This is a topic that is very close to my passion and I finally decided to do it after an interesting and friendly exchange that I had with a CEO on LinkedIn following one of my blog postings. The great thing about sharing is that it helps us think about topics that we haven’t thought about in a while and it sparks ideas.
I write a lot about the sales process, the lack of accountability and how CEOs need to understand the process so their sales team can be effective and successful. I write about sales people and their lack of knowledge who your audiences and decision makers are and sales people who talk rather than listen. All of these areas apply to every sales person, but my niche is consultative sales. Recently, I realized that most of the areas I write and blog about could be applied to every-day situations, like going shopping, calling customer service or generally experiencing a brand.
How do you experience a brand?
Many, many times I notice that companies, even with the most stellar reputations are not able to translate their mission and vision to the end user (mostly consumers) to experience it. The only exception I can think of is the Apple experience. Somehow, Apple has mastered to hire cool, young people who are willing to help and they know what they are doing. Last July I went into an Apple store near Ft. Myers and there was Grandma sitting with her dog at her feet listening to this bright young guy who was patiently helping her to navigate through her new computer. It was simply delightful. But the best thing about the observation was that the sales person knew exactly how to explain things to this very specific customer, so she would understand it. He wasn’t talking tech or features. He asked her what she was looking for and guided her through the process.
When you experience a disconnect
My two favorite examples when it comes to the disconnect between corporate and the actual brand experience are Verizon Wireless and Starbucks. I am a customer of both companies and have complained about bad customer experience (in the case of Verizon many times) in the past.
Every single time I called the executive offices, the response was prompt, courteous and professional. I felt appreciated, heard and understood but I can’t really buy my cup of coffee from the VP of Customer Experience in Seattle. I have to buy it near the area where I live, which happens to be a very affluent community with a Starbucks store that has the charm of a bowling alley. Nobody every greets me when I walk in (and trust me, by now they should know me and know what I am drinking, because it’s always the same “skinny hazelnut latte” that I buy”). The people who serve me are generally unfriendly or uninterested and they never give me the feeling that they appreciate me being a customer.
I don’t go there because I like Starbucks coffee that much. I go there because they have an outdoor seating area that I can use with my dog in tow and because there is no alternative in my town. I have honestly been thinking about opening up my own cool coffee shop at some point, but for now I will stick with what I do, which is helping companies shift their culture so the brand experience trickles down to the people who buy the service or product.
Verizon Wireless is the other example. The store experience is horrible and I am not kidding. The two Verizon stores in my neighborhood are staffed with customer representatives who simply don’t care. They chew gum, they chat on the phone or with colleagues while waiting on you and they are incompetent. Unfortunately, there is a lot of poor customer service around, but often I forgive and forget when I encounter product knowledge. When it comes to Verizon, there is no upside but my whole family has Verizon and it has the best coverage in my area, so I feel that I am stuck with them.
Many, many times I have complained to corporate and every single time I was taken care of. I have gotten refunds, apologies and explanations. The only thing I have not gotten in the last 5 years is better customer service at the store level.
Not at my Starbucks and not at Verizon.
Doesn’t that make you wonder?
I love the TV show Undercover Boss where CEOs of companies like DirectTV or Waste Management travel to their plants, visit their employees (undercover of course) and identify the pitfalls of management decisions.
The results are usually heartwarming. You see CEOs who are grown men with a sound professional background crying over the fact that one of their managers who manages a profitable plant does not have health coverage. Or experiencing a female employee who has to pee in a can because the truck route doesn’t allow for bathroom breaks.
But there are also the scenes where bad logistics are exposed. When the installer of a DirectTV equipment can’t get his own supply manager on the phone and has to wait for 20 minutes in the living room of a customer. It’s enlightening and revealing at the same time.
My favorite episode is about Subway. The COO works undercover at the store for one day and asks the “Sandwich Artist” who happens to be competent, funny but also very direct what she would recommend a good-selling sandwich would look like. I can’t remember her exact reply but basically she was saying that she wasn’t paid to think. What she was really saying was that nobody every asked her for her opinion. And wouldn’t it be obvious to ask a person who makes sandwiches every single day and owns the customer interaction what they think their customers like?
Here is the good news
The good news was that now this young female was appointed to be part of the innovation team at Subway.
When I write about the sales process and that CEOs need to be involved in the development of it, I really mean it. It’s a cultural shift where leaders need to understand that everything that happens within their organization is in the end their responsibility and everything that is decided needs to be communicated to every single department so a cultural shift can happen. I strongly believe that senior executives have the best in mind when they develop a strategy or when they establish a mission statement. The challenge is to make sure that every single manager understands and “owns” the vision and mission so it can be executed. There also have to be mechanisms and incentives in place that reward managers and employees when they are in line with the mission.
Positioning vs. brand experience
Starbucks prides itself to be a sustainable company and for the most part they are. But does it translate to the store level? Why am I never asked if I stay in or take out? Why use a paper cup when you stay in the store? First off, it’s a lot nicer to drink out of a real coffee mug but it is also easier on the environment.
What about B2B?
In a B2B environment your sales people are your ambassadors. Keep in mind, they are the ones who contact your prospects before they become clients, so they shape the perception. They are the ones who call on your prospects and they are responsible for how your company is perceived in the market place. If you hire sales people who are inexperienced or the wrong fit for your offering and you send them out because you feel that the more feet you have on the ground, the more you will sell, you will probably be perceived in a way that will not represent your values. But it’s also the receptionist, your account people, your bookkeeper and really everybody who has some kind of client interaction who leaves an impression on your prospects and clients.
First impressions count!
When I call a Fortune 500 company and the receptionist is rude (which is more the norm than the exception) I am tempted to alert senior management. Not because I want to get a person in trouble, but because it’s part of the brand experience that senior management needs to be aware of. But I seem to be one of the few people who strongly believes that first impressions count and that the receptionist is as important to your brand experience as everybody else within your organization. I do a lot of calling and I wish that senior executives would call into their own companies at times to experience the frustration that callers like me encounter.
In a B2C environment it’s your customer service people who carry the brand. Whether it’s the barrista at Starbucks, the customer representative on the phone at Verizon, the cashier at Kohl’s or the waiter at a restaurant.
This is the time to recalibrate and rethink your brand experience. Just watch Undercover Boss and you will agree with me…………………..
CONSULTATIVE SALES ACADEMY
Monika D’Agostino – Chief Consultative Sales Officer
LinkedIn Profile: http://www.linkedin.com/in/monikadago
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