Juno -v- Uber: The Rise Of Employee Advocacy

At the recent Techcrunch Disrupt NY conference one of the main topics under discussion was Employee Advocacy. The need for businesses to engage with their staff is not new, but it has come to the fore recently with news that Juno a new rideshare & taxi app is taking on the more established Uber. For Juno their USP is not price or ease of use, or any of the other factors usually associated with these battles. Juno are staking their hope of success on treating their drivers better.

Juno claim that by taking care of their drivers, the drivers will, in turn, treat customers better and offer a richer experience to users. It is this improved experience that Talmon Marco, the Juno founder, believes will help them take a big share of Uber’s lucrative market. In contrast to Uber where the drivers are seen as self-employed service providers, Juno plan to give away half of the equity in their business to their drivers and make them 50:50 partners in the company. 

As they are classified as self-employed Uber drivers are responsible buying and maintaining their own vehicles, they are allowed to choose their own hours of work, but their engagement with Uber is minimal, and often only really occurs when they have difficulties that need resolving. There is no incentive for them to make Uber more successful. 

As partners in the business, with a genuine stake in Juno’s success, Marco hopes that Juno drivers will be more loyal to the company, and will want to offer a higher standard of service, and will achieve better customer retention rates than Uber and their other competitors.

The importance of employee advocacy is not confined to the battle between Uber and Juno. It has implications for businesses in every sector. How engaged employees are affects not just their performance while they are working for a business, and how long they will remain with the company, but also the image others form of that company, based on the information the employees share.

Sharing equity of a business with employees can be highly effective in improving staff loyalty, I am a big fan of the U.K’s EMI scheme that offers a great tax efficient way to give staff access to company shares, but there are also other ways to show staff they are valued, and to offer them value in return.

Employee engagement becomes even more important when the staff are working in a complex tech or startup environment. In this situation losing this member of staff means not only the expense and inconvenience of the hiring process, but also the hassle of training a replacement member of the team. When you add into this equation the fact that many developers have a three-month notice period it becomes clear that there could be a six month gap between one member of staff leaving, and their replacement being fully trained and ready work.

Being understaffed for this length of time could have serious implications for a business. To avoid this it is vital that the business does everything possible to retain qualified staff and to keep them motivated and engaged with the company. How can this be done? Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs is useful at this point, as Virgin Media have discovered, and can be directly applied to the idea of Employee Engagement.

Measuring Engagement

One of the most effective tools for employee engagement is an employer displaying a genuine concern for their employees professional development and career progression. The majority of your employees will have some desire to advance their careers and to move forward from their present position in the company. If an organisation is keen to retain employees loyalty it is in their interest to do everything possible to harness their employees ambition and desire for progression. The business should provide them with the opportunities they need to meet their self-actualisation needs. If employees are engaged they will give their best efforts to advance the company, and they will be keen to share their positive experience of the company with their friends and those with whom they come into contact. These employees will be highly successful in their tasks, and become a long-term asset to the organisation. They will in effect become ambassadors for the company, as well as being more loyal employees.

Creating Employee Advocates

With employee advocacy is firmly established in the business world, the days of treating staff like workhorses are over. To build a business that will grow in the long-term, happy, engaged staff need to act as advocates for their business and to share positive information about the business through their personal networks. 

Allowing employees the perception that they are trusted to make choices which can affect their working life can have a positive impact on their engagement. They will engage more because they see that what they do really does make a difference to their career. Employers must come to understand that the employer/employee relationship is not a one way street. Employment is a value proposition on both sides, where employers must offer employees reasons to remain engaged while working with you. 

In order to facilitate employees professional growth, businesses will need to work out where they are on the Needs spectrum. An effective way to achieve this is to conduct an employee survey. Doing this will show the way each employee perceives their job, and the way they understand their interaction with the company as a whole. Once each employee has been ranked on the Needs Hierarchy it becomes possible to plot their career path, and to increase their engagement on each step of the journey, from barely surviving, all the way to fully motivated, highly productive employee generating substantial revenue for the company.

Lastly, businesses leaders can help employees to grow by offering them a range of paths for career progression – let them choose between a technical route or a managerial route. They could even tailor a unique career path based on each employees specific skill-set, creating new job roles based on the skills of a particular employee. If an employee feels that they being allowed to use all their skills then they are much less likely to start looking elsewhere for fulfilment, they will remain a positive and vocal advocate for your company. Uber drivers are frequently not engaged with their company, and rarely act as advocates for the business, as they have no stake in the success of Uber.

Ownership in a business does help to foster loyalty, and should help to create the highly motivated, dedicated employees that Juno wants to take on Uber. Marco’s determination to engage with Juno employees is proof that employee engagement is now essential in all areas of the business world.

Bot technology set to revolutionise the way brands interact with their customers

Bot-Commerce: How Bots could change the E-Commerce landscape

Back in 2004, before YouTube existed, I was advocating the use of video content to improve the online customer journey. In 2009, I was telling brands that ‘Where to Buy‘ buttons would be a customer expectation. This happened. So are bots going to have the same ‘Must have‘ status in a few years? It’s starting to look likely.

