The other day I exchanged a gift at Nordstrom, which, of course, is renowned for its impeccable customer service and powerful brand. The experience was as expected ― beautiful merchandising, tempting products and prompt offers of assistance ― until its final moments. As the salesperson reached for a bag she said, “I’m so sorry, they never give us enough small bags in this department. We tell them all the time, but they don’t listen. I’ll have to give you a big bag, is that okay?”
The salesperson was trying to live up to the Nordstrom promise by providing good customer service, but her statement came at the expense of the brand. A better message would have been, “I’m sorry, but I don’t have any small bags. Would you like me to get you one, or would you prefer to use the larger one?” The salesperson was great, but “they” ― the rest of the Nordstrom team ― were preventing her from delivering the desired level of service.
Over the last 40 years we have discovered even the strongest brands can be damaged by small disconnects, especially if they happen repeatedly. Every day at every point of contact, employees either exceed, meet or fail to deliver on the expectations created by your company’s brand promise: what your company has committed to those who are exposed to your message. It’s critical that your associates are fully educated, inspired and empowered to think, feel and act with your brand in mind.
Often, we find that employee brand engagement efforts fall short by not creating a direct line of sight between brand promise and desired behavior. Companies that are getting it right start by defining a brand promise that is rooted in a core purpose well beyond financial performance. Then, they engage and equip employees to live the brand through their words and actions.
Four best-practices for ensuring that your employees deliver an on-brand experience:
1) Empower Advocates
The idea of living the brand is found in the smallest of interactions between your associates and your consumers. Name or elect ambassadors throughout your organization ― the people who can lead, speak and act for your brand ― to facilitate ongoing education, alignment and storytelling. This “bottom up” or “middle out” approach works especially well for decentralized and matrixed organizations. As an example, one of our health care clients elected nurses to be their advocates after researching the most effective way to deliver their experience promise. Nurses were selected because they have the greatest number of daily interactions with each patient and therefore make the most powerful and influential connections.
2) Deliver Specific Messages
Provide tools that help managers create face-to-face discussions at the work-group level about how to live the brand. These can be as simple as talking points for team huddles before a shift, with one aspect of the brand discussed at a time. Longer meetings, in a workshop format, can focus on identifying what team members think their group needs to stop, start and keep doing to better deliver the characteristics of your brand. They also work as a wonderful forum to create a deeper, more meaningful dialogue with your associates. Several of our clients have tasked their managers to start staff meetings by asking someone to share a story of positive brand experience they observed, heard about or created. This is a great way to foster a more brand-centric culture and keep employees engaged with your commitments.
3) Enable Easy Connectivity and Encourage Sharing
Remind employees to connect through social media, and empower them to share or retweet updates from your brand that resonate with them personally. Tap into your employees’ natural desire to communicate experiences and express themselves. 2013 was declared the Year of the Selfie and the trend is showing no sign of slowing down ― so provide a portal to your online Brand Center or intranet for employees to upload photos and videos of themselves living the brand. Another option is to leverage the trend of business or private social media tools. From Salesforce’s Chatter to Yammer, these platforms enable easy and creative connectivity, whether your company is in a single building or spread across the world. Dell is a perfect example of creating conditions that allowed their associates to live the brand, connect and share: they certified and empowered more than 2,000 advocates to engage on behalf of their company in social media, with great success.
4) Reward It
Ensure that your organization defines, recognizes and rewards on-brand behavior. Ritz-Carlton®, for example, has been successful for many years by holding its employees accountable for delivering on 12 Service Values such as, “I own and immediately resolve guest problems” and, “I build strong relationships and create Ritz-Carlton® guests for life.” Another way their associates live the brand is in the language they employ that rewards the customer. If you have ever thanked an employee for bringing you extra towels or setting a dinner reservation you may have noticed they always answer with, “It was my pleasure,” and not, “No problem” or, “You’re welcome.” This difference defines their promise, allows an associate to live the brand at every single interaction and delivers attributes that make a brand experience special.
In the State of the American Workplace1 survey last summer, Gallup found that, “Most employees are not groomed for the role of brand ambassador, which could be costing their companies millions of dollars in lost opportunity.” By engaging your associates to better deliver on your brand, you will be well on your way to ensuring that your organization is seizing the opportunities to build stronger relationships with those you serve.
Lynne Field is a Strategy Director at Monigle. On the weekends, you can often find her at Nordstrom, ‘conducting research’ on how well associates are living the brand.
1. Gallup, State of the American Workplace, Employee Engagement Insights for U.S. Business Leaders, 2013. https://www.gallup.com/strategicconsulting/163007/state-american-workplace.aspx