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Branded Customer Service

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Branding is an integral part of modern business strategy. But while there are dozens of books on branding products and marketing campaigns, nobody has applied the logic and techniques of branding to customer service -- until now.

Branded Customer Service is a practical guide to moving service delivery to a new level so that brand reinforcement occurs every time customers interact with organizational representatives. Janelle Barlow and Paul Stewart show how to infuse an entire organization with brand values and create a recognizable style of service that reflects brand promises and brand images.

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12 Chapters

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1: The Branding Imperative

ePub

Branding is one of the hottest topics in business today. It has become the business buzzword. Indeed, some refer to it as a Branding Revolution.1 The reason couldn’t be more straightforward and underscores a clear business message in today’s crowded marketplace: your brand defines the unique point of differentiation for your products and services and is, perhaps, your only real opportunity to stand out.

The paramount role that brands and branding now play has been accompanied by major shifts in the field of marketing. Brands are seen to be much more than names or logos. Brands are as much a way of doing business as they are a reputation or identity.17

The London-based branding agency Brand Guardians describes the linkage this way: “Branding is about performance. Branding represents different things to different people. But in the final analysis, branding is a tool for delivering your business objectives: a means to an end, not an end in itself.”2

Judgments about brands are structured with logical evaluation and laced with emotion. Some brand experts believe that a brand is predominantly an emotional judgment. UK marketing agency OgilvyOne’s research, for example, suggests that as much as 66 percent of the preference for a brand is driven by emotional elements—even if consumers believe they are making rational decisions.3

 

2: Generic Customer Service Isn’t Enough Anymore

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A few years ago, Janelle saw an ad on television about a new product the Postal Service was offering—a mailing option called International Priority Mail. It was a takeoff on the immensely popular domestic Priority Mail product the Postal Service successfully created to compete with the higher prices of UPS and Federal Express.

The ad was compelling. It showed a spirited customer walking up to the counter of a brand new, spotlessly clean post office where a beautiful young blond-haired woman stood with a charming and big welcoming smile on her face. Regally perched on her shoulder was an American bald eagle. The “clerk,” whose perfect teeth flashed behind her smile, took the customer’s package and placed it into the eagle’s beak, and off it flew into the distance. Old Glory fluttered in the wind accompanied by patriotic music playing in the background. At least this is how Janelle remembered it.40

She was both captivated and impressed! Furthermore, if International Priority Mail worked as well as domestic Priority Mail, she was willing to give her next international letter to that eagle.

 

3: Road Map to Branded Customer Service

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Even though empirical evidence tells us that developed brands correlate positively with financial performance, the power of branding is remarkably still largely unrecognized by many businesspeople as it applies to their own organizations.1 When we speak on this topic, we often ask how many in our audience can state exactly what their brand promise is or what their brand values are. We even offer prizes to those who can. Very few people have this information on the tips of their tongues, and we frequently cart our prizes home with us.

Research by brand experts Scott Davis and Michael Dunn that included ninety global corporations shows that 45 percent of managers lack an understanding of the positioning of their own brand.2 Sixtytwo percent of Davis and Dunn’s survey respondents described a lack of senior management support for their brands. Both of these deficiencies were judged by the corporations as threats to their long-term business success.70

If this lack of brand knowledge and support is representative of management, it is reasonable to conclude that the pattern is even truer for customer service representatives. Yet Prophet’s (the San Francisco brand consulting firm) 2002 Best Practices Study concluded that “despite an overwhelming belief in the impact of personal contact [on brands]… only 41 percent of managers considered investment in customer service an important part of their brand-building efforts.”3

 

4: Defining Your Brand DNA

ePub

Whether or not you have taken the time to formulate your brand, your organization, your service, and your products are still a brand. Your brand may not be on Interbrand’s one hundred most valuable brands list; nonetheless, your brand is what consumers and staff think about you. Your choice is whether to take control of shaping your brand’s destiny or to let consumers and your staff haphazardly define your brand. If customers define your brand, they will do so in large part based upon their experiences, influenced by employees who have no clear idea about the brand they represent.95

Defining brand DNA, the unique components of a brand, is key to beginning the process of consistently delivering on-brand service. This is a concept that most organizations struggle to understand, at least outside the marketing department. Many management teams have become conditioned to looking for the next quick fix solution that can be bolted onto their existing business infrastructures. While we were recently discussing branded customer service with a group of HR professionals and trainers, they simply said, “Show us the training program.” This mind-set is undoubtedly one of the major reasons so many service-related initiatives fail to deliver any real competitive edge.

