Many organizations have brand values, yet few manage to make them real for their own teams, in a way that enables the team to bring these values alive for customers in a memorable brand experience. While most brand owners see training as the solution, all too often, training can actually become part of the problem. Here’s why:
- Generic customer service training programs don’t work. Instead ground trainings in the organization’s brand promise and desired customer experience. Create a memorable brand experience.
- Wholly HR-owned training should be replaced. Implement training together with internal communications and marketing efforts.
- Replace bland content that is patronizing and generally formulaic.
- Deliver learning when people actually need it or have the time to do it, not on a schedule. ‘Just in case’ rather than ‘Just in time. That’s part of a brand experience.
‘Have a nice day’ has become a symbol of this ‘design by numbers’ approach to customer experience.
Brand experience: So what’s the solution?
If you want to create a differentiated experience, you need to create differentiated training. And this training must operate at three levels:
Start with your brand proposition and desired customer experience
Be absolutely clear on your brand proposition, the expectations of your most profitable target customers, and your desired customer experience. This then creates a context for the training of management and front-line staff so that the behaviors you facilitate are directly linked to the desired customer experience. Your front-line team members need to know what customers expect and value, what the brand promises and what their role is in delivering it.
Think innovatively about the brand values and hallmark touch-points
Your team will really need to dramatize the promise in order to differentiate the experience. This is an area in which you should also dramatize the training. For example, if simplicity a hallmark of your customer experience then the style of learning needs also be simple.
Evolutionary training not revolutionary
One common mistake is to label all the old training initiatives as redundant. It‘s important to honor the learner’s previous learning experience, so try and build on the positive aspects of existing programs where possible and integrate them in new initiatives.
Too often training is seen as the sole responsibility of HR. Whether using external experts or your own internal people, we recommend creating a design team comprising the training experts, HR and a small number of managers to insure that the learning design is relevant, realistic, engaging, and appropriately linked to other initiatives.
Appoint brand champions
Create brand champions to act as your advocates and the voice of the employees. These are people who help spread the word, influence its success and reinforce communications. Make them part of the design team and get their buy in. Select them carefully: natural influencers, credible communicators, good people skills, respected and liked.
Prepare your own employees to conduct front-line training
Focus on training your ‘champions’ and your best people to train your front-line managers. Create a process to cascade the skills and knowledge needed to deliver your strategy. Training managers to deliver the message enables them to understand the importance of the customer experience initiative, how to deliver it and their role in enabling those the lead to deliver it. This creates ownership at the operational level rather than the initiative being something ‘done’ to the organization by consultants. The intention is NOT to turn managers into trainers, but to turn them into leaders and coaches who can set direction for their people.
Brand experience–Create a training experience
Create impact right from the start. One way is to create a launch event where you treat your participants as your guests, with managers acting as hosts.
How you can create the type of experience for your employees that you wish them to create for customers? Think about how you invite them, welcome them and the environment you wish to create. Surprise and delight them. What can you do to make them feel special?Shaun Smith
Design learning that addresses immediate work challenges and fits around people’s work schedules
Rather than taking employees out for days at a time, sessions can be designed to be delivered by your managers as a series of short, interactive modules. This enables them to be built into the pace of the business so that the learning is ‘just in time’ rather than ‘just in case.’ Train managers to deliver each module and reinforce them through real work assignments that help participants try out skills and approaches in the workplace. They will learn how to translate brand values into personal action, and behave in ways which are on-brand. Learning becomes an incremental process of action and reflection leading to new insights and new ways of thinking and acting.
Brand the training
Create an inspiring look and feel that runs throughout all the communication about the training, and through the training materials themselves. Although you need to build on existing learning, think of new ways of differentiating the style and approach from everything that has been done before. You want to excite people about the initiative.
Measure it against key strategic objectives
Senior management commitment is achieved by a clear, compelling business case, which links the initiative to results and the means to track performance. Make certain to include a measurement process to monitor impact. A customer experience scorecard will enable you to combine customer experience measures with front-line performance.
Empower people to deliver a consistent experience not a formulaic response
The fundamental benefit that a brand bestows is predictability. If you want to really upset your customers, provide them with a wildly different brand experience from location to location, day-to-day, or between one service provider to another.
Many organizations seek to control the experience by standardizing it. In many cases, service standards have been set at the level of the lowest common denominator, thereby creating robotic service encounters. The right answer is to keep a tight control over what your brand promises and the design of the experience, but to also give freedom to your people to behave in a way that will meet individual customer needs. Most leaders are terrified to do this.
Don’t forget to align KPIs with the customer experience
We worked with Burberry, one the world’s best known luxury brands and measured the impact of our customer experience work pre-pilot, post-pilot and against control stores in the US, Asia and Europe. We used a concept called the ‘Power of One’ which reduces the many complex and often conflicting KPIs to one primary success measure that the employees can directly influence. In this case it was revenue per transaction, a measure of the ability of the front line to sell.
A final note
Sometimes you just have the wrong people to start with. Some don’t want to be trained and some are incapable of being trained. Zappos has a phrase ‘slow to hire, quick to fire.’ It’s more important to recruit the right people with the right DNA, in the first place. So ardent is this belief within Zappos that they offer all new hires $2000 at the end of their first week of training to leave as a way of testing their passion to work for the brand.