By 2020, the customer experience is expected to overtake price and product as a key brand differentiator. In other words, people will soon care more about how a company treats them than what they purchase or how expensive it is compared to competitors.
Amazon, one of the kings of customer service, recently discovered that two-thirds of Prime members would be open to trying a free online bank account from the e-commerce powerhouse. That figure is significantly higher than the 43 percent of regular Amazon customers who said they would try the service, indicating that individuals who enjoy premier experiences are more willing to consider future initiatives.
As marketing leaders examine how their experiences nudge audiences to the point of purchase, they must look beyond their customers to the people who deliver those experiences: front-line employees. Regardless of how great your new product or service might be, customer expectations and reality will clash as long as your team members fail to embrace your core message.
Unfortunately, most brands use outdated methods to engage front-line employees: Standard product training and a one-sheeter aren’t enough to ensure employee engagement.
Brands should market new initiatives to employees the same way they market to customers. That means researching their attitudes and perceptions, building customized messages, and delivering those messages in a way that resonates. Companies cannot rely on employees to take the initiative—that turns engagement into yet another task for stressed workers. Instead, companies can make it easy (and appealing) for employees to engage with new initiatives naturally.
The Disconnect Between Customer Expectations and Reality
The customer experience disconnect is less complicated than it might sound. If the company touts certain aspects of its products or services but employees fail to back up that story, customers will doubt both the claims and the company behind them.
Consider the smartphone industry. If a brand were to advertise an amazing new 20-megapixel camera, employees would need to know what that means. Will pictures be clearer when users print them? Will the camera work better in bad lighting? Front-line employees are responsible for connecting the advertising with the personal value that customers receive.
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Moving from a hypothetical to a real-world case, take the example of one person who experienced the unfortunate consequences of this disconnect. This person works at a home-services company, and his organization conducted customer research and brought in a branding agency to revamp its marketing strategy. The campaign was a success, but the company failed to educate its front-line employees on the new expectations. The result? The company booked more appointments, but customer satisfaction dropped when the experience didn’t match the promise.
When front-line staff members don’t embrace new initiatives, the marketing team holds the blame. After all, the department is in charge of creating and delivering messages. Marketers might depend on other departments and stakeholders to drive excitement and accountability, but they are chiefly responsible for the results of their campaigns (both internally and externally).
How Marketers Can Align Employees With Campaigns
Thankfully, all hope is not lost. It’s relatively straightforward to use your marketing prowess and turn your focus internally. Follow these four steps to help employees deliver the experiences that your customers expect:
1. Know the customer’s path.
Figure out how and where a campaign is likely to drive traffic. Will it lead to more inbound calls, more foot traffic, or more online chats? Give team members in the affected channel more attention to ensure they understand the campaign and are able to translate the promised value to customers. Prepare employees long before the campaign launches—not after front-line workers are bombarded with questions and expectations.
Nothing frustrates customers more than reacting to a company’s CTA and engaging with employees who are not able to deliver. According to research from Arizona State University, two-thirds of customers who complain are angry about their experience rather than simply dissatisfied. That unhappiness can easily poison the well in terms of brand loyalty.
2. Give employees only what they need—not more.
Customer-facing employees are responsible for a ton of information. Every offer, product, and detail about your brand can come up in a customer conversation. Marketers might be tempted to give team members every detail and let them sort out the mess, but that creates an unreasonable expectation and sets employees up for failure.
Employees, like customers, can only handle so much knowledge. Limit the information you provide to relevant talking points. Educate employees on how the product will improve customers’ lives, which will help them answer more nuanced questions. Then, provide them with useful resources so they don’t have to memorize a list of facts and features.
3. Encourage creativity.
It might be hard to admit, but marketers don’t always have all the answers. Encourage employees to generate their own ideas about how to align your brand with the customer experience. Give front-line workers the freedom to experiment. Brand teams should share their vision for the campaign and then let front-line workers turn that campaign into a practical conversation with customers.
Employees are far more likely to feel engaged when they’re asked for input rather than told what to do. In fact, a lack of respect is one of the top reasons employees quit. Give your team members a chance to contribute, which will boost the customer experience and employee morale.
4. Build a feedback loop.
Collect as much information as possible about what happens during customer conversations. Even when employees have the necessary training, reactions to a campaign can vary wildly from expectations. Maintain direct contact with customer-facing teams to identify obstacles and communicate best practices for overcoming or improving those interactions.
When employees adapt and find new ways to connect with customers, celebrate those strategies and share them with the rest of the team. Alignment depends on a two-way dialogue to be successful — and celebrated employees are more productive.
The next time you design a campaign, don’t limit your thoughts to solely what your customers need. By considering the needs of your employees, your vision for an incredible customer experience won’t get lost in translation.
Chris Wallace is the president and co-founder of InnerView, a marketing consulting firm that helps companies ensure their customer-facing employees and partners tell a consistent brand story.