Staff key to brand exposure

WA Business News last week hosted a business breakfast for 380 titled ‘The power of the brand’. Julie-anne Sprague reports on the event.


THE power of the brand rests in its delivery to customers, according to leading brand expert Janelle Barlow.

Speaking at last week’s WA Business News breakfast event, the TMI US director said branding must be embraced and trumpeted by staff in order for a company to succeed in the marketplace.

To do that companies needed to identify their brand space and empower employees to deliver extraordinary customer service, she said.

While many companies promoted competitive product offerings, poor execution by staff meant that work often came unstuck

For example, Ms Barlow outlined a new service offered by the American postal service aimed at providing an alternative to the FedEx and other courier services.

“International priority mail; it was branded as a reasonably priced alternative to the big carrier,” Ms Barlow said, adding that the business’s promotional material had sparked her interest in the product.

Particularly emotive was an advertisement with patriotic over-tones. When Ms Barlow made an enquiry about the product, however, she was told: “It ain’t cheap”.

Ms Barlow said the product was branded as an alternative, of superior value to the competition, yet staff members were not espousing its credentials.

“It wasn’t bad service, in fact you could say it was good service. I was being made aware of the costs,” she said.

Ms Barlow believes the generic customer service model is on its way out and that branded service was swiftly taking over.

“Customer satisfaction is worthless in this world. We’ve taught our customers to be satisfied even when they are dissatisfied.”

She said businesses should use branded customer service to reinforce the brand – if the service is the brand – and to make customers overlook product deficits.

Ms Barlow used the example of Southwest Airlines and its ability to attract the largest number of customers of any airline in the US, despite the operation’s major product deficiencies.

“They’ve branded themselves as fun and loving. It’s not uncommon that you go to put your bags in the overhead locker and when you open it a staff member is inside there,” she said.

She said even though customers sometimes complained to Southwest about its product range, the airline had found a profitable product mix.

“They have no intention of changing their business model. You can’t have all customers,” Ms Barlow said.

“What you want is that target customers think of you in the top place. You want a monopoly on that; that is the power of the brand.”

Ms Barlow said an employee of an organisation should “speak the brand”.

“Branded customer service is the brand in action.”

For this to take place effectively she said a company needed to understand its brand space and brand promise.

“Brands are not formed by telling people what the brand is, they are formed by want you do over a period of time.”

Ms Barlow said there were five strategies that would help deliver branded service.

“One is to aim for the most positive delivery of your brand. You have to stand out and one way to do that is to go to the extreme end and the positive end,” she said.

Other strategies included: staff education; delivering the brand within the organisation; creating an atmosphere of valuing complaints; and reminding staff they were hired for talent and attitudes.

Ms Barlow said the five levels of customer service were poor, minimal, acceptable, excellent and extraordinary.

“You should position yourself at excellent and occasionally do extraordinary because it is the extraordinary that will build your reputation.”

She said department store retailer Nordstrom was one company to do that well.

“Nordstrom is the most successful retailer in the US. It has two sales a year and all the rest have many sales,” Ms Barlow said.

“They have a no-hassle exchange policy. They sell more per foot than any other retailer and spend less money on advertising.

“What they do is provide extraordinary service that everyone talks about. One day a friend of mine walked past the shoe department and a clerk said to her: ‘Excuse me, did you get the shoes you are wearing from here?’ She said, ‘yes I bought them about a year ago’.

“The clerk said to her: ‘They should look better than that. Come over here and I’ll exchange them for a new pair’.

“A lot of people say you’ll go bankrupt by doing that, and sure, if you did it to every person …The margin on shoes is very big, so if you gave away two pairs for the price of one, you’ve still made money.

“Does my friend now shop anywhere else? No, better yet, she tells people about it and she told me and now look who I am telling.

“There are many stories like this. Another [that demonstrates the ‘no-hassle exchange policy’] concerns an elderly woman coming up to the store with four balding tyres.

“Nordstrom doesn’t sell tyres but the store gave her money for new tyres.”

Ms Barlow said business owners needed to understand what their service level four (excellent) was and to deliver that consistently.

“Then get your staff in the mindset where they look for opportunities to sprinkle this magic dust every so often.”

She said positive delivery of the brand needed good education and inspired staff to deliver the brand experience.

“Too many businesses are focused on training about goods and services rather than educating staff on service competency,” Ms Barlow said.

“That becomes particularly critical if you want your staff to deliver a recognisable style of branded service.

“Anyone who thinks they can script customer service is wrong.”

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