We often discuss the employer brand and employee proposition in terms of how they help your recruitment and retention strategy. How a well researched and creatively executed employer brand can help position you as an employer of choice. We pay less attention to how that employer brand, or, more to the point, the employee experience of that brand plays out with your customers. That’s a real oversight as it could be directly affecting the bottom line, particularly now.

We’ve been saying this since the start of what is now looking like ‘the first lockdown’… How you treat your employees during this challenging time will define your brand for decades. Now, more than ever, your employer brand is your brand. That’s because the way organisations treat employees can have a direct impact on how those employees treat your customers. And that in turn has a direct impact on profitability.

Why maintain the focus on your employer brand, right now?

With unemployment heading towards three million and many organisations putting recruitment on the back-burner, surely the employer brand is a bit of an indulgence? If you look at the employer brand purely in terms of recruitment, it’s easy to feel that there are more pressing issues to manage. After all, organisations and their people have been through a lot and it’s far from over. Furloughing, while a lifeline for many has created divisions between those at home and anxious and those still working, perhaps resentful of the extra workload. Mental health issues are rife and employee engagement levels have fallen in those organisations that have failed to communicate. HR has a lot on its plate.

The pandemic has thrown how employees experience their own employer brand up in the air. But it’s the people who have remained or who are now returning who have been the main customer interface throughout. While they deliver the customer experience of the organisation’s brand, they are experiencing first hand the employer brand and all that’s going on behind the scenes – good and bad. There are organisations that have made how they treat employees a cornerstone of their employer brand – but what does that actually feel like now – when it really matters? That’s a pretty compelling reason to maintain focus on the employer brand. Of course not all employers have grasped this.

Some employers have set a fine example in terms of the way they communicate and treat staff during the pandemic, showing that they are valued and with visible leaders stepping up and communicating better than ever before. Others have demonstrated that their staff are merely disposable, dropping them like a stone and advising them to go elsewhere for work. We all know the names – well known pub and restaurant chains, certain fashion brands.

And here’s the thing – some eight months since the first lockdown it’s now the employer reputation – not the brands themselves – that are influencing how customers view those organisations. Some leaders have made huge gaffes. Employees talk, customers talk. When customers then use terms like ‘boycott’ it’s going to take some persuasion to rebuild loyalty and get them spending again.

How your customers experience your employer brand

Your employer brand is your brand – here’s why. Whether your employees are directly customer facing or behind the scenes, your customers are experiencing a human interaction – and that experience is reliant on those humans being engaged and happy in their work. If they are not it risks impacting on what is, for most customers, an emotional connection with your brand. They will have already invested time in buying into your brand, they will have expectations in terms of their treatment and conversation.

In many cases they’ll want to enjoy being a customer. A flat encounter with a hacked off customer service agent won’t exactly help that. On top of this they may have already gained an unfavourable impression of the organisation due to what they’ve heard about the way employees have been treated. What’s more, many are increasingly interested in the ethical side of a business and don’t like what they perceive as bad employers. A poor customer experience will only confirm that. Customer lost.

The recent advertising campaign for Amazon is a very good example of an organisation not advertising its services – as if Amazon needed any more business at the moment – but instead focusing on what it’s like to work for them. The want to nip any impression they aren’t a good employer in the bud – as they know their customers won’t like that.

Customers are ambassadors of your employer brand too

Just as we focus on employees and candidates being ambassadors for the employer brand so too are customers, based on their experience. They may well be future employees themselves – and they are certainly just as socially connected. One negative interaction triggers the thought ‘do they deserve my business’ and, ‘would I want to work for them?’ As Simon Sinek has said, ‘Customers will never love a company until the employees love it first’.

What the research says

If your leaders need a business case to keep the employer brand in focus, they might consider these stats:

  • 48% of consumers consider how an organisation treats its employees when determining whether or not they are ethical (Edelman Trust);
  • 62% of consumers have stopped buying from an organisation which treats its employees poorly (CareerArc);
  • 90% of consumers want organisations to apply their best efforts into safeguarding the health and financial security of their employees (Edelman Trust);
  • Becoming an employer of choice delivers up to 12% better customer advocacy (David MacLeod);
  • More than 90% of customers who are dissatisfied with their service will never complain; they’ll simply leave. Those who leave will tell at least 15 of their buddies just how disappointing your business is (Smallbizgenius);
  • 95% of consumers say that customer service is a relevant factor in their choice of brand and their ongoing loyalty (Microsoft).

So, what can you do to protect your employer brand, right now?

Act responsibly and show you value your people. Keep them safe and help them help you. It’s a powerful measure of your reputation. Whether it’s a perceived lack of adequate safety measures on your premises or negative press coverage, customers will notice as well as employees. And on the positive side, if employees feel valued then they’ll be more likely to mirror that feeling with customers too.

Communicate with transparency. We are in very uncertain times and what looked like a return to some form of normality was short lived. In terms of potential redundancies, it’s a worrying time for many. Whatever the situation, it calls for honesty and compassion – both of which matter to your employer brand.

Give thanks – and celebrate the positives. Despite unprecedented challenges there will be many examples of going the extra mile, coping in ways you couldn’t have foreseen and displays of great resilience. In other words – good news stories that show the best in people. Communicate that, show your appreciation, it will promote higher employee engagement and therefore more positive customer impressions.

In conclusion

It’s not only your employees who are taking a keener than usual interest in what the organisation delivers as an actual employee experience. Customers will be responding to your employer brand too – good or bad. Leaders need to look beyond the perception of the employer brand as ‘good for hiring’ to ‘good for business – full stop’. By doing this they’ll not only prioritise attention on what their employees need to know right now, they’ll be building better foundations to attract and retain future talent – and customers.

For further information

If you feel that you’d like some help, support or even a little chat around protecting your employer proposition just drop me a line. After all, much of our best work has started with a cup of tea and a biscuit (in person or over a Zoom call).