Actually, you probably never did. But you certainly don’t now. With the growth of the internet and its reviews, social media and blogs, you now have as many brands as you have customer-facing employees.
The 18-year-old at your cash register, the retiree who greets your shoppers and the aggressive salesperson cold-calling prospects are your brand – and they create your brand message to a far greatr extent than does your CEO, your product development group or your advertising.
I was reminded of this as I spoke with a friend whose company has an outsourced pop machine. Recently, their delivery person began refusing to actually load the soda into their machine. I don’t know whether this is corporate policy, the result of an overscheduled route, or a difficult delivery person. But, since every company I know has their machines loaded for them, my suspicion is it’s him. The brand message is clear: “We charge you an extra 35 cents per can to drop soda off on your doorstep, and we’re not paid to do any more.” As you might imagine, this message does not resonate with the customers, and this brand will likely be replaced!
For another example of how the staff is the brand, let’s look at two nearby Caribou Coffee locations. My local neighborhood spot is fine, but nothing exceptional. They deliver my far-too-hot tea and generally smile. Just another coffee shop, with the requisite trivia question and the chalkboard with questions of the day. The brand message here is, “We have coffee. And a place to sit and drink it.”
But another location four miles from my house – which I often visit when meeting with clients – is a different story. Caribou corporate mandates a water temperature that is far too hot for tea. It takes at least 20 minutes before the tea is drinkable. At this Caribou the workers regularly ask if I want an ice cube in my tea so I can drink it right away. They take time to ask if I know the trivia question, and engage in dialog if I appear interested. They recognize Kristin (a friend of mine, who visits a few times a month) on sight. Yes, the décor looks the same – but the feel is very different. They communicate the brand message: “We have coffee, but we are also happy you have chosen here to drink it.”
I don’t know the reason for the difference. Perhaps it’s the general manager, or maybe it’s the ongoing culture of the store. But the good news is that this is a training store, so hopefully this attitude will spread to other Caribous.
The same story plays out in nearly any service company. My local Settergren’s hardware goes out of their way to be helpful. The next one over, not so much. Sometimes it’s the role of the individual, as in Johnny the Bagger. But often it’s the manager who is encouraging the staff to think of the customer, and to create that brand impression that is so critical.
Combine this with my service recovery post, and you begin to see a theme: The best corporate initiatives fail when local representatives fail to implement them well, whereas the worst corporate initiatives are made better by talented and well-managed customer-facing teams. It’s not that corporate initiatives are unimportant – the clearly are – but that their impact is highly dependent on the right customer-facing staff. The person your customers talk to is the brand.
Your takeaway: The right management and staff are just as important as innovation. With unemployment still high, there has never been a better pool of talent in the marketplace. How are you making sure you have the right staff to represent your brand?