You have probably come across bots before, even if you haven’t been aware of them. Bots are simply automated scripts that can perform simple, repetitive tasks at a much faster rate than would be humanly possible. The most well-known bots are the ones that spider the web indexing the millions of websites that are listed in Google and the other major search engines. For humans to analyse and file the information from all these websites would be incredibly labour-intensive but a bot can do this quickly and efficiently.

The recent surge of interest in bots has been triggered by the announcement at the Facebook F8 developer conference that tools will be made available for developers to create bots inside Facebook Messenger. The tools announced by Mark Zuckerberg include an API which developers can use to create chatbots for Messenger as well as chat widgets for the web.

Facebook is far from the first company to experiment with bots. Both Telegram and Kik already have bot stores, while Microsoft recently announced a bot platform of their own. The reason that the Facebook announcement has captured peoples imagination is down to the number of users Facebook Messenger has.

Facebook hope that Messenger can be developed as a primary channel for businesses to connect with their customers. They believe that combining AI with human intervention can allow Messenger to almost act as a direct replacement for 1-800 numbers. If bot technology is eventually this widely accepted by the public we could see bots in areas as diverse as customer support, commerce, and media.

At F8 Zuckerberg demonstrated a bot which allowed someone to order flowers using natural conversational language. He also unveiled a bot from CNN that delivered news stories that became more personalised over time. Zuckerberg sees an e-commerce future where brands have their own bots which interact with customers through the Facebook Messenger interface. Is he right?

Many retailers and brands are going to be sceptical. Back in 1996 e-commerce companies were struggling to design a high ranking website to accommodate changes in customer behaviour. In 2006 these same businesses found themselves under pressure to create apps that for smartphones. Now in 2016, the trend is to develop bot technology. Why should they bother? Many retailers went to the expense of creating mobile apps which garnered only a lacklustre response from their customers. I believe that there are solid reasons why traffic from apps has frequently been underwhelming, and why bots offer a better opportunity.

Many of the problems with apps can be traced to their being stand-alone items. Brands must first persuade customers to download them, and then expect the customer to learn an entirely new interface when they want to engage with them. Who wants to struggle with an unfamiliar interface just to register a new product or ask a simple question?

This is where bots really have the edge. Bots run on platforms which customers are already using. Individuals are already familiar with the interfaces for Whatsapp and Facebook Messenger, so the learning curve is entirely eliminated and brands can interact with their customers immediately.

If bots are going to be successfully integrated into company marketing then I believe it is essential for brands and retailers to own their own bots. There is no value in creating task specific bots, ie. a bot for support, a bot for content etc. It will be more effective for brands to own their own bots on all platforms, not just Facebook, but every chat platform they operate on. Once businesses have a bot in place they will be able to establish access agreements with other partners to supply the information they need to allow the bot to operate. This might include, content syndication, PIM, offers, and deals.

How does AI play into this? In an ideal world, bots would have awesome intelligence and be able to successfully answer any questions the customer may have. However, in my opinion this possibility is still a while off and this disconnect between customer expectations and reality could lead to customers getting frustrated. Progress is however being made in the right direction. Here in Dubai, simple commands like ‘nearest ATM’ and ‘statement’ are already being used by some forward-thinking banks.

So what is the potential for brands and e-commerce retailers to work together with bots? It is possible that chatbots could become our new ‘best friends‘. Some brands have already begun to embrace bot technology. In the last year more than 80 advertisers worked with Kik to establish chatbots on its network of 275 million users.

This is just the tip of what could be a very large iceberg, the potential scenarios are almost limitless. Just think about these 5 options for a start.

  1. Bots making offers – The customer makes an inquiry about a service and the bot responds by providing the customer with a time sensitive offer. The whole process would be fully trackable, allowing the success of the offer to be analysed, and improved over time.
  2. Bots acting as a ‘knowledgeable friend’ – Online stores are useful but often customers want to know more information than can be conveniently displayed. A bot would be an ideal way for a customer to find out more about the product. They could talk about product specifications, the terms of the warranty etc.
  3. A bot to locate your nearest store – There are some products you want to see before you buy, and others which are just not suitable for delivery. A bot could be used to tell you where your nearest store is, and potentially offer you directions to the store.
  4. A bot to upsell products – When a customer makes a purchase there are often complementary items which customers may like to purchase alongside the product. Having a bot bring these items to the attention of the customer can help customers find products they need, and improve the bottom line of the business.
  5. A bot to follow up with customers –  The greater the understanding a business has of their customers habits and behaviour the more effective a bot can be. Imagine having a bot that was able to reach out to customers and ask: “How are you getting on looking for your new TV? Let me know if I can help”.

Bots are only just starting to make their presence felt. We have yet to see what the future holds, and how the development of AI will lead to a full bot-revolution.