5 Reasons Your Customer-Facing Employees Should Push Brand Over Products
Would you rather have the people who interact with your customers understand your products or believe in your brand? Of course, the urge is to answer “both”, but the reality is companies are choosing between these two paths every day. Both goals require an investment of time and money and those resources are in short supply.
The most common path is to invest in product training that will make your customer-facing teams “knowledgeable” about your offering. This approach assumes that the utility of your product and the expertise of the representative will be enough to win over the customer. However, most B2C brands are not marketing themselves this way. Brands are being developed to stand for much more than product or service features. Things like customer experience, lifestyle benefits and even social causes, are the cornerstones of successful brands because they help make an emotional connection with customers.
There is clear misalignment if a company is selling “belief” to customers but only arming their frontline people with “information” that won’t truly differentiate the brand. There are five reasons B2C branding and marketing teams should be more involved in developing employees into enthusiastic brand representatives:
1. Belief is more Powerful than Knowledge
A customer service representative at a client of mine once told me “energy matches energy.” What she meant is that if you’re excited about something, you can transfer that energy and passion to someone else and get them excited. Think about the way you talk about your favorite musical artist. Do you ramble on about the technical composition of the songs, or do you talk about the way it makes you feel? That belief you have can be enough to get others to give that artist a listen -simply because it has that effect on you. Brands should think about their customer-facing teams in this way. If the person talking to the customer believes in the logo they represent, and they’re convinced the products and services they offer will benefit the customer, they’re going to provide a more convincing and satisfying customer experience. Outdoor retailer REI is a great example. The retail associates are aligned to the REI brand -not the individual products- and it creates a more pleasant experience and more profitable outcome.
2. Most Products Aren’t “Better” than their Competition
Ten years ago, I am sure some auto brands were able to sell more vehicles because their models offered backup cameras before other brands had them widely available. That advantage disappeared very quickly and the backup camera is virtually standard equipment on most new cars. Backup cameras, like most of the products and services we use in our daily lives, are commodities. We have several very comparable options available to us at a similar price. The features and functionality of the products are typically not enough for the product to stand out, so why are companies so focused on training their people to talk about the features of the product? The marketers are building brands to stand out in commoditized industries, but too often the people representing those brands are still just pushing products. Differentiation in the marketplace is now a higher-order challenge, and it’s up to the people building the brand story to make sure that story is alive and well when a customer shows up to buy.
3. Customers Want to be Loyal to Brands
It is well documented that even in a world where consumers have plenty of products to choose between, they still tend to be loyal to brands. Why? Shouldn’t they just go for the lowest price? The answer is that associating with a brand is both easier and helps them affirm perceptions or aspirations they have for themselves. If they evaluate a brand on the criteria and values that are important to them (beyond price and features), they can find one they feel good about and put that decision on auto pilot. They can go back again and again because they feel the decision was properly vetted once, and as long as the company doesn’t disrupt that comfort level, they will stay.
4. Products Change too Frequently
Most consumer product and service offerings are changing at a rapid pace. This is not limited to just new products, but also includes new pricing, packages/bundles, etc. The time invested to train front line teams on every new product, line extension or offer is at best inefficient. At worst, you are flooding their brains with details that are only a small part of what matters to the customer. Driving belief in the brand platform and the overall story they need to deliver to customer is both easier for representatives to digest, and more efficient for the company to deliver. Product can then be integrated into the overall brand platform, so employees understand how the offering contributes to the overarching story.
5. Employees NEED to Believe in Brands
According to Pew Research, in 2017 Millennials represented the largest generational segment of the US Labor force at 56 million workers. The segment has changed many dynamics in both the workplace and the marketplace, but the key thing to understand is that Millennials don’t separate their identities as employees from their identities as consumers. Their habits are similar and they want many of the same things from their employer as they do from the brands they support. They want to buy when they want to buy, work when they want to work (sometimes simultaneously) and they want to feel like they’re aligned with brands that stand for something. If a company is simply trying to move widgets they are not likely to engage or retain employees from the Millennial segment. A CMO I spoke with recently indicated this is the highest priority for his company. If the brand he is building isn’t one his employees believe in, they aren’t going to have to worry about how much advertising to do (because they won’t have enough people to service the customers).
Product knowledge is important, but it’s overrated. If the people standing in front of your customers have belief in your brand, and know how to connect that brand to customers but have limited product expertise, they’ve got a fighting chance to win over the customer. If they’re product experts with little understanding of -or belief in- the brand story, your company will struggle to differentiate itself and will likely lose share to competitors. It’s time for marketing and branding teams to think about how to guide the training process internally, so they can connect with employees, and ultimately customers, in a more meaningful way.