How Front-Line Employees Hold the Key to a More Authentic Brand
Who’s Translating Your Brand’s Story?
Many companies work hard to craft a brand story that’s designed to bring in new customers. They invest millions in sales, marketing and other means of telling their story to get people in the door. But, if they don’t keep all of their associates in the loop, the experience inside those doors can be quite different.
How much time and energy do you spend making sure your frontline associates understand and can talk about your brand in a way that’s consistent with the story you use to attract new customers?
In many cases, after-the-sale staff like customer service reps are the hardest working people you have. But, if they don’t know what brand story you’re telling, how in the world can they be consistent with it?
There are great examples on both sides of this common situation.
Brands who do this well — think Zappos, Chipotle — are great at communicating their story to all front line people, whether they are working in customer service or taking orders at the counter.
Zappos does a great job of pushing information out from the brand, through associates and eventually to customers. And, in many cases, it has nothing to do with shoes. The Zappos Family Library is how the company shares preferred readings, free of charge, to associates to help them learn and grow. It’s a great way to instill the culture and show associates — rather than just telling them — the company is committed to learning and development, a core value for the brand. The library has been so popular that the company is now offering it to customers, too.
At Chipotle, they’ve learned that the best associates are homegrown, just like the food they serve. Over time and through some growing pains, the brand figured out that promoting from within helps to keep the culture consistent from location to location and also helps associates stay motivated (and with the company longer).
If you’ve done business with either of these companies recently, you know the experience is very consistent, regardless of whether you’re online, on the phone or in a restaurant anywhere across the country. Unfortunately, there are brands that aren’t as consistent with their brand story, and many of them are no longer around. No surprise.
For example, Circuit City struggled to define its brand among a sea of electronics retailers and was never big enough to compete solely on price. Perhaps its biggest mistake was a double whammy. Rather than investing in its experienced workforce, they chose to fire a large portion of the company’s long-tenured staff, replacing them with cheaper, less experienced hourly workers who were compensated whether they sold something or not. That’s whammy #1. And where do they think those experienced salespeople went? Yep, to the competition. Whammy #2.
Another brand that’s no longer with us, Radio Shack, made a different kind of miscalculation. The Shack never really decided who their target consumer would be. Could it be the DIY electronics guy? The home PC buyer? The young mobile phone buyer? The gamer? The online catalog shopper? Unfortunately, the answer for all of these was a resounding no. Without a target persona, the company didn’t know what problem to solve and lost focus. And, quite naturally, Radio Shack’s associates could never find a rhythm, not knowing who the folks at corporate were trying to pull through the doors this month. Ironically, as associates would ask prospects if they could help them, they must have been wondering the same thing themselves.
Of course, each brand must find its own way. I’m not suggesting every brand do things exactly like Zappos or Chipotle, but anyone who wants to be as successful should look for ways to include front line associates as they deliver an authentic brand experience to customers.
Customer retention is critical and can’t be solved by pouring more money into sales and marketing. Your associates are the way the brand gets delivered every day. Make sure they know what you stand for and empower them to deliver on that experience.
I would argue it’s the best investment you can make in your brand.