How's Business? Your Employees Know
Don't waste money marketing to new customers if even your employees aren't sold. Take their pulse with a survey.
One of the hardest concepts to get across to business owners isthat your employees and staff are also your customers. You can doall the clever marketing in the world, but if your staff isn'ton board, if they aren't engaged and enthusiastic, the resultswill be unsatisfying.
The first input you want is from all the managers in yourbusiness. Create a system--a hospitable work environment--thatencourages your managers to speak openly and honestly with you.It's their neighborhood, it's their career, and they shouldhave a sense of ownership in any plan you come up with. Otherwise,they won't help make it effective.
Managers will often find something to complain about. That'sokay. Let them complain. Everybody needs to vent, and you need toleave your ego at the door. You want the truth, not a response thatmakes you feel good. You want a candid evaluation from everyinternal customer, from your top-line managers right down to theguy who vacuums the floor. What do they really think about theproduct or service, the pricing, the atmosphere--all of it?
It regularly amazes my clients when they learn that theirmanagers have been thinking that something needs to be improved orchanged but haven't felt comfortable about speaking up orsimply haven't had time in the rush of doing everyday business.You need to give your managers a sense that you really want theiropinions about your business: What are the opportunities? What areyour strengths and weaknesses?
The Power of Anonymity
When reaching out to staff, make sure your internal-customersurvey lets your employees express their opinions anonymously.These are the people who know the day-to-day business, who are thepoint of contact between your business and your customers, and youneed their unfiltered advice. They can make or break you.
Many clients tell me at the start of this process, "Thestaff are just going to slam us." That's not always thecase, but if they do, there might be an important lesson in it. Theinsights that come out of these surveys frequently surprisebusiness owners and managers.
We often hear managers complain to us, "My peoplearen't that bright," only to discover that they not onlyare bright, but caring and filled with valuable knowledge andinsight.
The internal-customer survey must be self-administered,confidential, and anonymous. Your staff must not have any concernthat one of them is going to be identified because she'swriting with a blue pen and somebody else is writing with black andthe boss is going to know who wrote which.
Put a staff member in charge of this process and hold anall-company meeting. Tell your staff why they're being asked tofill out the survey, that their feedback will be taken seriously,and that everything will be confidential and totally anonymous. Todemonstrate that you mean what you say, have your employees droptheir completed surveys into a pre-addressed FedEx box that issealed in their presence for shipping to a research company fortabulation.
Anonymity and confidentiality are important. Comments like"My manager is looking over my shoulder right now as I'mfilling out this survey" are no help to you in formulatingyour marketing program. It costs surprisingly little to have aresearch company administer the survey and tabulate the results, sodon't cut corners and compromise your employees' confidenceby trying to do it yourself. Show complete respect for theiropinions and privacy. Build trust. What you'll get back aretrustworthy employees.
In your internal survey, ask employees how they feel aboutthemselves, how they feel about the company as an employer, whatthey think about the marketing. We often find that employees hatetheir uniforms, even the ones who get to wear a chic button-downblack shirt and black pants. You may not want to change things, butyou should know what they think before you go out and spend afortune on your next set of uniforms.
Ask about their feelings on culture and diversity in theworkplace. There are enormous and rapidly growing opportunities inmarketing to diverse backgrounds, and you ignore these at yourperil.
How do your employees feel about the salary and benefits youoffer compared with other companies in the area? Of coursethey're going to think their salary and benefits are lower, butoften this issue can be handled very simply. If you knowthey're misinformed, you can go out and do a little researchyourself. If you're right, hold a staff meeting and show themin black and white that the grass is not really greener on theother side. You may, in this situation, even be able to reinforcesome of the benefits you do offer, benefits your staff may not knowabout or understand.
If your employees are right, if their salaries and benefits areindeed on the low side, maybe you'll have a clue to highturnover, or low quality of staff performance, or any of a host ofother issues. It all counts, and everything sells.
Before you try to draw in new customers, make sure you'reserving your current customers well. The best way to find out is toask your employees.
What Does It Mean?
What you do with the results of this survey is look inside thefour walls of your business to see the big picture, and the manysmaller pictures that make it up. These surveys should be brokendown to give a total score for each store, if you have more thanone outlet. Within the store, they should be broken down bycategory. In the food service business--the largest employer inAmerica, with 12 million people working--you want results tabulatedfor back-of-the-house (kitchen staff), front-of-the-house (diningroom and bar), and management.
In an auto dealership, you'd break it down by service(garage and service desk separately!), parts, sales (used and new),accounting, and so on. Be creative and look inside your four wallsto see who your internal customers are, what categories theynaturally fall into, and how they can be surveyed.
If you run a professional service business, such as anarchitecture firm, you've got a front-of-the-house in yourreceptionists; you've got back-of-the-house internal customersin your design and drafting staff; you've got your salesexecutives, legal advisors, subcontractors, billing and accounting,and so on.
We often see these surveys produce fascinating and divergentresults. You'd be surprised how many management surveys showzero percent recommending their own business as a place to eitherpatronize or work. Guess where a business with that result needs tostart in its marketing? If your managers hate your business, youneed to figure out how to get them excited, engaged, or on theirway to another job!
In a chef-driven restaurant, we often see that theback-of-the-house scores are better than the front. And if it'sa business where there's a lot of customer contact and service,the scores in the front of the house will tend to be better.
Here's an important survey question, and the answer will beone of the most telling you get. Ask your employees if they seeyour business as a place they would recommend to friends orassociates--either to patronize or to work. If your employees wouldnot recommend you, you're missing a huge opportunity forimprovement. Your staff, as your internal customers, should beamong your most powerful marketing tools.
Pay close attention to how likely your staff are to recommendyour business as a place to work. If only one out of four employeesdoes so, you need to address that before you start any externalmarketing program. Otherwise, you're wasting your efforts anddriving customers to a bad experience, the opposite of the resultyou seek.
Sample Survey Questions
Even if you hire a company to administer the survey to youremployees, you may want to have them include the followingquestions:
Rating System: 1 = I do not agree, 3 = somewhat agree, 5 = fullyagree
___ 1. I use my talents well at work; my skills and abilitiesare being fully utilized.
___ 2. I get along well with my supervisors.
___ 3. I am comfortable expressing my true feelings to others ina safe way.
___ 4. I view my employment here more as a career than as ajob.
___ 5. There are things about working here that encourage me towork hard.
___ 6. There are work standards in place that enable me to judgemy own job performance.
___ 7. Management is concerned with each individualco-worker's long-term goals.
___ 8. I look forward to going to work.
___ 9. I am asked for input when marketing programs are beingevaluated; I feel I am an integral part of any marketingprogram.
___ 10. I am satisfied with my chances for getting ahead in thisorganization in the future.
___ 11. Would you recommend our business/establishment/serviceas a place to work?
___ 12. Would you recommend our business/establishment/serviceto your friends and family?
Editor's note: This article is excerpted from The 10-Minute Marketer's Secret Formulafrom Entrepreneur Press.