As companies strive to improve their customer relationships, the smart ones are making this critical discovery: Their employees are essential brand ambassadors.

Gallup Organization research underscores the vital importance of any company’s human touchpoints, and demonstrates the powerful relationship between employee performance and customer engagement. People, Gallup researchers note, often make a huge difference in the strength of a company’s customer connections. People are not the only factor in building customer relationships, of course, but their contribution is substantial and striking.

The problem is, far too many employees have no idea what their company’s brand promise is, even though they’re supposed to be "living" it. And companies don’t seem to care enough about keeping this promise to hold managers accountable for their employees’ promise-keeping performance.

In fact, according to some figures seen in non-Gallup studies, a frighteningly low percentage of the average company’s workforce, perhaps as low as 5%, actually understands the company’s strategy. And because a company’s brand promise is a manifestation of its core business strategy, as few as one in 20 “brand ambassadors” can articulate the company’s customer promise. In addition, very few companies pay their managers an incentive based on how well they keep the brand promise and fulfill the company’s strategic objectives.

Read Gallup’s Beware of Empty Promises, by the author of Married to the Brand, William J. McEwen.