Randy Nobles, president of Eagle Recognition in Tucker, GA, was a customer of his company before he bought it in 2002, having worked as an executive for St. Regis Paper Company, Ryder Systems and Spherion Staffing, among others. “I’ve always enjoyed – and enjoyed participating in – recognizing people for their achievements,” he says, “and I always thought in the back of my mind that I would like to get into that kind of work – so when the opportunity arose, I took it.”
Coming, as he did, from the other side of the desk also gave Nobles a unique perspective on both the company and the recognition industry. “I had been a user of recognition services from some of the biggest competitors in the industry for a number of years, and I felt that it was very traditional and outdated in terms of product selection,” Nobles says. “Catalog-type programs were offering the same items year after year, and they didn’t really fit the demographics of the employees who where working for me. People would come to me and say, ‘Is this all we have to choose from?’”
He notes that companies were also inconsistent in the way they used recognition with their organizations from program to program and from department to department. And one of the most important things that was missing was also one of the most engaging aspect of recognition – the presentation, the celebration, the public recognition of an individual’s achievement. “Whether it was achievement, wellness, length of service, or whatever type of recognition, there really wasn’t a lot of training going on in the organization to ensure that managers and supervisors knew how to give those awards out,” he says. “People just weren’t that good at doing it.”
“We really picked up on the fact that it’s not just the gift that has an impact that engages employees, it’s the whole procedure and process,” Nobles says. “It’s the brochure, the packaging, the personalization and knowing how to give out the awards in a way that shows the employee that you appreciate his or her contribution.”
That message was reinforced by Amazon’s recent entry – and departure – from the marketplace. “Many customers have realized that the gift-only proposition that was supported by Amazon gravely missed the point and left out the management support aspect and the value of the employee recognition component of employee recognition and engagement,” explains Nobles. “It raised the bar in many ways in terms of pricing, range of products and speed of delivery, but it left out the customer service, and after a short-term experience with it, some customers weren’t all that enthusiastic and impressed.”
Yet some customers would still like to be able to offer a million products – “and that’s why we’re excited about the evolution of services like the Universal Rewards Exchange,” says Nobles, noting that it offers technology and product expansion capabilities that will help Eagle Recognition continue to expand its business model.
The Amazon experience is just one of the things that have affected customer expectations in recent years. “There have been a lot more requests for flexibility and customization of programs,” says Nobles. “When I bought this company, it essentially had one program – one size fits all. And that doesn’t work anymore. Now, we don’t have any two programs that are alike. Most customers today require custom technology interfaces, a customized and regularly updated gift selection, email notifications to both participants and mangers – and we’re even seeing social media becoming part of the communication process.”
Not only are customers asking for more, they’re asking their suppliers to handle more and more of the process. “With cutbacks in staff and consolidation of responsibilities within organizations, customers today have less time to focus on the administration of recognition programs,” Nobles explains, “and we’re seeing more requests to deliver turnkey programs. They’re looking to us to more completely manage everything for them.”
But he’s quick to point out that this doesn’t mean you can leave the customer out of the process. “We provide periodic HR reviews of what is going on with the program, along with online tools, so customers can go in and monitor their programs at any point in time – with 24/7 access,” Nobles says. “We’ve been very proactive in leading customers along this path. That’s reflected in our company motto: Let us show your appreciation.”
In addition to such technological tools, the company assigns each customer a dedicated “Client Satisfaction Manager” whose job it is to know everything that’s going on within a customer’s program – both the successes and the occasional snags – to monitor the data, handle quality control issues, customization requirements, report to customers regularly and communicate with the customer and/or program participants any time a problem comes up. “Essentially, their responsibility is defined as doing anything and everything necessary to keep that customer satisfied and engaged in the process at all times,” notes Nobles.
Engagement, in fact, is more and more becoming a key part of the conversations that Eagle Recognition has with its clients and prospects. “Our customers appear to be highly interested in topics like motivation, engagement and retaining employees,” Nobles says. “And as we tie multiple initiatives together for these companies – whether it’s a length-of-service program, a safety program, or an achievement program – it’s really all about the benefits and ROI of employee engagement. That’s what we’re selling. To me it’s collectively putting together all of these pieces they already have in the organization, and really engaging the workforce.”
Nobles sums it up this way: “That’s one of the things that I truly liked when I was in corporate America – engaging people by pushing things down to them, letting them be responsible, encouraging them, motivating them and giving them something so their jobs would be more beneficial and more rewarding.”