#FLAsia2010 Special 1: Build Brand through People

20 10 2010

This is the first in a short series for FLAsia2010, where I will be over the next 2-3 days with my colleagues from Franchise and Licensing specialists FT Consulting.

What is the most powerful element of your Brand? The visual identity may be important, but it is the mental one – the place your Brand occupies in the mind of potential and actual customers – that really counts. Customer experience is core to developing this mental identity. Where does customer experience come from? If you are a manufacturer, it may come from the extreme usability and sheer brilliance of the product. If you run a franchise, or any other business with a service component, then around 95% of your customer’s experience comes from your people. (And even if you are a manufacturer, you might be surprised how much is to do with service staff – yours or your distributors’!)

Let me illustrate both sides of the story with a real example, a global F&B outlet. Their brand identity is pretty recognisable… but what does it mean?

Here’s what it means to me:

In Houston, it signifies that I will be greeted with a smile and great service. If I disclose my name there is a pretty good chance the server will address me by my name when I come in the next day. They remember me! How cool is that?

Here in Singapore, it signifies that I will be greeted with a smile and great service. If it is the outlet where my wife and I go for our weekly session to work on the business, they will already know what my order is. They know me! Pretty cool, huh?

What about in the UK? What does the brand mean there. Hmmm. How can I say this? I will be greeted… well I often won’t. Lack of attentiveness, lack of concern; actually, you can almost hear them say, “we are pretty much staffed by people whose conversation you are interrupting by coming into the store”. The often surprisingly filthy store. A few exceptions, but mostly in London where by employing foreign staff they get employees who already have some idea what this brand is meant to be about.

I am not imagining this. In fact, I just discovered that a close friend who commutes between UK and Singapore has been so puzzled by the difference that he has taken to asking staff at this chain in the UK what the brand means to them: average answer he gets is a grunt or “dunno”.

So what is this? A disease of the British culture? That Brits simply can’t do customer service? But then you would have to explain why, for example, the company-owned outlets of the UK coffee chains Costa and Coffee#1 have spectacularly good service staff.

And here is the point. 95% of your customers’ experience at any of these places is fundamentally about who you choose to employ in the role in the first place. So, to take the coffee example, Costa and Coffee#1 employ people who get a buzz out of serving people brilliantly, who love interacting with people, who love making a difference. A love of pulling expressos (or whatever the chain happens to be about) is a bonus – and of no value without the rest of it. The other 5% of customer experience is about having an adequate supply of good coffee beans / ribs / tacos /… and knowing how to prepare them. Yes, really.

Back to your business (and if the chain in question have recognised themselves, I would love to be of service: contact me). Do you want to add meaning and value to the name and the identity you spent so much on developing? Then get people who care about customers, who love serving and who are great at handling people and making them feel better about themselves and their situation. Alternatively, if you want to waste all of your other efforts and investments, don’t give employee selection another moment’s thought.

Employing the right people is not a dark art. Really. Start by looking at what you already have. If you are a franchisor, you should be benchmarking the very best of your customer service talent and including that in your Franchise Manual as a specification for recruitment selection. (And that doesn’t mean a list of desirable behaviours; I mean a list of objectively measurable personality characteristics which can be validated against actual behaviour.) You should also be benchmarking what kind of franchisee will “get” all this, and be willing to follow through relentlessly on it. You will then use that profile as part of your franchisee recruitment process. And if you are a franchisee and the franchisor hasn’t given you this specification for your employees, you should either push them to do so, or develop your own and then push them to adopt it.

Employ the right people, do everything to allow them to do what comes naturally and watch your brand accumulate value.

(If you don’t know how to go about this, we do; so get in touch. Contact my colleague John Ong at FT Consulting (john@consultft.com) or tweet me @jonmkiwi)




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