Creating and delivering a great customer experience can only be achieved by aligning the internal culture of the organisation behind the brand promise. It is the people-behaviour element of the brand that needs to be addressed to ensure a consistent brand promise is delivered across the whole organisation to all stakeholder groups.
Have you experienced great customer service from an organisation just to be frustrated by their Accounts Department over payment of an account? What do you remember most about this organisation and would you recommend them? What damage are they doing to their brand?
Now, social media moving into the mainstream may be creating the conditions for the next evolution. Whereas previously organisations could invest in marketing and PR to “tell a story,” things have changed and there is nowhere to hide. Trust is becoming increasingly important as customers seek to understand the substance behind the promoted “face” of brands they buy. What do they really stand for and believe in? The speed and reach of communication enabled by social media magnifies this trust factor. Significantly, brand control is moving away from the organisation that “owns” the brands to the communities that engage with them.
Organisations and brands are no longer what they say they are. They are what others say they are.
This environment provides real opportunities for brands that are true to their values and have a meaningful story if they deliver it in a compelling and authentic way consistently. Research shows that customers’ perception of a brand is strongly influenced by their experience of the people that represent the brand which can be anyone from the CEO to the delivery driver.
Employees are ambassadors of the brand and arguably have more influence over customer perception than the classical marketing or PR activities. Authenticity from the tip to the root is the new Holy Grail for organisations and a focus will be on how the values and brand can be translated into the daily practices and behaviour of their employees, drawing a golden thread from the boardroom to the front line customer experience. Workplace culture is central in this new paradigm of recognising the value of values… but this has to be in practice rather than a PR or communications exercise.
Building People brand is all about influencing the behavior of staff to reinforce your corporate brand values and promise in their everyday work. Creating the right Employee brand means creating the internal culture that gives direction, purpose and then empowers and supports staff to deliver this in a way that is authentic to them.
Organisations continue to do damage to their brand through a culture that surfaces that is not aligned or is at odds to what they wish to express. This can happen during a period of crisis (BP Oil Spill) or when the focus of the business moves almost exclusively to the share price and the bottom line (Major banks in Australia may be an example of this).
So why do people (from the CEO to the delivery person) step out of alignment? What makes them say and do things that go against the values of the organisation?
In nearly all cases it comes down to an internal culture that is not clearly articulated, communicated or consistently adhered to across the whole organisation. While most organisations have their values and behaviours clearly defined and hanging on the wall, how many work hard at ensuring these are both understood, agreed with and managed?
Internal culture is “How things are done around here” and this always starts at the top. How consistent is the CEO and the executive team in living the values even when times are tough? Without this commitment from the top values and culture will be determined by the weakest link or by the actions taken or not taken.
Moving down from the leadership team, culture and brand needs to be looked at Team level where each team can build their own brand (aligned to the corporate brand) and agree on the culture/ behaviours necessary to deliver this consistently. In this way they have ownership of their brand and pride in delivering the behaviours necessary to deliver their strategic goals. They also impose peer pressure across the team to deliver.
Imagine your Accounts Department building a brand that is all about being proactive and not reactive, about providing great service to the other departments so they can do their jobs better, where their focus on customer service is as high as the sales department.
The next level is at the individual level where supporting staff to develop their personal brand is all about giving them the self-awareness to better understand their strengths, personality and the style they wish to project to be the very best they can (and most staff want to be this).
Personal branding allows the individual to contribute to the team and organisational brand in a way that is both authentic and unique.
Remember the old MacDonald’s brand program where staff were instructed to say “Have a nice day now” with varying degrees of sincerity? It failed because people saw it as forced and false. Image if staff were just asked to express thanks in their own way how more successful this would have been.
Personal branding works because it offers something for the individual in relation to confidence, self-awareness and improved career management. Also remember that behaviours are ultimately affected by how we feel about ourselves so having happy, challenged staff who are empowered will provide a strong brand presence to all they connect with. It works at team level because you get increased contribution and innovation.
And it certainly works at organisational level where a strong positive culture and brand promise delivers improved returns.
The first step is to articulate your culture
Being intentional about culture means you approach it in a planned way. You shape your company’s norms, values and beliefs deliberately rather than letting them evolve organically. You look at your business strategy, your brand strategy and align the culture necessary to deliver both. Remember Culture delivers Brand in every situation.
One of the most important pieces of this puzzle is how you articulate your culture to the people who need to live it every day. Your policies, procedures, communications, systems, organisational chart, benefits and so much more need to consistently (and accurately) reflect your culture.
It might sound complicated, but these ten steps will help you:
The changing landscape for business and organisations will arguably bring the importance of culture and brand into even sharper focus in the coming years. There are examples nearly every day of how customer and employee experiences are being communicated widely and quickly on social media, encouraging (if not forcing) organisations to respond. There is nowhere to hide. Organisations delivering experiences to their customers, employees, service partners, communities and shareholders that are aligned to their stated purpose and values is moving from an “option” to a fundamental requirement. We could be seeing the dawn of a new “values economy.”
How would you describe your culture and is it aligned to the brand you wish to project to your target audience and are your people advocates - because there is no middle ground today?