 

5: Brand Power Tools: Likability, Reinforcement, and Consistency

ePub

The most powerful brands are robust and multifaceted, while at the same time they are precisely defined. Likability, reinforcement, and consistency are three key power tools that marketers use to achieve brand dominance. These power tools possess equal power for service managers when they are applied to service experiences. Through consistent reinforcement of an offering that is both liked and appreciated, a brand will engage consumers.

Most of the research conducted about likability deals with what is required to get customers to purchase. Marketing experts have long known that if customers like your advertisements, they will more likely remember you and feel better about your products and services. Likability is inextricably involved in how people respond to each other, to ideas, and to brands.118

On the surface, likability seems simple enough: humor and warm feelings.1 But likability is also influenced by variables such as the context and medium in which ads are shown and whether the person watching is a “high involvement” person or “low involvement” person.2 Since people seem to like things depending on who they are and when and where they see things, ads need to be checked for likability in relationship to when and where they will be seen before a huge amount of money is spent to display them.

 

6: Culture Change: The Bedrock of Brand Development

ePub

In the business best seller Good to Great, Jim Collins identifies three interrelated attributes common to companies that have been able to make sustainable leaps in performance. They include identifying

The first and second of these “bests” are directly connected to brand and organizational culture. Sustained performance excellence happens when brands are connected to what staff do best. Branding can also spark passion by channeling ambition, creating a clear vision, and building a sense of identity and purpose for everyone who is a part of it. Economic strategy—Collins’s third interrelated attribute—creates the financial context in which branding occurs. All three attributes are aspects of organizational culture.126

For many years, astute managers have recognized that they must actively manage and foster their organizational cultures. When Fortune magazine released the results of its 1995 Corporate Reputations Survey, it underscored the point: “There is a growing realization that companies cannot live by numbers alone … the one thing that set the top ranking companies in the survey apart is their robust cultures.”2

 

7: Communicating to Ensure Brand Resonance

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How management communicates to employees really does matter. It is a critical key to any organizational culture and provides the foundation for the understanding and feeling that employees hold toward their brand. Brand-integrated employee communications programs not only keep the key brand messages alive internally through repetition but—when done well—also shape the language of the branded service culture. To accomplish this, internal communication about the brand needs to be both strategic and creative in the way it is developed and implemented.

Recognition of the key role that employee communication plays as a strategic management tool can be traced back at least twenty-five years, when Thomas F. Gilbert wrote his classic book on managing and motivating people, Human Competence. Gilbert did not mince words: “Improper guidance and feedback are the largest contributors to incompetence in the world of work.”1136

Gilbert stated unequivocally that employees need to know where the business is going. They also need confirmation of the contribution they make to business growth. Applying his ideas to real work situations, Gilbert concluded that by simply improving the communication of information to employees, performance could be improved by between 20 and 50 percent.2

 

8: Internal Word of Mouth: The Role of Brand Champions

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It is estimated that up to 75 percent of organizational change processes fail because of people issues. Designing a change process to brand customer service is a relatively contained process. Implementing it is long-term and ongoing. We have learned that keeping everyone interested and engaged over the long haul is at the heart of the issue to avoid failure.

While support from upper management is obviously critical, it can be seductive to understate the role that general staff play in the brand integration process. And there is no better way to jump-start this engagement than with brand champions.145

The brand champion process operates much the same way that marketing professionals gain public exposure. Both aim for critical masses of people thinking of their brand first. Branded customer service is not likely to be consistently delivered if employees feel they are forced to comply with on-brand behavioral standards (push projects). It takes time and resources to create commitment (pull) for delivering on-brand service, but it is an investment that will reduce catch-up efforts demanded down the road to remove employee resistance.

