Putting the customer’s needs and satisfaction above all is deeply ingrained in the mindset of all businesses. And why shouldn’t it be? Happier customers mean greater purchase frequency, higher revenues, and stronger brand loyalty, right?
While putting in place operational processes and standards that support this goal are important for the success of any enterprise, insightful businesses know that this is only part of the equation for longer-term brand equity—especially for service-oriented/consumer-facing brands. Smart brands today know that happy customers are the direct result of happy frontline employees.
Frontline Employees Can Make or Break a Brand
Brand experiences are strongly defined by customer touch points. No matter how great your product or service may be, or how well-crafted your marketing messages are, it’s the clichéd yet still critically important personal touch that leaves the strongest impression on people. And a poor internal brand culture will inevitably find a way to infect employee/customer engagements.
If a brand wants its employees to take pride in their job performance and convey that to customers, the brand needs to invest in its workforce. Being customer focused won’t happen until a brand prioritizes its employees, who are the real-time embodiment and ambassadors of a brand. Research shows that passionate employees champion their company beyond their place of work. Their advocacy helps enhance perceptions among all stakeholders and spurs greater interest among prospective audiences. Furthermore, they go above and beyond in their workplace performance, strengthening customer loyalty and word of mouth.
Chik-fil-A’s “little things” TV campaign is a strong example of just how meaningful friendly and caring employees are to its brand. Each spot highlights an actual customer story in which a Chik-fil-A employee or store helped make that customer’s day or even life better in some tangible way. None of the spots mention any menu items or includes any actors.
The reason Chik-fil-A delivers such high levels of service is its attention to its employees. The company provides not only intensive training for its frontline teams but also empowers them with the authority to make decisions and try new things based on their on-the-job observations. Managers are encouraged to help employees advance their careers, even if those careers aren’t with the company or in the fast food industry. And Chik-fil-A awards millions of dollars in scholarship funds—the highest per-employee scholarship investment in the industry—to qualified employees to help them pay for study at any higher education institution.
Employee cost cutting puts brand equity at risk
In tough times one of the first places companies look to cut costs is in their workforce development and support areas. More often than not, this leads to under-trained, stressed-out employees who no longer feel invested in the company brand. This can be seen in the recent rise of Starbucks employees voting to unionize—and admissions from corporate leadership that it failed to adequately address its employees’ workplace issues. Going forward, Starbucks has announced that its leadership team will be more deeply engaged in listening to employee concerns—and that this feedback will help shape future brand decision-making.
Smart brands recognize that, to most of their stakeholders, their employees are an integral part of the brand. To maintain engagement and loyalty with their customers, they know that putting money into building a committed, passionate workforce isn’t an expense—it’s an investment that pays dividends in higher brand equity, customer satisfaction, and, ultimately, profit.