I’ve spend the last few weeks trying to deal with a pretty big organisation in Central Europe and getting really frustrated.  “Trying” is the operative word here.  I made fifteen calls to their corporate headquarters, only eight of which were even answered!  To make matters worse, when I did get a telephonist on the line (It seemed to be  a different one each time) and they couldn’t get a reply from the extension I was after, instead of taking a message they asked me to call back.  On one occasion I enquired if there was anybody else who might help and was told that the person concerned may have gone home.  “Its only three o’ clock” I exclaimed.  “That’s nothing” came the reply with absolutely no irony “sometimes they go home even earlier”!

Add to that the fact that when extensions weren’t answered they just cut me off, so I couldn’t leave a message and when all I wanted to do was get down to business, each time before my call even rang at the switchboard I had to listen to a tinny recording of their latest TV commercial right to the end – I know it by heart now!

Things actually got worse, because when after all this I was finally put through, via a low quality mobile phone link, to the person I was after, she told me she was doing some shopping and would be back in the office later.  “Drop me an e-mail to remind me” she said “and I’ll call you back later”.  I did as she asked, but never heard from her again.  And despite a plethora of e-mails and messages I didn’t hear from anybody else either, until I upped the anti and contacted the CEO.  My very short relationship with this organisation was packed with other similar experiences.

As in most organisations the senior managers here seem to be clued-in and when I spoke to one of the directors it was because he called me to apologise for the instances I had recounted.  It was, however, clear that focus became severely blurred the further down the chain of command I went.  This suggests pretty conclusively that what’s wrong here is not just about skills deficiencies, its about brand development and specifically, that all too often ignored, internal marketing thing.

I have to say that the organisation concerned has invested a great deal of time and money in advertising that I guess they think is creating a brand.  Of course, it isn’t – well not a positive one anyway, as long as they continue to fail to deliver their Brand Promise.  I turned up at their threshold with the expectation, created by their advertising, of a switched-on, caring, fun and happy organisation only to be abused by a bunch of morose, lazy and inhospitable border guards, who, had their mission been to repel all boarders, couldn’t have done a better job!  The experience of dealing with them just didn’t add-up to the expectation they had given me.

Of course, this gulf between expectation and reality doesn’t just add up to a waste of investment in the expensive marketing communications that drove my expectations in the first place – which is criminal at any time, but especially so these days – it has actually caused residual damage to the brand and the organisation that will cost them business and necessitate additional investment for years to come.  Repeat this a few times with other people like me and you’ll soon have a grounswell of negative brand perceptions.

I will admit that, while I have always felt that the company concerned had tremendous potential, I am not a fan of their brand strategy.  They have clearly recognised that a brand is a community, but failed at every turn to act on that understanding/.  They have clearly had bad advice too and as a result tried to build their brand personna on the sandiest of foundations.  Basically their message adds up to nothing much, but the real issue is that they have failed to deliver even that.

The problem for this organisation is that even though the brand may not be particularly inspiring, its employees aren’t behind it or fully committed to playing their part in the delivery of the Brand Promise.  Maybe they don’t know what that is, or fail to understand what it means in the context of their role, but these are not excuses.  That’s the point of internal marketing and its exactly what Brand Discovery is all about.

Success or failure in brand development is most often determined by the cumulative effect of many little things, like the way your phones are answered or the breadth of the smile on your receptionist’s face, that go to make the experience of dealing with you.  My advice to the directors of the business concerned would be to get a hold of their brand, define it and promote it internally with internal marketing and training programmes that are designed to get all their stakeholders, not only employees, behind the brand and totally committed to playing their part in delivering its “Promise”.

Once they have done this they will find that the people charged with the task of making the company’s telephone communications productive will pull out all the stops to put right the deficiencies in their current system.  They’ll also discover that instead of having to legislate to make managers and employees do their job (which never works anyway) people like their department heads and receptionists will develop the skills and commitment that’s required.  But it won’t end there.  With a clear brand development programme like Brand Discovery in place they’ll unlock the full potential of their most valuable resource – their people, and that, in turn, will increase efficiency and give hem the kind of ROI that will allow them to compete in their very tough market.

Michael Weaver
August 25, 2009

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