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Your Employee Is Your Brand’s First Customer

Some businesses are more dependent on employees than others. Sure, every business has to make good hires. You can’t get very far if the people you bring on board are unqualified, incompetent or disruptive. But some businesses have lots of employees who interact with customers every day. Those people are expected to be true brand ambassadors. They have to really believe that the products and services they provide are authentic and worthwhile. The businesses that run these kinds of staffs live or die by how well they represent the brand. Businesses like restaurants, retail chains, and call centers, etc. must all be sure their people know what the brand promise is. They must know what it means to deliver on that brand promise. Yet so many such businesses will give a new hire just one “orientation” session and leave it at that. Developing true brand ambassadors takes so much more. It requires regular engagement over time. If you can’t “sell” your brand to the employees, they won’t be able to sell it to the customer. So, in that sense, your employee is your brand’s first customer.

There are plenty of examples of great employees, but I always think of the people staffing the Apple Stores. They never seem to be actually working – they’re having fun. They’re never selling – they’re helping people. They don’t dryly list features – they evangelize. You see it at Disneyland too, where employees think of themselves as cast members in a fantastic show they’re staging. Everyone is in on the illusion, from the actress portraying Cinderella to the worker in the ticket booth to the mechanics that work behind the scenes, keeping the rides running.

The reason some great staffs can be so compelling and draw customers into their world is they believe in their product. That’s fairly easy when the staff also uses the product, like at Apple and Disneyland. But imagine someone working in a call center, expected to sell mortgages over the phone. How can one expect that employee to get excited about mortgages whey they are not in the market themselves and can’t see how their product differs much from the competition?Businesses need to “sell” their employees on why their products and services are valuable to customers.

Most employee training sessions are really just indoctrination sessions. Employees are introduced to the product and are then asked to memorize its features and benefits. They might be given a little information on weaknesses in the competitions’ product. They might be forced to participate in that most dreaded of all training features – role play. This kind of training, improperly administered, won’t do much to convince your employee that your customer absolutely must have your product. It also runs the danger of alienating the employee, making them an even worse brand ambassador.

Today, the best employee engagement systems begin by teaching the brand. Employees are told about the pressing market need that caused the business to be launched in the first place. They’re introduced to the customers and their hopes and fears. They’re given the origin story of the brand. They’re told why their employer got into this business in the first place and why it still plays an important role today. Employees are told of how their employer provides real value to customers, value they could not get anywhere else. Employees soon become clear on all this. They understand what the brand promise is. They see how they are the front lines in delivering on it. Only then do they get trained on product features and competitor comparisons.

But how do you educate your staff without boring them to tears? How do you avoid the eyeball rolls and heavy sighs when you say, “I’ll be the customer.”? Companies are having great success by making a game out of it. Some firms are establishing online curriculums whereby they can educate new hires on important aspects of their jobs. The first course is usually all about the customer and the brand relationship. Then, other courses cover competitive landscape, product benefits/features, etc. Employees are challenged, every step of the way, to test their knowledge and intuition. At the end of each course, there’s a quiz. In most cases, employees can complete the courses at their own pace, just as long as they complete them.

Companies that continually educate their employees on their brand can take pride in the way their staff represents it. Like the people at the Apple Store, they’re not selling to customers, they’re helping customers make informed decisions.


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