When the employee is the customer


In 2013, Gallup published a poll showing that 70% of U.S. employees were “disengaged” in their jobs, costing companies $450-$550 billion a year in poor performance.

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0614officespace1BY LINDA BAKER

In 2013, Gallup published a poll showing that 70% of U.S. employees were “disengaged” in their jobs, costing companies $450-$550 billion a year in poor performance. The takeaway is a no-brainer. Happy employees are engaged employees; engaged employees deliver a better customer experience, eventually leading to improved company performance. “It’s about the idea of a brand ambassador,” says Mike Lepis, creative director and co-founder of Vignette, a creative agency in Portland that focuses on internal communications. Historically, companies focused solely on communicating brand messages to their customers. “Employees were treated as a second thought,” Lepis says.

But the business environment has become more complex, and as companies come out of the recession, employers are looking at any part of the business that might yield efficiencies and boost sales. 

 “A single percentage point in this area can make a real difference,” Lepis says. One of the only agencies in Oregon to focus solely on employee communications, Vignette operates at the intersection between human resources, brand management and PR/communications. The 3-year-old company crafts internal communications for its clients, a catch-all category that includes everything from writing in-house memos to creating custom training materials and producing the messaging and branding around company conferences.

Vignette recently helped early education provider Knowledge Universe create an awareness campaign around its family and employee engagement survey, a print and video campaign that helped the target audience understand the value of participating. 

 The agency is also driving strategy and creative content for Deckers Outdoor Corportation’s upcoming store managers conference — “Customer Experience: Set the scene, tell the story” — as well as handling the national retailer’s executive communications. For LOFT, another national retailer, the agency created customer style-advice guides to help the brand’s 9,000 employees assist shoppers.

 Mike Lepis

Employee engagement is about maintaining “a deeper engagement with the people who are really executing the tasks,” says Carma Caughlan, Deckers’ retail communications manager. Deckers depends on store employees to provide customers with a good experience, she says. “We want to take the [company’s] key messages and waterfall those directly within the company itself, so there’s alignment between the internal and the external.”

In the past five years, companies have started paying more attention to employee engagement as a recruitment and retention tool.  Employee engagement is also part of a larger trend foregrounding workplace amenities and signaling the ascendancy of employees in the marketplace — even in a weakened economy. 

“When an employer finds a hire, they want to keep them,” Lepis says. “And the more qualified the applicant, the more incentive the employer has to keep that employee.” Vignette recently launched a quarterly networking event, Watercooler PDX, aimed at helping human resources, public relations and communications managers innovate around effective employee communications.

In the meantime, for companies eager to amp up their in-house messaging, Lepis offers a few tricks of the trade: The more visually engaged and stimulating the message, the more effective it will be. “We also look at brevity and clarity as an important part of communication,” he observes.