Zurich public transport operator Verkehrsbetriebe Zürich (VBZ) provides people in Switzerland’s largest city and its surrounding regions with high-quality local transport services 365 days a year. In a network beyond the tracks and roads, the company presents itself not only as a friendly, cosmopolitan employer, but also as a humorous and informative storyteller. Most of the stories themselves come from the company’s own employees, who are happy to act as ambassadors for their organisation. With a customized advocacy solution, CleverConnect supports content-driven HR marketing to generate traffic on the VBZ career website through extensive employee involvement. With great success, as Project Manager, Vivien Föhre and Florian Schrodt, Head of HR Marketing at VBZ, report in this interview.
Employees as brand ambassadors
Interviewing Vivien Föhre and Florian Schrodt from Verkehrsbetriebe Zurich:
Florian, you use CleverConnect Advocacy & Employer Branding in combination with the employee referral programme – so far, so good. But your own business case is significantly different from the main objective we usually see with other customers. What was your motivation for using CleverConnect?
“First of all, you need to know that our career site (vbz.jobs) is the cornerstone of our HR marketing activities. We devised it as a storytelling platform on which we can feature the multifaceted aspects of our company as an employer. With short, very specific stories as appetizers, we illustrate starting work here, working life at VBZ, and also city life in Zurich. But for us, it’s not about entertainment. Through the career site, we want to maximize our reach with specific target groups so that we always have sufficient applications. In short: VBZ.jobs is the origin and destination of all our activities in HR marketing. CleverConnect’s Advocacy & Employer Branding gives us the opportunity to expand this content-driven approach – based on broad employee participation. That was an exciting thing for us. The decision was not necessarily about recruitment efficiency, but rather the distribution effect through our own employees. That way, we carry content in personal networks that are actually closed to us as an employer. And we do this with the authenticity and credibility of employees as voluntary ambassadors, who appreciate a degree of independence in the process.”
What exactly convinced you to choose CleverConnect in this context?
“Your flexibility and the readiness to develop and implement an idea in close cooperation with us. CleverConnect had already proved to be an ideal sparring partner during the project’s initiation phase and was prepared to modify its own product according to our needs. We worked out strategic goals in a joint brainstorming session and decided which module best supported our unusual HR focus. You then tailored this for us, so to speak.”
How do you find the stories that you share via CleverConnect Referrals?
“We have a simple credo: get out of the HR ivory tower and approach people directly, listen to them, ask questions and just get talking to them. These stories are the key to the whole strategy.
We are delighted that our staff now come to us with ideas for their own stories. This is great because with CleverConnect we can give people the feeling that they are not just ambassadors, but also the main protagonist in their story. We simply offer people a stage for their excellent work. They know that in doing so they are involved in the recruitment of their future colleagues and can help shape the VBZ team of the future. We also benefit from being able to react in a more informal and open way than, for example, Corporate Communications. Our stories are taken from working life and that is fun for the staff.Florian Schrodt Manager HR Marketing Verkehrsbetriebe Zurich
We also benefit from being able to react in a more informal and open way than, for example, Corporate Communications. Our stories are taken from working life and that is fun for the staff.
But surely it doesn’t work entirely without the blessing of Corporate Communications? Are there areas of friction?
Florian: “We have had Corporate Communications on board as a stakeholder from the very beginning. Obviously, it has a legitimate case for involvement because the ambassador programme entails giving employees a powerful communication tool. They generate extensive coverage and interest, which means there are some potential concerns. All parties need to be appropriately informed and made aware of these sensitive issues. The different perspectives between corporate communications and HR marketing have always complemented each other very well, especially through a continuous exchange of ideas. Whilst Corporate Communications wishes to position VBZ in a positive way, we in HR Marketing are results-driven. For us, recruitment is what counts. By differentiating and taking varying priorities and interests seriously, we ensure good objective cooperation.”
Vivien: “A colleague from Corporate Communications was also part of the project team. That’s how we ensured a regular exchange of ideas. Particularly in a project such as this one, it’s important to talk to one another. After all, both sides can benefit because we don’t just want to communicate HR stories. It’s about the entire VBZ and we are planning to expand the project to include corporate topics in CleverConnect Stories. That’s how synergies can be exploited.”
Steady engagement: microincentives do the trick
How do you encourage employees to act as ambassadors? Participation in the ambassador programme is voluntary because otherwise, authenticity would fall by the wayside.
Vivien: “I have to admit that our employees don’t actually need that much encouragement. As a project manager, I am of course proud that CleverConnect has been actively used from the start and that so many colleagues have registered. It seems to have been well received. Obviously, we did plug it a little in the beginning by offering the first fifty participants a small gift. We were not able to present the gifts personally due to the pandemic but did receive positive feedback in the form of some nice selfies. However, it doesn’t always need to be a material incentive. Appreciative, thankful words would also suffice with our employees.”
Florian: “Vivien is now hiding her light under a bushel slightly. She gave a lot of thought in advance as to how the project could be best communicated internally. Paying attention to details, finding the right words, and reflecting on how they would be understood was, in my opinion, enormously important; so that appreciation was not perceived as a formal process, but came across as sincere. ‘Do something good and talk about it’ has been the principle of our storytelling platform so far. With CleverConnect, we have fine-tuned it to ‘Do good by talking about it’.”
You work together with the Bontique rewards and recognition platform. What has been your experience with it and how does it work in conjunction with CleverConnect?
Vivien: “Our experience with Bontique has been very positive. Due to the many providers represented on the platform, our employees have numerous options for redeeming their award points. This is of course a big advantage because we can acknowledge their work individually in this way. The interaction with CleverConnect is also working very well, not least because you have created a small bespoke interface solution for us: once an employee has acquired the necessary number of points and would like to redeem them, we can very quickly and easily add the Bontique link during the approval procedure – and, for us, the process is then complete. So far, there haven’t been any queries from employees about how the reward system works or how to use it. On the contrary, feedback has been consistently positive.
Florian: “Here, I would like to add that we are in favor of individualization, but it shouldn’t paralyze us. This means we use individualization in a very targeted way, for example, in content or in the reward system. This is time-consuming and we actually put a lot of effort into it. But anything relating to processes should be automated. This is where the strength of our three-way constellation with CleverConnect, Bontique, and automated interfaces becomes apparent. Individual rewards, but automatic processes – that was important to us.”
What is your impression of the onboarding process and support at CleverConnect?
Vivien: “I can keep that very short. The product onboarding process went without a hitch.
CleverConnect provided us with a designated contact person who was the perfect sparring partner for us. Of course, you have to pay attention to an incredible number of things at the beginning. But the onboarding process was excellently structured and our Customer Success Manager was always reachable. I never felt alone, but always felt well supported.Vivien Föhre Project Manager Vekehrsbetriebe Zurich
Tips for a successful Kick-off
What tips do you have for recruitment teams thinking about introducing a referral programme?
Florian: “Winning over employees as authentic ambassadors cannot succeed from a purely technocratic perspective. My tip: Try to gain ambassadors by defining a common goal. This was relatively easy for us: we want to build an inclusive content community in which everyone can participate in their own particular role.”