In today’s competitive retail environment, brands play an important part in the choices that we make about where to spend our money. Luxury brands (such as Gucci, Lexus or Armani) drive product differentiation and margin by offering a subtle combination of reality and aspiration. More everyday brands (McDonalds, Pizza Hut and GAP) do the same by offering consistency, value for money and familiarity to their customers.
But the process of creating a brand image is not only about the product and the way that it is packaged and advertised. It is also about the way that the brand is delivered – by the sales assistant, bank teller, car salesman or whoever ‘fronts’ the relationship with the customer.
Today’s consumers are increasingly demanding and don’t hesitate to transfer their expectations between retail sectors. Why shouldn’t a car dealership offer a retail experience which is as enjoyable and sophisticated as a top quality high street retailer?
But getting the ‘front line interaction’ right is not easy
This is the reason why it is only now, after decades of customer service programmes, that we are really getting to grips with the best way to deliver a consistent and differentiating brand experience.
The 80’s and 90’s saw the arrival of the closely formatted and scripted customer interaction – when standard phrases such as ‘have a nice day’ tried to standardise and improve the customer experience. But customers – particularly on this side of the Atlantic – quickly saw through this approach. Today’s approach to delivering a brand identity through people has to be about a much more natural, fluid approach. It is about freeing up staff to ‘be themselves’. The approach is more intuitive and customer-centred – and the trick is to combine the interpersonal skills and flexibility needed to meet customers’ needs with the standardised business processes that underpin every business transaction.
In order to do this, every staff member – particularly those that deal with customers – has to know exactly what is required of him or her. Big, global brand statements are no use here. Each individual needs to know exactly what he or she needs to do in their job – and how they need to do it – so that they can play their part in delivering the brand. This is a simple statement, which has profound implications for the way that people are recruited, managed and developed.
The only way to deliver a real, sustainable difference in the way that people work is to develop a clear statement about the skills, knowledge and behaviours that are required for each job and use this as the basis for all recruitment, training, performance management and reward activity. This way there is one single compelling message to staff about what is important.
These five simple questions will help to diagnose the situation in your organisation:
- Do your people understand the brand vision and what it means for them in their day-to-day job role?
- Is there a clear statement of the knowledge, skills and behaviours that each team member needs to possess in order to deliver the brand to customers?
- Do you recruit your people by looking for the skills, knowledge and behaviour that will really make the difference to your customers?
- Is training and development activity focused on these key areas?
- Is recognition and reward activity focused on these key areas?
If you answered ‘no’ to more than one of these questions, your business is missing opportunities to maximise the effectiveness of its brand.
At cda we have developed a ‘tried and tested’ process which helps retailers to get organised to deliver their brand through their people. Two recent clients of cda are international retail businesses; each delivered real changes to its customer experience by following the approach cda developed for them.
A case study illustrates how this approach works in practice
Our client was an international motor manufacturer, which aimed to revolutionise its approach to retailing cars and related services.
Customer research carried out across the industry demonstrated there were a number of fundamental problems in a sector that had changed little in its approach to retailing since the 1960s. Customers found the process of buying a car “unpleasant”, with “pushy sales staff”, “an approach that isn’t female friendly”, and which “is more suited to the needs of sales staff rather than customers”. Many reported feeling “pressured” or “manipulated”. The business recognised that it was time to develop the standards of service. However, whilst they planned changes to their showroom design, advertising and communications, they also recognised that the customer’s experience at the ‘point of delivery’ was a much more important aspect of brand delivery. To support this change, the business commissioned cda to develop and deliver a change programme focused on achieving effective brand delivery.
Initially we focused on developing a framework to describe all customer-facing jobs both in terms of responsibilities (job profiles) and the knowledge, skills and behaviour requirements (competencies). This framework provides every job holder with a clear description of exactly what is required from him or her to deliver the brand.
As a result of this work, some members of staff had to cope with major changes to their roles. To drive and support these changes to roles, we trained managers to use a ‘Toolkit’ including interview guides and appraisal tools to help them to recruit and develop the skills, knowledge and behaviours required to deliver the brand to customers.
Staff members also received training to help them deliver the brand by building rapport and empathy with customers and understanding customers’ wider needs and aspirations. Other important tools – such as the business’ Mystery Shopping Programme and Excellence Awards for sales and service teams were aligned with the brand values.
The programme delivered real improvements to customer satisfaction and business performance across the company’s retail network. Significantly, it has now been adopted by the business across Europe.
To sum up…
The most successful brands are those that deliver a holistic brand experience to customers through the three key channels – product, image and relationships.
Of these three, the last is most important. No matter how much is spent on advertising, store design, packaging and so on, one bad experience with a member of staff can undo everything.
So to deliver a brand effectively, every member of staff must ‘live the brand’. This is a challenging target, which can only be achieved through systematically recruiting, managing and developing all staff against the requirements of the brand.
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To discuss how cda could improve how your brand is delivered through your people, get in touch.