Leadership, Talent Management

How to Help Your Team Deliver On Your Brand Promise

BrandPromise

Becky McKinnell, CEO of Maine-based iBec Creative, and listed by Businessweek as one of the Top Entrepreneurs Under 25 found herself facing a dilemma many business owners can relate to:

When your employees are not delivering your brand promise, how do you address this in a way that corrects the problem and leaves them feeling respected and inspired to do better?”

McKinnell’s web design and strategy firm’s brand promise revolves around being more responsive and easier to work with than her competitors.

Frustrated by poor communication

When she started iBec Creative, Becky McKinnell discovered one of the biggest frustrations clients and prospective clients voiced about doing business with people in the advertising and marketing industry was poor client communication.

They expressed exasperation about how frequently firms failed to return calls and emails. The other major source of irritation they expressed was not being kept up to date on the status of their projects.

Thus, McKinnell recognized a key differentiation opportunity and focused her marketing message on responsiveness and excellent communication. As her fledgling firm grew, she paid close attention to delivering on her brand promise: “We’re the web design and strategy firm that responds quickly, keeps you in the loop, and is easy to work with.”

The problem though, was that as iBec Creative grew and experienced staff turnover, she found herself working with a team who were not present during her start-up days, when rapid response and keeping clients in the loop were continually stressed as the firm’s “difference that makes a difference.”

She noticed that her team was not as hyper-focused on delivering on iBec Creative’s brand promise as she wanted.

Becky McKinnell, Founder and CEO of iBec Creative.

More specifically, she observed that her employees weren’t responding to clients within the two hour time frame that she promised clients ever since she started her business four years ago. She would know this wasn’t happening because she gets CCed and has a tracking process for monitoring project progress.

When the team doesn’t respond

When she would notice that one of her team had not responded within that window, she would shoot out an email saying “Hey, did you contact…

When she did this, she would feel a mixture of:

  1. Discomfort — She didn’t’ want to be, or be perceived as being, a micromanaging boss.
  2. Frustration — She knew how important responsiveness was to her clients and that a lack of responsiveness would alienate customers and discredit her brand promise.
  3. Anxiety — She knew she needed to bring this up to her team, but anticipated an awkward conversation.

Being the kind of leader she is, she didn’t stay stuck in “Why don’t they get it?” mode. She decided that, as the leader, she needed to do a better job of explaining to her relatively new employees their brand promise. She needed to describe what it looked and sounded like in terms of specific employee behaviors.

We discussed how she could bring up this issue in a way that would evoke an “Oh…that makes total sense. I’m glad you told us” response in her team, rather than defensiveness or resistance.

Here’s the strategy we outlined:

Issues

  • She wants her team to deliver the great client service experience that has helped differentiate her agency. This includes a norm created “in the early days” of responding to emails within two hours.
  • Her value of responding within two hours is especially important to her, and the agency, because two of the biggest complaints people have when working with agencies (or any service firm) are not getting timely responses to their questions or requests and not being kept in the loop.
  • As her business has grown and people have come and gone, the original norms and values have not been passed down as clearly or as strongly as they might have. She recognizes that this is her responsibility and she wants to rectify that.
  • She has felt awkward about monitoring her staff’s email exchanges with clients and intervening. It’s felt awkward because she doesn’t want to seem like she’s spying or micro-managing, but … this is very important to her, the agency’s brand promise, iBec Creative’s ability to thrive, and them getting paid.
  • She wanted to both talk with them about this and other key brand promise values and … find out if there’s anything they can share with her about how she can teach, coach, and hold them accountable for delivering these in a way that feels fair and respectful to both them and her
  • One of the most useful things she can do as the leader is to teach and coach people about what their brand promise looks and sounds like, by using examples both from the past and what she notices happening in the present — especially when she can “catch people doing things right.” Companies known for world class service are always sharing stories of what world class service looks and sounds like and what their core values look and sound like in action.

Bringing up the issue

We then discussed how she might bring up the issue to her team:

I wanted to talk with you about some thoughts I have about bumping up our service delivery another notch or two. What I mean by that is for us to brainstorm things we can do to further differentiate ourselves from other agencies and…to return to some of the practices that we followed very diligently when I first started out and only had 2-3 people on board.

I feel like I’ve kind of dropped the ball on making sure those traditions that helped set us apart from the beginning…keep on as we grow and new people come on board..

So for instance, one of the practices we focused on was to respond to client inquiries within two hours. I came up with that because, back in the beginning when I was getting started, I interviewed a bunch of people about what drives them crazy about working creative firms and the two things they mentioned most were: not having emails and voice mails returned and not being kept in the loop about the status of their projects.

So, as a way to address that frustration and position ourselves as the “easy to work with” creative agency, I came up with the norm of responding to emails within two hours.”

As some of you know, there have been times when I’ve followed up with you when I’ve noticed that you hadn’t followed up within the two hour time frame. To be honest, I’ve felt awkward doing that because I don’t want to be one of those micromanaging managers, but on the other hand… it’s really important to that we act in a responsive manner, so we can continue to differentiate ourselves by giving great service.

So, I’d like to get your take on this, both in terms of whether the importance of responding within that time frame makes sense and thoughts about what we can do to make sure people don’t fall through the cracks. I’d also at some point love feedback on how I can do my part to make sure the agency’s values are lived, without being Big Brother.

Summary

When you address areas where your team is not delivering on your brand promise:

  1. Describe specifically what you’re talking about. Give one or more examples of what you’re seeing that is not consistent with your brand promise and what would be consistent with your brand promise.
  2. Explain the reasoning behind your brand promise and the desired behaviors that deliver it. When employees understand the reasoning behind a request or strategy, it doesn’t just increase buy in. It also increases the odds that they will execute in an intelligent way, rather than just following “the letter of the law” in a robotic way.
  3. Acknowledge your responsibility for teaching what your brand promise looks and sounds like. The more your team hears you holding yourself accountable for your part in the issue, the more they will respect you and your message, and…the more they will follow your modeling and hold themselves accountable.
  4. Check to make sure they understand what you’re saying.
  5. Ask them for their thoughts and input. The more they feel heard and respected, the more they will listen to and act on, what you say.

Putting this into action

Don’t leave this as an “OK, that was a useful” article. If you want your team to deliver brand building client service, start having these conversations today.

You can start by sharing this article with your team and then saying “I was thinking about this and …”

David Lee is the founder and principal of HumanNature@work and the creator of Stories That Change. He's an internationally recognized authority on organizational and managerial practices that optimize employee performance, morale, and engagement. He is also the author of "Managing Employee Stress and Safety," as well over 60 articles and book chapters. You can download more of his articles at HumanNature@work, contact him at david@humannatureatwork.com, or follow him on Twitter at http://twitter.com/humannaturework.
  • http://twitter.com/worksimple WorkSimple

    Great post, David. I’d also like to point out that these issues need to be dealt with in real-time, not months later during things like performance reviews. After all, how are employees supposed to know they aren’t delivering brand promises if no one says anything? That’s what being a leader is all about: addressing problems and solving issues now before they turn into something larger (i.e. high turnover) later.