This is a follow up to my first post on customer success.
One of my first jobs was as a bus boy at a New York Deli Restaurant. I was 14 years old and the gentleman who hired me made it very clear that my job was to make sure that customers had a great time—more than just good food, people were buying the whole experience of eating in a deli (like the Stage or Carnegie in New York). Greeting guests, bringing them sour pickles, answering questions about what I liked to eat and offering up some free cookies towards the end of the meal didn’t seem like much in the grand scheme of things but in the context of this restaurant, it drove their business with hour long wait times.
In hindsight, the general manager of this restaurant clearly understood what many businesses are still figuring out today—that people buy experiences, be it in restaurants, online, brick & mortar stores, etc. Even more so, he understood that the people on the front line needed to represent the brand and needed to be enabled to deliver on it. So even as a 14 year old (I actually looked older), I had eaten just about everything on the menu and could speak to it with confidence. Management actually encouraged me to run to the counter and grab some cookies for people to try.
Fast forward many years later and I come across blog posts such as this (Seth Godin, “Learning from the State Department”)
We invented ambassadors because nothing can replace face-to-face interaction, particularly when messages travel sometimes quite slowly through complex organizations. Just like now.
This seems obvious, and it is, until you realize that organizations make two huge mistakes:
A. They don't hire brand ambassadors, they hire clerks and bureaucrats, and treat them and pay them accordingly.
B. They don't manage and lead brand ambassadors, don't measure and reward and create a cadre of people who can listen for the brand and speak for the brand.
Would you send the clerk on aisle 7 to speak to a head of state or vital partner on behalf of your company? Because that's what he's doing right now.
After reading this, I have adopted this phrase of ‘brand ambassador’ and judge most of my experiences in terms of whether or not businesses are enabling their staff to act as these brand ambassadors. On a regular basis I come across businesses where it appears to me that management has enabled their front line staff to be true ambassadors. In my opinion, companies like Zappos and Starbucks have really nailed it. Their staff has both the customer-centric mindset and the tools at their disposal to drive positive customer experiences. On the flip side, I have plenty of experiences online and in stores where the end result is that I either leave the store or cancel my order. Customers shouldn’t be confronted with confusing online order flows that seem particularly spammy. Simple questions about product availability and new shipments shouldn’t be answered with the shrug of the shoulders or an IDK.
Here are a few things to think about as you evaluate your own businesses in terms of bringing brand ambassadorship to the front lines, be it in call centers or physical stores. Each business is unique so there is not necessarily one prescriptive solution. If you are just getting started with a transactional online site, here are a few other good articles about storytelling through visual commerce and branded manufacturers extending their identity in the direct to consumer channel.
Brand and company philosophy: Does your staff know what your brand stands for and the company philosophy and expectations towards customer loyalty and customer service? How do managers and leadership reinforce and demonstrate these philosophies and expectations? Leading by example truly helps fuel the creation of a staff of brand advocates.
Product & Process Knowledge: Does your staff know the product line? Do they have insights into what products are coming, what is in inventory, what has been discontinued, when the sales are going to happen? What training programs have you developed to help new employees learn about the products and procedures as well as continually update all employees on a regular basis? Can your staff effectively manage the “buy online, pick up in store” process? Front line staff need to have superior knowledge to level the playing field against the highly educated customer of today.
Decision Making: Have you evaluated if your staff is enabled to make the day-to-day and on-the-fly decisions to impact both profitable sales and customer loyalty? Are the guidelines clear and are the internal channels there to educate? The inability to act efficiently and effectively in any of the channels (online chat, phone, in store) is a deal killer on so many levels.
Technology: Are you empowering your staff with the right tools and technology to drive customer loyalty and superior customer service? Do you have agent / assisted selling applications that can not only provide insights into inventory, order history, customer profiles but also transact? Much like the need for product knowledge, the right technology tools are needed to enable sales staff to be seen as a consultant and a brand ambassador, not just the order taker.
Measuring Results and Rewards: How do you measure the success of your front line staff? Can you identify your peak sales performers? Can you measure how effective your staff is with customer service/brand advocacy? Can you measure your staff’s knowledge of products? Do you offer any incentives on an individual level for sales, successful customer interactions? Measuring results and providing rewards can be difficult to implement but this is counterbalanced by the fact that we are currently experiencing a transformational shift in expectations towards customer experience.
I would love to hear about your experiences in creating brand ambassadors within your organizations. What is and isn’t working, obstacles you have had to overcome, tools and technologies that are helping you?