Talking to customer services reps over the years, both as Joe Consumer and in a professional capacity as a branding professional for training purpose, has taught me one key lesson: only the best companies embrace the idea that these front line people are more than just whipping posts for angry, frustrated and, at times, unhinged consumers.
These customer-facing professionals are also on the front line of supporting and communicating your brand values, while at the same time processing complaints or questions about your offering.
No doubt, having patient, compassionate and helpful reps is essential to resolving customer issues quickly and effectively.
Recognizing those skills as baselines, an opportunity exists for your firm to invest the time and effort into evolving your customer service reps into cherished brand ambassadors.
Here are four key tips to help turn your customer service reps into agile and informed brand boosters—and make it easier for them to turn disgruntled customers into happier people who will sing your praises.
1. Know the Brand. Be the brand.
The better your CSRs know your brand, the better chance they’ll have of understating why people are frustrated – or why they don’t understand how the product or service works.
Chances are you have product or service manuals describing what you sell. These were well worth the time it took to compile, because they give your CSRs important general information when they’re dealing with customers.
In the same way, you should create a brief “Brand Values” document your CSRs can keep handy. This will give them a clear insight into the bigger mission they’re connected to, which helps link customer service to your brand as a key value that will fuel your growth and success.
If, for example, total customer satisfaction is a key pillar of your brand promise that distinguishes you from the competition, highlight that value as the key motivator your CSRs use to inform all of their customer interactions. For example: “Whatever else, ensure the customer is satisfied with the resolution to their issue.”
Your brand manual can be as long or short as you like, just make sure it includes these essentials:
• What does our brand stand for?
• What is the tone, character or voice of our brand?
• What is our unique selling proposition or key promise of benefit?
• How do we prove this promise to be real?
• How do our promise and our values inform and inspire our Customer Service Efforts?
An elevator pitch—summing up in 30 to 60 seconds what your company does and why people should buy from you—is a classic branding method. And you should include one in your brand manual. But you also have to guard against a common risk with elevator pitches: how do you ensure that your sales staff delivers this vital message without sounding as soulless as a robot?
You should engage your staff in talking about your core brand promise in a way that is natural for them. One method is to have them take the “corporate” version, rewrite it in their own words and present it at a joint sales meeting. Invite comments from other staff to encourage all your salespeople to share their “brand story” with conviction and flare. Do this with each new sales hire. And review the pitch regularly to see how the message is evolving and, more importantly, how prospects and customers are responding to it.
2. Avoid the Broken Promises Sh*t Storm
No amount of manuals or expensive consultants reports, or elegantly written prescriptive blog posts will fix a broken promise. And expecting even the best team of CSRs to shore up a shattered covenant with your brand community is a nonsensical non-starter.
Take Airmiles, for example. This brand was all about rewarding loyalty. So it would seem logical that when the loyalty of the rewards program was tested, Airmiles would come through with flying colours, right? Wrong.
Instead, the company arbitrarily changed the rules of the game to suit themselves (and their clients), and failed their own test of loyalty. No wonder Airmiles collectors lost their collective poo.
That recent disaster for the once venerated brand is a casebook example of how not to treat customers. No doubt, tossing the CSR team to the wolves to explain the unexplainable further aggravated the situation. From my contacts in that world, many CSRs agreed with customers and NOT with senior management. So much for being brand ambassadors!
In my view, it was, in part, the blowback that CSRs reported to management that helped get the higher ups to put down their bongs and straighten up. That, and the eviscerating media coverage were an unstoppable force for change. And let’s not even broach the Volkswagen
Bottom line: embrace your core brand values as the guiding light in everything you do and these nightmares can be avoided. Yes, it’s a foolproof fundamental – like walking. And yet, despite the basic “left foot, right foot, the body follows” mantra, fools still manage to fall on their asses.
3. Do The Simple Things That People Actually Notice
Applying smart branding standards to all your customer touch points can go a long way in helping your CSR staff become the brand ambassadors you need them to be.
As well, ensure that each CSRs email signature includes all the contact information a customer may need, including your website and, if applicable, an invitation to follow you on social media, on your company blog or to subscribe to your newsletter. And ensure that reps who will be away from the office on a vacation provide an auto-reply offering an alternate person to contact.
On voicemail greetings, avoid at all costs automated replies with just your name inserted. Thank the customer for calling and mention your company name. Again, if reps will be away for an extended time, they should provide an alternate contact, email address or their own cellphone number.
4. Recognize the Best and Encourage the Rest
Good CSR pros who embrace the idea that service is a branding function relish recognition. This should be based on standard performance metrics, such as resolution rates, call times, cycle time and callbacks. But you should also rate performance on factors that support your branding mission.
If you have a company blog or other social media platform where staff is encouraged to post comments, think about rewarding those CSRs who take the time to post relevant content, or customer anecdotes. If your CSRs attend workshops, trade shows or other industry events and post content on Twitter, you can recognize that as a brand-boosting effort, too.
Recognize brand boosters in a fun and public way. Post their picture and a recent achievement in the office. Take them to lunch or give them gift cards to a local coffee shop. However you recognize them, make it part of your culture, and your brand promise, to inspire and encourage excellence in the folks who sell your product and service. Doing this supports your overall brand mission and creates a culture in which everyone gets the opportunity to become more invested in your company’s brand community.
When that happens, it’s becomes so much easier to spread that vibe into the broader circles of your brand community, and grow your business more organically and more sustainably.