Forrester: Do your employees advocate for your company?

In challenging economic times, CEOs are famous for saying things like "Everyone's in sales!"

In challenging economic times, CEOs are famous for saying things like "Everyone's in sales!" But we all know this is too often code for, "Our markets are down and we need all hands on deck to promote our products and services." And during the most recent recession, the phrase has taken on a more urgent tone and seems to mean:...

"Demand stinks. Drop what you're doing. Advocate for the company."

But are employees responding to these rallying cries? We decided to find out by measuring employee advocacy using the Net Promoter methodology. The results? Shockingly few employees actually heed the CEOs call to action.

How to measure employee advocacy

Unless you work in a marketing department, you might not be familiar with Net Promoter Scores. The methodology is used to measure how likely customers are to recommend a product or service to others. Based on a single question, "How likely are you to refer this product or service to a friend," marketers use a 10-point Likert scale to determine whether customers are promoters or detractors of a given product or service. Responses of nine and 10 are classified as promoters, zero through six as detractors, and sevens and eights are neutral. The final score is the percentage of promoters less the percentage of detractors.

To find out if employees are advocating for their company, we modified the question to focus on the workplace. On a 10-point scale we asked two questions of more than 5,500 global information workers:

  • How likely are you to recommend your company's products or services to a friend or family member?
  • How likely are you to recommend a job at your company to a friend or family member?

The sorry state of employee advocacy

Overall, employees in North America and Europe scored -23% on the employee advocacy score for recommending their company's products and services (yes, that's a negative sign). Detractors were 49% of the information workers we sampled, while 24% were neutrals, and only 27% were promoters. Advocacy for job referrals wasn't much better, scoring an overall -16%. In this instance, 43% are detractors, 29% neutrals, and 27% promoters.

The results to this study surprised our research team, as many of the advocacy scores had little to no relationship with factors such as age, company size, or personal income. For example, we expected advocacy to increase with age, but advocacy levels stayed relatively constant across age groups. And of course, it made intuitive sense that advocacy would increase with personal income, but again, it clearly did not.

However, although the global results were not what we expected, we did learn that employee advocacy is varied depending on the industry. Retail and wholesale trade, utilities, and telecommunications, and financial services and insurance all had more employee promoters than detractors. And, most importantly, we found significant differences in employee advocacy by country, job level, profession, and technology attitude. Here are a few of the key findings:

  • European workers are three times less likely to advocate compared to North American workers. Even controlling for factors like the level of seniority, profession, technology behaviors, and work location flexibility, the European country scores are lower than the North American scores. In the UK, only 25% are promoters of products and services, and 18% of jobs. This compares to 32% and 36% respectively in the US. Why the difference? It might be due to issues we didn't survey for, like labor laws and cultural differences.
  • Customer service employees on average are among the greatest net detractors. Ever called a customer service center and connected with an unhappy customer service rep? You most likely have, so it's no surprise that call center agents and technicians have the most detractors among all professions in both regions. This is a concern for any exec seeking to differentiate on service experiences: employees most directly engaged with your customers should feel good about your company.
  • Advocacy is higher among the technology adept. One of the more interesting findings from this study shows that employee advocacy grows with increased technology optimism. This means employees who are optimistic about technology are more likely to advocate for their firm. And more specifically, employees that use more technology at work are more likely to be net advocates. There are three work technology behaviors that show significant correlation with advocacy scores: social media, smartphones, and Internet use after hours. What it means: employees who are optimistic about technology and well-equipped with information and communications technology (ICT) are more likely to be net advocates than those who are not.

So what role should business technology leaders play to encourage employee advocacy? While we can't determine a causal relationship between tech behaviors and advocacy levels, the correlation is clear. At Forrester, we're suggesting decision-makers build a systematic enterprise-wide program that educates and equips the workforce with empowering toolsets like social technologies and mobile tools, in order to help employees engage more effectively with customers over modern communications channels.

However, any such investment must include broad-based awareness and training programs for high-advocacy functions like sales, finance, and HR, as well as evangelism and thought-leadership among senior leaders using social tool sets. Ultimately, IT pros can play a critical role here by helping to amplify the impact of employee net advocates.

Matt Brown is vice-president and research director, Forrester Research, serving content and collaboration professionals. Matt blogs at: 

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The six roles that drive successful business process transformation

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