Making Every Employeea Brand Manager

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Making every employee a brand manager
Aligning human capital strategy with brand strategy
By Carla Heaton and Rick Guzzo

M
Employees are a critical yet underemphasized element in delivering the positive customer experience necessary to build a strong brand. A strategic approach to human capital will enable employees to deliver to their fullest potential.

any companies fail to deliver on the promise that their brand, implicitly or explicitly, makes to customers. Automakers promise a whole new experience in car ownership, but perpetuate the same old sales pressure and haggling at the dealership. Banks promise one-stop shopping, then require multiple conversations and handoffs for different products. Airlines tout their kid-gloves treatment for business travelers, then put them through the overbooking and lost-baggage circles of hell, with the “customer service representative” either powerless or otherwise engaged. Computer software makers promise to raise office productivity, then understaff their technical support teams. This brand “bait and switch”—the raising of customer expectations that are then dashed—seriously erodes the power of a brand over even short time periods. It certainly does more harm than simply delivering an unsatisfactory experience without having promised something better. Internet firms, in particular, are learning the dangers of delivering to customers an online experience that falls far short of the one they expect (see article, page 68). A brand promise can be unmasked as a hollow boast at almost any point during a customer’s experience with a company, product, or service. Each interaction represents a “moment of truth” that can enhance or erode the brand, heighten or undermine customer loyalty, and affect business results for better or worse. End-to-end customer management recognizes that when the customer needs a solution, he or she cares about the result, not the messy process of getting there. Consumers and business customers alike expect fast service, convenience, appropriate cross-selling, and solutions to their problems. And they want consistent treatment across all the sales channels through which they interact.

DELIVERING on the Brand Promise

Mercer Management Journal

61

Delivering a seamless experience that pleases customers, however, is becoming increasingly difficult. Customer satisfaction has been declining in many industries for the past decade, in part because the bar is rising—customers have higher service expectations, expanded options, more cross-industry benchmarks, and lower switching costs. At the same time, execution challenges are intensifying, due to product and channel proliferation, cost pressures, heightened M&A activity, and talent scarcity in most sectors. Companies that succeed in this challenging environment can distinguish themselves and reap significant rewards. Because consistent delivery of the brand promise tends to be costly and time-consuming for competitors to replicate, it reinforces the ability of a brand to serve as a potent source of strategic control. The hidden jewels Bringing a well-designed customer experience to life requires aligning every point of customer contact with the brand promise, from the storefronts to the call centers to the Web site, from the first contact to ongoing service interactions. The most important factor in creating a successful customer experience, however, is a company’s workforce. The moments of truth involving human interaction often have the greatest impact on how a customer feels about the brand (see Exhibit 1). So it is crucial for companies to ensure that their employees continually reinforce the brand.

DELIVERING on the Brand Promise

Exhibit 1 Analysis of customer “moments of truth” in retail banking shows how human interaction magnifies, both positively and negatively, a customer’s feelings about a brand

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