For Service Organizations, Employees Rule!

I have been working on the development of a training session on developing employees as brand ambassadors for a service organization and, as I’ve been conducting my research and gathering examples, I’m struck as always by the critical role that employees play in either strengthening or damaging the brand, and the woefully inadequate attention that most organizations pay  to helping them be successful in that role. The organization I’m working with is a refreshing exception–they recognize the importance of establishing strategy at the top of the organizations, preparing managers to serve as coaches and role models for service excellence and setting the stage for effective employee engagement through communication.

The steps in the process seem fairly straightforward and linear:

  1. Determine your desired brand attributes
  2. Determine how your organization is currently perceived by internal and external audiences
  3. Identify and prioritize the gaps
  4. Design tactics to help close those gaps

Of course, the process itself is far from linear. Why? Because service organizations are comprised of people and people are anything but predictable. Creating brand ambassadors requires clear communication, feedback and follow-up and consistency. It requires:

  • Identifying the behavioral traits that the best employees exhibit and hiring for those traits
  • Clearly identifying and conveying the behavioral expectations that you have through both written policy and procedure and leader actions
  • Quickly and explicitly providing positive and constructive feedback to employees who are–or are not–exhibiting the desired behavioral attributes
  • Measuring and monitoring results

Most importantly — it requires clear, consistent and open communication. And that, unfortunately, is where most organizations fail to close the loop. For instance:

  • Some of the organizations I work with will say things like: “Well, our employees complain about XYZ all of the time, but the reality is…” Guess what? Their reality is your reality! What they believe is what they communicate. So if your employees believe that your organization is understaffed, that’s the message they will send to the people they interact with–whether their perception reflects your reality or not!
  • Some of the organizations I work with are concerned about “opening up the floodgates” to gather input from employees because they’re afraid that this input will be overwhelmingly negative and, additionally, that they won’t be able to adequately address the concerns raised. Well, guess what again? The input may be negative, but those opinions exist whether you’re soliciting them or not. And, if they exist, they’re likely being shared. What you don’t know can hurt you!
  • Some of the organizations I work with fail to explicitly convey to employees what the expectations are for their behaviors related to seemingly minor things like how to answer the phone, how to acknowledge people they encounter daily in their on-the-job interactions, how to respond to comments/concerns/complaints they may receive, etc. If it’s not explicit, it’s not real.
  • Finally, many of the organizations I work with don’t spend enough time, training and effort to ensure that their supervisors, managers and leaders “live the brand promise” and model through both word and deed the behaviors they want their employees to exhibit. What happens if you declare an expectation and then fail to positively recognize the employees when they exhibit that behavior? What happens when you declare an expectation and then fail to constructively address the situation when they don’t exhibit that behavior? And what happens when you fail to do either of these either sporadically or consistently?

Nobody said it was easy. But most would agree that it’s important. And, studies back up that belief:

The good news for service organizations: your staff has a significant impact on how you are perceived. If the word of mouth they share is positive, that’s a lot less expensive and far more effective than trying to influence your target audiences through paid advertising.

The bad news? If the word of mouth they share is negative, no amount of money spent on paid advertising – or any other efforts to counter their negative WOM – is going to have an impact.

Isn’t it time you started to focus on the role your employees play in impacting your brand?

Suggested reading:

The 2020 Workplace: How Innovative Companies Attract, Develop and Keep Tomorrow’s Employees Today

Like a Virgin: Secrets They Won’t Teach You at Business School

Related blog posts:

Why Employee Engagement Should Be Part of Your Marketing Mix

Effective Internal Communication Drives Business Success Say Investors

Brand Matters!

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