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The Overlooked Brand/CX Connection

By Ginger Conlon | 9.12.18

Marketing sets the expectation for their brand’s customer experience. Often, however, that message isn't communicated well to the frontlines—specifically, customer service, operations, and sales. Marketing leaders need to work with their counterparts in these areas to help frontline staff understand the brand promise and their role in meeting customers’ expectations. When these leaders don’t collaborate to support the frontlines, the results can be dire: unhappy customers who spend less and buy less often; demotivated employees whose frustration gets passed on to customers; attrition in both areas; and sales losses.

It’s a whole lot of frustration and anguish that collaboration can reduce significantly and potentially eliminate.

MKTGinsight spoke with customer experience (CX) expert Cameron Watt, president and CEO of Intouch Insight, on how marketers can better align themselves with their counterparts in operations and on-premise sales and service staff. Watt reveals how marketers can help frontline staff deliver on their company’s brand promise, use metrics and incentives to drive performance, and build a fruitful relationship with operations.

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How can marketers ensure that frontline staff better understand their company's brand promise and their role in delivering the customer exper-ience it implies?


First is to determine whether you have the right brand promise. If you think the brand promise is different than what the customer is expecting, you can wind up pointing your frontline organization the wrong direction.

Also, overdelivering on customer experience isn’t always a good thing. If the brand promise starts to get affected in one location or two locations versus in all of them, you might have increased your operating cost at those locations without getting credit for it from your customers, because they weren't expecting CX at that level—and then disappointing them when they visit a location that doesn’t overdeliver.


So, the brand promise absolutely has to line up with what the customers expect, and your frontline operations have to really understand both.


Marketers should consider frontline operations people as the ones who can help bridge what customers expect and the brand promise. Sometimes they know more about what makes customers happy or unhappy than anyone in marketing ever will. I recommend using them as a sounding board in addition to customer surveys, social media, and the like.


How can companies use metrics and incentives to encourage frontline staff to deliver on the brand's CX promise?


You have to set up measurements that go right to the individual who’s doing the work; don’t just leave metrics at the district, the region, or even the location.


The thing about incentives where consistency matters, for example, is the incentive doesn't have to be money or a reward like company swag. An incentive, sometimes, is just good management—simply recognizing an individual for having done a good job and having met the brand promise.


Another easy way of making sure that brand promise is delivered is to provide technology that the frontline can use to monitor and measure and track what they do to help them [ensure that everything meets brand and customer expectations]. Again, one of the best incentives is good management and good management often comes with better tools.


Why is it so important for marketing and operations to work together, and what should that relationship look like?


I'll give you an example from my own history. I was working as an area manager for Pizza Hut and we got a whole pile of complaints from customers, and the restaurant managers were getting upset. The reason everybody was all up in arms was because the marketing group had designed a new table tent to advertise the chicken wings we had just launched in the restaurants.  


Marketing was well intentioned, which meant they were going to make that picture of the chicken wings on the table tent look really appealing. The problem was that the number of chicken wings that were in the restaurant’s standards for the basket that got delivered to the customer was much lower than the number that marketing put in the basket in the picture. It sounds like a silly thing, but it actually caused issues in 700 restaurants.


If marketing and operations are disconnected, if they don't understand what each other goes through, then it gets to be difficult.


As part of preventing this type of situation going forward, I was promoted to national operations services, reporting to the president. My job was to make sure that whatever touched the restaurants made sense. [In terms of marketing that meant] if marketing wanted to put something in the restaurant, I had to look at it first. It created a little bit of a linkage between operations and marketing.


My challenge to business leaders in general is to get operations and marketing on the same page. You need to get a group that actually has the time to get into some of the minutiae, that has time to look at the impacts of one on the other, going both ways, but that also has some teeth. Unless you give customer experience management a true seat at the table, you’re never really going to get that synergy.


Certainly, having better alignment between marketing, operations, and the frontline teams will ensure better CX. Any other benefits?


Obviously, the improved customer experience is the first, second, and third benefit you're looking for. But you actually get a spin-off that I call job satisfaction. I think people in any role in any company are frustrated when they feel like they're not understood.


Whenever we do Net Promoter Score studies as part of our survey work, the number one key driver [of a high score] typically is that you made the customer feel valued. Then you have to peel the onion back and say, "What makes a customer feel valued?" When we've taken a look at that, it's always the employees that are involved.


Recently, we dug a little father and found out that showing a sign of gratitude or expressing sincere thanks was actually more important than whether the person was happy or courteous, in terms of creating that Net Promoter Score.


Why does this matter? Well, if you've got happier employees and you've got people who are actually engaged with your brand, and think that the head office makes good decisions, and that marketing does a great job, and that their boss gives them the tools that they need, and they feel like they're listened to, well you're going to have people who are, generally speaking, happier to serve and a little more courteous, and you're probably going to get more expressions of gratitude and thanks to customers. You'll have a different feeling than if people think they're working for crazy people, but they need the money.


Along with the better execution of the brand promise, the other interesting spin-off benefit from marketing and operations collaboration is that you wind up with a more positive culture, atmosphere, and team. Which, of course, creates a virtuous cycle of improvement.


What's one change can marketers make right now to help the operations team deliver the customer experience that the brand promises?


I believe that most of the people working in service roles genuinely want to do a good job. I don't believe we have bunch of disgruntled people out there who don't like their jobs and are miserable, looking to make your day bad.


What can marketers do to help them? They need to understand that first of all. Understand that these people are trying to do the right thing and that marketers need to make sure that the brand promise is achievable and believable by the people who have to deliver it. If they don't believe it can be done or they don't believe it makes sense, you have a problem.


That is, don't put more chicken wings in a basket on the table tent than you're actually going to serve.

About the Author

Ginger Conlon, chief editor and marketing alchemist at MKTGinsight, catalyzes change in marketing organizations. She is a frequent speaker on marketing and customer experience, and serves in advisory or leadership roles for several industry organizations. Ginger was honored with a Silver Apple lifetime achievement award for her contributions to the marketing industry.

Find her at @customeralchemy and on LinkedIn.