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                                                       Brand and staff alignment:
                                                       Is your
                                                       pg. 1 company getting it right?
                                                       pg.2 Dr Thomas Oosthuizen

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Brand and staff alignment: Is your company getting it right?

If your staff don’t perform, your business will suffer. A     Concepts like ‘the service experience’ and ‘brand
rain dance around the peripherals of marketing alone          engagement’ are processes designed to bridge the gap
will not get your branded customer experience right.          between what the customer expects and what it receives
                                                              – what a brand offers and how staff behave.
Most CEOs will agree that the strategy and positioning
of a company is simpler than getting staff to deliver the     Why then do so many brand alignment processes fail
best service experience to customers. Most companies          to deliver? Because these processes are developed by
struggle to deliver the basics to customers, let alone an     people that focus on particular functional areas of
exceptional or highly differentiated service.                 business, instead of having a broad strategic overview
                                                              of the issues and required mechanisms that will lead to
Often the best intentions fail.                               real attitude and behaviour change in staff.

This undermines the resources spent on marketing,             There is a lack of motivation why staff should change
information technology and other areas of a business.         how they work. Worse, staff do not even know how they
To be highly competitive today, a business has to be far      should change. For a significant part of the staff
better than competitors by a margin that is tangible to       complement, ‘service’ remains a highly conceptual idea
your consumers.                                               that bears no relevance to their daily tasks.

The last frontier of differentiation for most companies is    Why do so many alignment processes fail to deliver on
to leverage their human potential and set themselves          a few very key components?
apart from their rivals. Human potential is fickle,
unpredictable and cannot easily be programmed or                  They often do not link consumer needs with brand
standardised.                                                     experience;
                                                                  They often do not interpret the meaning of ‘brand
A rewarding service experience must link customer                 experience’ within the functional areas of the
needs and brand values. Every customer contact point              business;
with a brand should deliver a consistent branded service          They often focus on communications rather than
experience. These contact points are marketing, call              sustained attitude change;
centres, e-mail, service centres, product quality, product        They are often single interventions rather than process
availability, value-for-money and a host of other variables       focused;
that ultimately determine a solid brand experience.               They often fail to practically translate into the manner
                                                                  in which staff are evaluated and rewarded.
How does your company train and enable staff to deliver
consistent brand experiences across all delivery              What are the customer needs?
mechanisms to the customer?
                                                              Customer needs form the backdrop of any brand
Despite this renewed focus on the topic and millions          blueprint. The basis for almost all brand relevance and
spent on training, service levels and customer experience     differentiation comes down to understanding customer
in most companies remain frighteningly low. Far more          expectations. And how delivery differs from competitor
companies deliver bad service than good service.              to competitor.

This undermines many a marketing campaign, customer           This must translate into how a company will then
relationship management campaign, information                 differentiate itself. It can either choose to deliver a parity
technology expenditure and software development and           service experience, like some low cost airlines that
training.                                                     equate low price with low service levels, and where
                                                              customers seem willing to pay less for receiving less.

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Brand and staff alignment: Is your company getting it right?

A premium brand like Bang & Olufsun delivers a highly          fixed, the service training must make provision for how
differentiated product and service experience. The             these will be handled.
products look different, the showrooms are different,
the frontline staff treats you differently.                    For those areas that can enhance the service experience,
                                                               the entire business should be structured around it.
In many instances, however, there will be room for a
branded service experience that offers customers ‘more         How do you effect attitude change?
for the same price’, or even ‘more for less’.
                                                               Often service training interventions and brand
How do you interpret the brand experience within               engagement interventions fail to result in real attitude
the functional business areas?                                 change. They fail to change the way staff operate on
                                                               a daily basis. Pivotal areas are:
Most service training is thorough and informs staff what
they must do to service a customer well. The problem              Interpreting the desired change of behaviour in how
crops up when they return to their line tasks. Difficulties       staff adapt within their daily tasks, and how they
in systems, people, processes and other areas make it             adapt these to changed circumstances;
impossible to deliver what they have been trained to              Identifying the inhibitors and facilitators of such
do. Within a few days they probably have forgotten their          needed change, i.e. systems, training and
best intentions.                                                  infrastructure. These elements are important as they
                                                                  enable and facilitate service experiences and the
Every service experience must be unpacked within the              entire company needs to be aligned to deliver the
different functional areas of the business, as they all will      correct service experience;
have nuance differences at least. Failure to do so means          Interpreting these in terms of the ongoing attitude
that the concept of service is theoretical rather than            change required from staff. As with all sustained
tangible for most staff.                                          changes, they need to be ongoing. That means
                                                                  frequent interventions and ironing out any problems
Take a bank as an example. The customer liaison person            and concerns.
cannot grant the customer a certain level of overdraft,
hence the staff member looses credibility in the eyes of       Are you process-driven?
his customer. Isn’t the person allocated to this account
sufficiently senior to take decisions? More commonly,          A single intervention service or brand engagement
the bank staff member does not know what to say when           intervention can’t possibly lead to sustained attitude
regulations make a simple request from the customer            change amongst staff. Like with all behaviour change,
a frustrating experience.                                      people need constant reinforcement and reminders.

In most instances staff are not trained to deal with an        A lot of staff brand alignment or brand engagement
unexpected crisis. They know what to do when things            interventions, including the most fancy and elaborate
are fine, not when systems fail. Staff alignment needs         launch events, industrial theatre interventions, multi-
to tread a fine line between standardisation of service        media shows, are a ‘flash in the pan’. When the
levels and using imagination. This means empowering            excitement fades, the normal patterns of behaviour
staff to know what to do in 99% of instances – and what        invariably returns.
to do when normal systems fail.
                                                               Real attitude change needs to lead to behaviour
It is important that the staff function lists those areas in   modification. One intervention won’t do that for a
the business that either enhance or inhibit the service        company. Workshop-related staff interventions are
experience expectations of customers. These inhibitors         needed to iron-out real change and instill true
must be identified and corrected. When they cannot be          understanding of what is expected. A company needs

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Brand and staff alignment: Is your company getting it right?

real workshops with staff, with role-playing that interprets,   we easily fall back into bad behavioural patterns, therefore
understands and enables meaningful delivery changes.            regular reinforcement, adaptations and repetitions will
It goes without saying that management has a duty to            lead to relevance and sustained change.
live the example because without management buy-in,
any change is short-lived.                                      Staff also realise the importance of service once it
                                                                becomes part of how they are evaluated. Appropriate
How do you evaluate and reward staff?                           evaluation measures mean staff have a finite
                                                                understanding of what is expected from them in terms
For real change to be sustained, it needs to be                 of how they will be evaluated rather than a generalised
incorporated into the way staff are evaluated and               notion of ‘better service’.
rewarded. That alone signifies the importance of the
branded service experience for staff.                           It’s a matter of clarity. Plot the path so that the collective
                                                                journey is focused on a safe, successful and profitable
Any such process also needs to be repeated with existing        target.
and new staff, at regular intervals. Like with all changes,

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