 

9: Human Resources: The Window to the Corporate Soul

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Human resource departments are undergoing a profound change. Since the advent of the balanced scorecard concept,1 organizations around the world have begun to position their human capital expertise as one of the strategic elements of business success. While some HR departments are still primarily filling out forms, handling staff benefit issues, and making sure the organization is in compliance with labor laws, growing numbers of HR professionals have become strategic consultants to top management. In fact, software now makes it possible for line managers in many organizations to handle a lot of traditional HR administration, leaving HR time to focus on organizational development and human performance. And many HR departments no longer handle training, now a separate department in many large organizations.157

Dr. Graeme Field, an organizational development principal with Morgan and Banks (NZ), explains that when organizations understand that people are its competitive edge, the HR role “includes devising recruitment policy and strategy to ensure an organization hires people that fit its culture and value its customers … [and] be able to formulate methods to accurately measure individual employee and overall staff performance.”2 Critical in this role is also balancing the needs of investors, employees, and customers. To emphasize this new positioning, some recommend calling HR departments human capital departments. Whatever they are called, if an organization attempts to brand its customer service, HR must be brought into the marketing and branding process.

 

10: Great Brands Are Supported from Within: The Role of Management

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Employment branding, that is, communicating the brand message to staff, is an idea that has gained momentum in recent years among branding experts. Brand expert Michael T. Ewing says,

[Employment branding] may be due to the realization that advertising is probably the most visible, recognizable and memorable element of organizational communication. As such, it has the potential to become a purveyor of organizational symbolism and mythology and thus to be part of the cultural, ritual and interpretive organizational fabric that is the thick medium through which leadership creates climate and thus organized action.1171

Imagine the type of organization to which Ewing could be referring. It would be well defined and repeatedly communicated to staff at both rational and emotional levels. Organizational purpose and values would be clear, relevant, and understood by everyone. In such a situation, employees would more likely live the values that underpin who they are and what they stand for as an organization. The brand, delivered with product quality, service delivery, advertising, product and service guarantees, history, and name, would become a focal point of organizational cultural communication. Imagine the focus, energy, and momentum for performance that could be created within such an environment!

 

11: Selling In a Branded World: Linking Your Brand Proposition to Your Sales Messages

ePub

Before the concept of relationship marketing was introduced in 1975,1 most sales were conceived of as short-term transactions, a “just get the orders” type of selling. Today, there is general agreement that relationship marketing (RM), where long-term relationships are formed, is the best sales model for strong brands.2

Marketing is, of course, closely related but not identical to sales. Marketing provides direction to sales, in great part through branding.3 Sales, on the other hand, is the purpose of marketing.4 Because of the hands-on nature of sales, sales departments must assume responsibility for ensuring sales teams follow marketing’s direction and sell on-brand. Salespeople must understand that the way they sell is part of brand delivery and is part of a long-term strategic investment in the brand.181

RM has as many definitions as there are people writing about the subject. The definition we are partial to is marketing expert Adrian Payne’s, in which he explains that RM happens when marketing, customer service, and quality management intersect and has as its primary concern “the dual focus of getting and keeping customers.”5 Many “quality management” and “marketing” decisions occur outside the direct view of customers. Customer-staff interaction, on the other hand, is up-front, noticeable, and, as with most human-to-human interactions, complex to manage.

 

12: The Toolbox of On-Brand Exercises

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When adapted to your particular brand and organizational culture, the exercises in this toolbox can start the process of helping your staff understand branding in general, your brand in particular, and their role in delivering it.

When reviewing this sampling, we recommend that you do not read the exercises one after another. They will blend into each other, lose meaningful context, and put your brain in process overload. We suggest you first determine what you want and need to accomplish. Then go to the toolbox, find headings that interest you, and choose what you need. Read those exercises carefully, and adapt them to your unique brand DNA.189

You will need dozens of these types of exercises in order to maintain high levels of staff engagement with your brand. You don’t want to repeat the same exercises over and over again. We collect exercises on our Web site, http://www.brandedservice.com. Our invitation to organizations and readers of this book is to share approaches they have devised so we can post them on our Web site. This way, every organization will have a brimming toolbox of exercises that can be adapted to its brand needs.

 

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