What is your outward facing brand?

Recently I stopped into a small café as I returned from a trip because I was in need of a coffee. As I waited for them to prepare my order, I noticed a number of signs posted throughout the café. One sign told me that if I wanted to talk on my cell phone, “go outside.” Another told me that if I ordered to-go, “do not sit in our dining area.” Yet another told me that if I ordered a lunch sandwich during breakfast hours “you can ask, but we might not do it.”

This experience is an example of how an organization is unaware of (or doesn’t care?) how they are impacting the experience of their customers. I couldn’t help but feel as though they were barking orders at me, and if I did happen to answer my phone, I would be excoriated for breaking protocol. It was not a very welcoming environment.

This example is on a small scale, and the café can help overcome this impression by providing warm interpersonal service (and a great product!). Yet for a first time customer, I did not feel welcome and I certainly did not feel like returning and I might also hesitate to tell someone else to stop in if they are in that area – all of which are considered cornerstones of customer experience measurement.

As companies consider what they are communicating about themselves, it is important for them to fully understand what their outward facing brand is, and what they do (and do not) to reinforce their positioning. Companies often impact perceptions in ways that are not reflected in their primary efforts to position their organization. Indeed, as companies ask researchers to evaluate their touch points, their customer journey and their advertising, it can be the intangibles that impact how customers perceive their brand.

This is where it is important to determine, among those who interact with your company, what your outward facing brand represents.

Take for instance a customer experience at a ski resort. If someone is looking lost, does the staff proactively approach the person and offer assistance? Are the lift operators paying attention, have a smile on their face and wish you a pleasant day? How are they greeted when they buy their lift tickets? If a customer asks someone where to eat, are they prepared to offer genuine recommendations? Does the staff pick up garbage while walking the facilities? And most importantly, does everyone who works at the resort take pride in the organization and what they do? That is the outward facing brand. Those are the interactions that are memorable and have the most impact. When customers leave the ski resort, the goal is for them to remember their interactions with staff, the service they received and they will be back, even if the snow isn’t great.

The most important consideration for any organization is to take control of your outward facing brand. Customers are seeking a connection and will be loyal to brands they connect with.

Based on my 15+ years of experience in working in the hospitality industry, here are some things you can do:

  • Measure. Yes, I’m a market researcher, so this is my mantra, but it cannot be emphasized enough that you need to know, beyond anecdote, how your customers (and prospects) perceive your brand.
  • Ask. Always ask your customers to tell you, honestly, how you’re doing. Probe for areas of attention, and what you can do to improve their experiences. And don’t forget to ask them to come back!
  • Anticipate. Problems are going to arise, have in place a plan on how to deal with these issues.
  • Empower. Your staff is an extension of your brand, allow them to do the jobs they have been trained to do.
  • Support. Give your staff the support they need to succeed and grow. A friend of mine trains his employees to leave the organization, ensuring that he has the highest quality and most loyal staff possible in a service industry environment.
  • Interact. The impact of customer interactions with management (all levels) can have a tremendous impact on how customers perceive their experiences with an organization. We were able to show one of our clients how customer interactions with management in a hospitality setting improved customer loyalty by 12 percentage points. Not only does it communicate to customers that the organization is involved, and that they matter as a customer, but it is also a great way to ask (see above) customers about their experiences and learn more about your customers’ likes, dislikes and personalities.
  • Take Pride. A sense of pride in the brand/organization, and the job will carry over to your customers. They will pick up on this. Whether it is the maids and janitors, dishwashers or lift operators, a sense of pride in the job and by extension the organization is infectious, and your customers will notice.
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