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Posted: 3:33 p.m. Saturday, June 15, 2013

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Communicating the brand to the frontline to improve the customer experience

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Elizabeth Cogswell Baskin

By Elizabeth Cogswell Baskin

Despite the staggering amounts many companies spend on advertising to build customer awareness for their brands, the delivery of that brand promise is often left to chance.

The people charged with fulfilling that brand promise – the drive-thru attendants, cashiers, salespeople, flight attendants, shuttle drivers and other frontline workers – rarely receive direct communication about the brand from their corporate leadership.

That’s largely because it can be so difficult to reach those frontline employees. They’re moving targets, since doing their jobs generally does not mean sitting in front of a computer at work. The most common method of communication with the frontline people is through their immediate supervisors. That system works well for basic information and even training.

But without direct communication from corporate, particularly about the company vision, values and brand promise, important nuances can be lost in translation. What’s more, these non-desk workers interpret that lack of communication from their company leadership as a sign that corporate doesn’t respect or value their contributions.

Establishing direct lines of communication between top management and the frontline people may not be as easy as with employees sitting in their cubes, but it’s well worth the effort.

Here are five ways to make it happen:

1. Face time: Although technology provides all sorts of smart ways to open channels of communication with frontline employees, there’s no substitute for looking someone in the eye. When someone from corporate takes the time to visit the stores, the restaurants or the hotels, it can make all the difference to those frontline employees. Beyond on-site visits, town hall meetings and video conferences can provide a face to go with that CEO’s name.

2. Leadership communications: There are plenty of ways to share the vision and the values with non-desk employees, in their leaders’ own voices. One way is to literally let them hear management’s voice, with pre-recorded messages on the brand promise or any other brand developments. Employees are given a toll free number that they can call from either a cell phone or land line to hear a message from a member of the management team. Leadership blogs are also useful for sharing that sort of inspirational brand message.

3. Two-way communication: Part of showing respect for someone is listening to his or her point of view, so it’s important to provide at least one channel that gives employees a voice. For instance, if the company intranet offers remote access, employees might check in from home and make comments on a management blog. In the example above of pre-recorded messages, the technology can also give them the option to record a response.

4. Social media: Even if employees don’t have a computer at work, you can bet they’re online after their shifts. Facebook and LinkedIn might be too public for management’s taste, but Twitter offers the possibility of a private group of followers. Your CEO can tweet and employees, both frontline and otherwise, can respond. The company can also create a private YouTube channel, which provides the benefit of actually seeing and hearing leadership.

5. Print: Although technology and social media provide all sorts of options we didn’t have even a few years ago, the printed word hasn’t lost its power. Many companies still mail communications to employees’ homes, such as internal magazines or even simply a quarterly letter from the CEO. One advantage of sending communications home is that it can also help engage the employee’s family and increase their support for the employee’s job.

When companies are successful at building engagement in frontline employees, the brand benefits in a multitude of ways. Consumers are more likely to experience the brand as the fulfillment of the brand promise. Frontline employees can begin to find more meaning in their jobs, as they start seeing that they’re part of something bigger. And corporate might even benefit from listening to ideas and insights that come from the frontline. After all, those frontline employees are the ones interacting with the customer every day. They are in the best position to see what works about the brand – and what doesn’t.

Elizabeth Cogswell Baskin is CEO and Executive Creative Director of Tribe Inc., an internal communications agency that develops strategic plans and designs creative vehicles to build employee engagement and the internal brand.

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