How do you deliver brand promises when Covid-19 has pushed customers further away?
Covid-19 has meant a number of changes in our working lives, all in the name of social distancing, which is great for the R number but an adjustment for brand management.
Remote working and a greater dependence on digital communications and delivery-based options has added further degrees of separation between brands and their clients. Arguably, it was a naturally occurring evolution, that has undergone forced escalation. However, it has had an impact on brands that many underestimated or were not fully prepared for.
Connecting with clients in this more remote world hinges on the trust, knowledge, inspiration, understanding and personal investment of our teams and partners. So how can we deliver a brand experience to be proud of at every interaction and touchpoint?
The challenges of managing brands and delivering brand promises through employees and agents in this way, was the topic of discussion at CGA’s first Navigator Forum of the year. Led by keynote speaker, Sara Hirsch, Associate Partner at EY, our industry navigators, leaders and influencers raised a number of key themes.
The employee community is one of our greatest assets
A trend that has been emerging for some time, but which has come under a far greater spotlight during the pandemic, is that a client’s first or primary interaction with a brand is often not directly with, or generated by that company. It is through a wider community of people who have become brand ambassadors, sharing an experience with a product or service on social media for example. It is the digital realm’s equivalent of word of mouth, hinging on an individual’s passion for the different things a brand stands for in a ‘real world’ context. In the majority of instances, this ambassadorship is very much beyond the influence of the brand itself, without much context about the values and story behind it.
The collective feeling of the forum, was that the employee community offers often untapped potential for creating brand value. If organisations can excite, motivate and drive engagement with employees, that can translate to an improved experience for customers, potential customers and other stakeholders. That applies in direct communication, but also by taking that community into a public space where team members might share information, informed by their company knowledge, on their own social channels, generating active engagement from other reacting consumers.
The discussion highlighted that one benefit of remote working has been the greater ability for the employee community to grow with cross organisational and cross departmental collaboration resulting in new and passionate ‘tribes’ within organisations. For example, instead of turning to the person next to you for opinions, help and perspectives, there’s a greater likelihood of asking someone in a different department, or even a different location. This connectivity can play a powerful role in inspiring that sense of community.
Leaders need to provide inspiration
Remote working has led to employees operating with greater independence and autonomy, but it can also lead to a sense of isolation and distance, which can affect the experience of the customer as well. Leaders need to adopt a proactive role in inspiring their teams, providing clarity about the brand and its purpose as well as fostering two-way communication with employees that creates a sense of inclusion, personal value and helps members of staff to feel supported in their roles.
There is evidence to suggest that many individuals are working longer hours and are more productive working from home without lengthy commutes absorbing their energy. It suggests a passion and willingness that should be rewarded and harnessed by enabling team members to feel fully invested in the brand.
This is particularly important, as we know that customers are interested in brand values and purpose. Employees are on the front line of the customer experience. If they understand and believe in brand values, they can embody them and communicate them with conviction and passion. This not only impacts customer experience but also gives companies greater knowledge about and input into that experience.
Managing and measuring the success of third-party suppliers
Perhaps the most challenging area of management when it comes to brand experience, is where you are dependent on third parties. We all have a story where the delivery driver has hurled a parcel onto the front step, damaging not only the contents but also the final and lasting impression that you have of the brand that used them, despite one not being in direct control of the other.
The feeling from the group was that the key to this is to use the technology and tools at our disposal to measure, monitor and review performance of these partnerships closely, allowing you to react quickly to any issues. Invest time and resource in finding alternatives, work arounds and fixes, and make time to listen to that newly galvanised employee community for their feedback.
Often it is sales teams and those in direct contact with customers who are most cognisant of the problems and challenges that customers are facing. The use of virtual meeting and chat functions, to really listen to employees, check in (not check-up) to troubleshoot or gain insights and ideas can be invaluable for ensuring you’re staying on top of and delivering brand promises.
The conclusion of the forum was that while some normality will no doubt resume, there is an escalated and likely irreversible need to work differently in the wake of the pandemic. However, despite the challenges raised by a more remote world, brands are often in a more powerful position than they realise and there is a vast amount of opportunity available to even come back better.
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