to its periphery.

In gaining competitive advantage in this challenging economic environment, consumer marketing techniques are increasingly used to communicate with employees, treating them as customers.

If employee engagement is approached as a community-based phenomenon, sustainable employee engagement is accomplished. In this way, happy employees are happy customers. 

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Doctor Peter Nuttall, senior lecturer in marketing, and Danai Kotzakoulaki, University of Bath School of Management