Jackie Bennett, vice president of Virtual Incentives, believes that, given the fact that unemployment rates hover around 4.5 percent with millennials taking over the majority of the workforce, it’s more important than ever for employers to find ways to engage and build loyalty among their employee base.

When developing a customer loyalty rewards strategy, many HR professionals are looking, not only for easy integration with existing platforms, but also the right technology and incentive that resonates with their specific employee base, Bennet noted.

Loyalty360 talked to Bennett about this intriguing topic.

Can you talk about how HR professionals can impact employee engagement and, thereby, also customer engagement?
Bennett: Employee engagement and customer engagement go hand in hand. Satisfied employees who believe in their company’s brand are more likely to show advocacy throughout all touch points for the brand, especially in interactions with the company’s customers and clients. Build a culture of recognition, and you build a culture of advocacy, which, in turn, lets you build a positive company brand from the inside out.

What role can and should technology play in developing a successful rewards strategy?
Bennett: In the fast-paced and multi-faceted world of today’s HR professional, technology has to be at the forefront of any successful program. Employees engage with their company many times per day, on multiple devices.

For example, many employers are currently struggling to move the needle on engagement among their millennial employees. We have done studies here at Virtual Incentives that have shown that this audience requires (and expects) instant gratification and that they utilize their mobile devices more constantly than any other population. Hence, incentive technology must be able to push employee recognition programs virtually, instantly, and using mobile-first technology to help satisfy millennials.

The right technology also eases the burden on the HR team to automate and organize. Technology can provide a single platform that allows multiple programs to be run by multiple users across multiple departments. This way, department managers can have easy access to motivate their team themselves–technology empowers wider teams outside of the HR department.

How important is employee engagement for a brand to ultimately engage customers and foster brand loyalty?
Bennett: Using employee engagement techniques to create employee advocacy and support corporate mission statements is so key to overall brand success that we are seeing more and more companies building programs to reward and recognize their employees across all departments. According to Nielsen, messages shared by employees go 561 percent further than the same message shared on a brand-owned channel. And companies must make sure that those messages from employees are positive ones.

Is a digital approach the best one for HR professionals to use in this regard?
Bennett: It is no longer cost-effective or practical for most companies to use only physical incentive programs. Most corporate environments are not located at one site or location. According to a Gallup survey, 43 percent of Americans said they spent at least some time working remotely last year, a number that continues to grow year-over-year.

Even in a physical locale, digital may be the better choice. We work closely with a client operating from a large campus, where even there getting a physical incentive to an employee is an unwieldy endeavor–instead they use our digital platform. Not only does digital delivery of incentives allow a high level of personalization for recognition and fit the employee lifestyle, it allows the HR department an additional oversight of delivery, control over programs, and bulk distribution options.

What do you foresee as the immediate and long-term future for HR professionals and employee engagement?
Bennett: We will surely continue to see point-based recognition programs lose traction as instant, virtual rewards take precedence. Especially among millennials, point-based accrual programs, with their delayed gratification, do not work. Few people from this population are interested in, say, earning enough points for a basketball over the course of months−it just doesn’t resonate with current expectations.

Employers will begin to use technology, perhaps employee net promoter scores from internal surveys and other methods, to highly target incentive programs to re-engage employees who may not yet be dedicated to the brand. To make employees into employee advocates, employers must engage on an ongoing basis through the employees’ preferred means: Instant, ongoing, mobile, and personal.

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