This is a follow up to my first post on customer
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
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
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
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
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
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?