Branded Experience Training


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Some years ago, Gallup conducted a survey of 6,000 consumers and found that the fifth “P” of the marketing mix, people, is by far the most important determinant of customer loyalty to brands than the other “P’s” of Place, Promotion, Product and Price. For example, in motor retailing Gallup found that customers who feel their dealer representatives “stand out from all others” were ten to fifteen times more likely to choose that same make of vehicle for their next purchase. This same ratio held true for the airline industry, while in the banking sector the influence of people is even greater with customers saying they were ten to twenty times more likely to repurchase from organizations with outstanding employees. Even in telecommunications employees are three to four times as important in driving loyalty as other factors.

While this realization is not revolutionary, when it happens it is often a surprise. Indeed, sometimes it is newsworthy. For example, an account executive for the Menasha Corporation had a long day of internal flights in the US. He flew from St. Louis to Milwaukee on one airline and from Milwaukee up to Appleton, Wisconsin by the commuter airline, Midwest Express. The only problem was that when he landed he couldn’t find his luggage. Brad Braine, the Midwest Express agent who dealt with his complaint, looked all over, made some calls and sent messages and telexes and faxes but couldn’t find the missing luggage anywhere.

Dejected and annoyed, the man from Menasha got in his rent-a-car, went downtown and checked into his hotel, and then got back in his car to drive around looking for a men’s clothing store. He wanted to find a shirt, tie and jacket, something suitable for his meeting the next day with the president of the company and the senior VP of sales. He came back to the hotel thoroughly despondent. All the stores were closed. But, when he walked into his room, he found a suit and two ties on his bed. He called the front desk, and asked what was going on. They told him, “Somebody by the name of Brad Braine from Midwest Express just stopped by the desk, and asked if we could deliver this to your room.”

The Midwest agent had noticed that he and the passenger were about the same size. He drove home to La Peer, a 25-minute drive from Appleton. He got one of his own suits and a couple of ties, drove back to Appleton, and dropped them off at the hotel. The suit fitted and the passenger’s meeting went well. A corporate myth? If you’ve flown with Midwest, it may come as no surprise that its staff should be so committed and willing to solve problems. A small airline with a penchant for winning big awards, Midwest has earned a reputation for delivering on its brand promise of “the best care in the air.”

Companies like Midwest must harness the full potential of people power day in, day out. They need to. Battles for customer loyalty and profits are won and lost not by product or service quality but by people. Organizations that deliver their brand promise through their people reap benefits that directly impact customer loyalty, market share, and profitability. Employees like Brad Braine make a real difference. Indeed, often, they are the difference.

The good thing is that there’s nothing particularly magical in providing branded customer service. It is not always a matter of providing legendary customer service like Brad Braine did. Instead, it is providing intentional customer service that matches the expectations and desires of the target customers. Is the service of Midwest Express the same as the service of Virgin or Cathay Pacific? Of course not, nor should it be because they are in different segments with different brand propositions. Yet customers are advocates of each of these airlines. It is about being something special to somebody special.

So, how can you energize the people in your organization and prepare them to deliver branded customer service? Four things are essential if you wish to differentiate through your people:

• Hire people with the right ‘DNA’ and attitudes to fit your culture
• Train employees to deliver experiences that uniquely fit your brand promise
• Reward them for the right behaviors
• Most importantly, drive the behaviors from the very top of the organization.


“You have to get people with service in their souls.”
— Chris Stone, VP of human resources, Midwest Airlines

Once you know and understand customer expectations you can
create an organization with the culture and the kind of people who can deliver on customer expectations. This means identifying the fundamental behavior your brand requires and the values which are integral to the brand. This is the essence of the organization, the company DNA.

The obvious corollary of this is that those behaviors and values must be placed at the center of your hiring criteria. It is little use espousing certain behaviors and values while hiring people ill equipped to deliver them. You must hire to those behaviors and values.

People set the culture. People with ingrained habits which do not match your culture or the customer experience you are trying to deliver will find changing their habits a challenging task. Better, then, to hire people without such habits in the first place. First Direct, the UK on-line bank looks for people with top quality communication skills rather than hire candidates with experience in financial services.

Recruitment has to be followed by training and this is where the brand needs to be brought alive.


” Attention to detail isn’t written in our training manuals it’s in our DNA”

ANA advertisement

As I said earlier most organisations provide customer service training yet few are differentiated in the service they provide. The reason is that they provide the same kind of training often provided by the same training consultancies. The fact is that vanilla training creates vanilla service. This is not to say that service training is bad – it is not. In fact there are some award winning programmes that really help to improve customer-facing skills and make service more consistent-a vital requirement for creating strong brands. But if your goal is to differentiate from competitors this requires ‘Branded Training’. In other words training that is designed to bring to life the values of your brand in a way that is consistent, intentional, differentiated and valuable.

So where do you start to created brand experience training”?

The best route is to start with the customer touchline maps. You can then identify specific behaviors along the touchlines that will demonstrate the brand values and deliver the promise. These specific behaviors can then be tested against the brand promise. Now you are ready to invest in quality training.

An ASTD study found wide variation in the extent to which organizations made investment in their people a priority.

One such company is Carphone Warehouse the UK retailer. “We invest four times the average amount on training compared to any other retailer. There is a lot of emphasis placed on induction training and equipping you with the knowledge and skills you require. The fact that you cannot even serve the customer or greet the customer until you’ve been through two weeks of intensive training and been assessed and passed that strict assessment. Then there is ongoing support and training that’s enabling you to learn in store via the company intranet,” says Simon Nicholas.

Experiences and the training in delivering those experiences must be inclusive. Professor Paul Nutt’s research on different styles used to implement strategies vindicates this approach. He studied over 350 strategic implementations and compared them both for style of implementation and success rate in terms of sustained adoption. He looked at four different styles, which he characterized as:

Tell: leader announces decision and tells people what they are expected to do

Persuade: leader sells decision as a way to realize an important goal – often supported by expert opinion or research – then waits to gain sufficient support

Participate: leader stipulates what is needed then delegates action to a task force and awaits recommendations

Engage: leader creates awareness of the need for action by bringing to life the gap between current and desired state; leader outlines some options for people to consider as examples of how to overcome current problems.

Nutt’s findings are conclusive. “Tell” and “persuade” were the most commonly used methods for introducing new strategies, largely because they take less management time. However, by far the greatest success rates came from those strategies introduced through a more engaging process—virtually all were still effective two years after introduction, compared to less than half of those introduced through “telling.”

The lesson for aligning and developing people? You can’t “tell” employees what to do to be the best—you have to use more innovative, engaging approaches. In short training that brings your brand values alive.

We call it head, heart and hands training.

Why? Because in order for employees to deliver a Branded Customer Experience three faculties are involved — the head, the heart and the hands:

• The Head; employees must know what customers expect and what this requires of them.

• The Heart; employees must want to provide that experience on a continuing basis.

• The Hands, employees must be able to deliver the experience both in terms of skills but also empowerment.

As I said earlier, this then needs to be supported through aligned measurement systems and strong leadership. But those are the subject of another article.

Shaun Smith

Copyright Shaun Smith + Co. 2008. All rights reserved.

Shaun Smith
Shaun Smith is the founder of Smith+Co the leading UK based Customer Experience consultancy. Shaun speaks and consults internationally on the subject of the brand purpose and customer experience. Shaun's latest book 'On Purpose- delivering a branded customer experience people love' was co-written with Andy Milligan.


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