Employee Brand Ambassadors: Strengthening Customer Service

July 22, 2015

customer service

The lines between customer experience and marketing are becoming increasingly blurred, most notably in interactions on social media. As marketers, we might think the space is best used for brand storytelling or lead generation. However, if your organization is also using social media for customer service — either planned or unplanned — it’s important to remember that when the customer experience takes place in a public forum, every interaction is a marketing touch point.

When hurricane force winds left over 100,000 without power last week, the Alabama Power (@AlabamaPower) team experienced an abnormally high volume of incoming tweets, taxing the limits of their social media first responders. It was then that I noticed this from one of their employees, Jamie Sandford (@jsandford):

customer service

Sandford then followed with interactions like these, several of which took place well into the evening hours:

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As an Alabama Power employee, Sandford recognized a need and stepped in on more critical conversations, providing answers, conversation, and a little humor in support of the corporate account.

While community managers have a broad knowledge of the company and the response protocol, they don’t always have subject matter expertise. And, especially during times of crisis, it’s difficult to call on those individuals who do. For the sake of efficiency and brand reputation, responses generally follow a predefined response plan.

Every organization has subject matter experts who possess deeper knowledge or more experience in certain matters than those on the social media front lines. That’s just a reality. Everyone brings different strengths to the organization. But when one area is feeling a hit, that’s when companies can benefit from the sum of their parts.

What does it take to enable your team to work together as organically and authentically as Jamie and @AlabamaPower did?

1. Employees Willing to Champion a Good Brand

When it comes to using our personal social media accounts, we advocate for brands we care about, have passion for, and in which we believe. The same is true if you are looking for employee advocacy. It starts with good companies hiring smart people, treating them well, and doing good work that employees believe in — so much so that they’d be honored to be a personal ambassador during both good times and bad.

2. A Supportive Social Media Policy

Does your social media policy empower or inhibit? Often companies are so protective of their brand message that their social media policy reads like a list of “don’ts” or “avoids,” leaving employees reluctant to post anything on behalf of their employer for fear of consequence. Conversely, if your policy is more friendly in tone and encourages ways employees can interact with the brand, it’s far more likely to happen.

3. Socially Savvy Employees

Policy and willingness won’t necessarily translate to employee advocacy in social media unless the employee is comfortable using social media to begin with. They’ll need to understand the cadence of online conversation, the nuances of monitoring, and basic social media etiquette. In this example with Jamie advocating on behalf of Alabama Power, it’s clear that he not only has company intel, but social savvy as well. All of this has helped him gain a trusted following  in his region.

4. A Response Team Open to Support

Let’s face it – politics and departmental turf wars can be a reality. If an employee steps up and effectively lends support or advocacy, is your social media response team prepared to embrace that? Better still, are they able to take it a step further and leverage the information being provided in this way? If it’s met with opposition, it’s likely to stifle this employee, as well as others, from speaking up in the future.

It’s been said that customer service is the new marketing. One of the benefits of having employees as brand ambassadors is providing a face and human touch – especially in a situation where customers are currently unhappy with the brand. A hard working employee who is able to take a few minutes to explain a situation can help suppress frustration with the company.

And that is some authentic, real-time marketing. Have you empowered your social brand ambassadors?

Photo via Flickr user Kai Schreiber

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is a strategist, speaker, educator, and author of Brand Now: How to Stand Out in a Crowded, Distracted World and Get Scrappy: Smarter Digital Marketing for Businesses Big and Small. He is the Chief Brand Strategist at Brand Driven Digital, an educator at the University of Iowa, and host of the On Brand podcast. More about Nick.