Thursday, February 5, 2009

How to make your employees your customers

I find it odd that Filipino companies or Philippine-based companies hardly every bother to sell themselves to their employees. But do company employees need to be sold on the company they work for, you might ask?

The straight answer is, Yes. Because employees are employees for only eight hours a day, six-and-a-half if your exclude the one hour lunch break and two 15 minute meriendas.

Beyond that, employees are individuals who work for themselves. And all of a company’s managers and staff are also customers who’ll buy a competitor’s products or patronize his services if they’re convinced these are better than their own.

Company loyalty means just that—employees are loyal to their company. That loyalty doesn’t automatically extend to a company’s products or services. Brand loyalty has to be earned, even from a company’s employees.

And even if a company’s products or services can’t be used by its employees (call center services, for example), a company still has to work hard at promoting itself to them. That’s a good way of keeping hard-to-find employees, especially in leading edge industries such as call centers and business process outsourcing (BPO).

How does a company promote itself to its employees? The answer is to give employees a steady stream of information in a personalized package unique to the company.

Ideally, this information should build company and brand loyalty; foster productivity; create support for the company’s goals; make clear the company’s stand on vital issues and contribute to the bottom line.

That package is the company newsletter. Nowadays it’s also the company Intranet. The company website? Not quite since websites are impersonal salesmen that sell to the world.

Company newsletters used to be a big thing in the decades before the PC (the 1970s and 1980s). Now, they’re going the way of the Philippine Eagle and the precious few that survive are finding it hard to soldier on in the face of anorexic budgets and lack of skilled staff (editors and writers).

The latter, I guess, is the key reason for the dying out of the company newsletter. There simply aren’t that many good English editors and writers in today’s labor pool.

Ask the broadsheets. One of my editor friends, who also teaches journalism, complains that writing two paragraphs of passable English is a daunting challenge for many reporter candidates. And some of these people graduated with degrees in journalism or English!

If mass media is finding it next to impossible hiring good English writers, imagine what it’s like for corporations. Companies won’t hire an employee specifically to be a newsletter editor or writer. I haven’t come across a single instance of this yet.

A company usually assigns the newsletter to its human resources unit, which is usually understaffed and overworked. HR then appoints the newsletter’s staff after frantically searching its database for employees with even an iota of English writing experience.

When this fails, as it most often does, HR either does the job itself or cancels the newsletter. It might also hire an experienced editorial consultant like me to assist in providing content and layout for the newsletter.

Producing a printed or online newsletter is always tough. Ensuring its continued existence is even tougher considering its investment.

But you’d have to weigh the cost of this investment by the value of what you stand to gain. Newsletters impart information, a commodity that has value only when read.

Information, if intelligently used, is the basic building block of all sales. You buy because you’re convinced—sold—on the information presented to you. Advertising only jazzes up this information.

A newsletter or any other information carrier “sells” information to a market—a company’s employees—who are already half sold on the value of their product or service. The extra information provided by a company newsletter could push employees into becoming paying customers.

And there are also the other intangible advantages to the information provided by a newsletter. Advantages like improved productivity; stronger teamwork; a closer alignment with company goals.

A surprising bit of information is a recent report by U.S. retailers that TV is no longer the most influential advertising medium. Surprisingly, word of mouth and news inserts have replaced TV as more effective advertising media. Email and the Internet are also generating a lot of advertising buzz.

Word of mouth. Email. The Internet. Companies have these in abundance.

News inserts? That’s what newsletters are for.

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