Actually, we agree. The promises that you make to your customers should, ideally, match promises you make to your staff. If you guarantee your customers quality standards and a professional service, why wouldn’t you offer your staff quality working conditions and a professional place to work? If your brand stands for creativity and innovation, wouldn’t you expect these attributes from your staff?
So, you can safely assume your internal brand is saying the same as your external brand then right? Well, often, in many cases, wrong. And this matters. Not because your internal brand needs logos and advertising as it might externally. But because if there is a gap between your internal and external promises, your staff could well fail to deliver your brand at all.
Quite simply, in any business, whether selling directly to consumers or to other businesses, we rely on our employees to actually deliver the goods. We might espouse wonderful brand promises and set high customer expectations but at the end of the day, we need our staff to ensure those standards are met. We need them to engage with our customers, do the right thing in each interaction and consistently represent the company in a positive way.
This is the simple, yet critical key to success. Jim Collins, in his best-selling book “From Good to Great” clearly demonstrated that companies which have a defined strategy and facilitate ways of working which under-pin the brand values are the ones which stand the test of time. Tony Hsieh exemplified this with Zappos on-line shoe retailer and set out his experiences in “Delivering Happiness” a euphemistic title but one that accurately reflects the place of work he has created. Through the creation of a “happy” work-place, he has empowered and encouraged his people to deliver happiness to their customers – a simple strategy which has resulted in a $1.2 billion business.
So how can we be sure of what our internal brand is saying about us?
That what the company says is matched by what it actually does?
That our brand promises are delivered every time, so our customers come back for more?
What are we doing to ensure that every employee is equipped to deliver the brand from the inside out?
At KPC we start with a simple say/do gap analysis (known in some organisations as an Employee Value Proposition).
First of all, examine the connections, or lack of them, between what you are promising your customers and the internal processes or resources needed to deliver them. Are you enabling your staff to deliver excellent customer service or actually impeding them with out of date technology or poor training?
We recently worked with an SME who regarded quality as one of the key selling points for their international customers. Yet, an already over-stretched operations team was unable to keep an eye on production quality over-seas and standards were falling. As a result, the customers were becoming frustrated and staff were becoming disenchanted. For them, the internal brand reality was completely at odds with the external advertising.
Next, make – and keep - the same promises to your staff as you would to your customers. If developing long-term customer relationships is important to your success, ensure you develop the same relationships with your “best asset”. If caring for your customers is a key principle, make sure you care for your people.
A major UK Port we worked with recognised that the secret of its success was long-term partnerships creating a loyal customer base. Yet the staff who nurtured this partnership on a day to day basis at the front-line were working in conditions that were less than friendly. Sub-standard mess facilities with limited catering for hard-working shift workers meant they felt less valued than their customers. For these workers, the internal brand suggested a mis-matched partnership rather than a balanced relationship based on hard work, respect and loyalty in return for a pleasant place to work.
Compare this to an international transport company we worked with who realised that just by empowering their staff with a small budget to respond more quickly to customer complaints with on-the-spot compensation, not only delighted formally disgruntled customers, and gave their staff a welcome sense of responsibility, but also saved money by preventing small issues being processed through central customer service centres.
Bridging the gap is the difficult bit and shouldn’t be underestimated. It will require dedicated leadership and a willingness to change, at all levels, to show a commitment to the brand values, inside and out. It may well require some extra investment if the changes needed are practical as well as behavioural. But it will bring dividends. As well as improving customer experiences, employee experiences will improve too, and therefore, your recruitment and retention statistics. These days, employees want to join – and stay – with companies that have a clearly articulated vision of the future. They want to understand the path to success, and how they can contribute to this prosperity. When we examine the say/do gap in organisations of all sizes, we find that staff are the first to know how to bridge any gaps and are keen to embrace changes. There is usually a thirst to get involved and start delivering the brand promises – which ultimately can only be good news for your reputation and bottom line.