Deliver a Better Brand Experience: A Customer Relationship Skills Tune-Up

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(Adapted from the Integrated Training Solutions employee development programs by D. Bertoni and J. Hogen)

You have probably had a great experience buying something or receiving a service. In these rare instances, the company just seems to understand you, what you need, and performs beyond expectations. Experiences like these leave an impact, because they are such pleasant surprises. Performing consistently at that level is not an accident – it requires serious attention to team development. The good news is: 1) there are only three primary skills to focus on, and; 2) each of your employees is probably proficient at one or more of them.

Consistent delivery of an outstanding brand experience requires the effort of all managers to develop their team into first class performers. For some, delivering a great customer experience is natural – for others it is a matter of improving one or more of these basic skills: Relating, Authenticity and Steering.

The following is a short introduction to the three basic skills that form the foundation of positive customer relationships and superior brand experiences. The intention is to make your team development a little easier, by focusing on three identifiable proficiencies. Thus, instead of seeing a team member as a customer relations liability and a loss, you see an achievable skill development tune-up.

Before a customer can form a bond with the product, service or brand he or she has to feel at ease with the company. Customers rarely arrive at your door in that mental place. Understand that customers, vendors, and others often have a pre-formed notion about your brand, product and service, and come hauling their own emotional baggage from the previous events of the day. Each visitor has an agenda or a purpose for visiting or calling – the problem is to know what it is so you can deliver. Until your caller’s intentions are clear, all that is necessary is to make him or her feel welcomed, at ease and the focus of attention.

In the first minutes of an interaction, it is hard to know much about the visitors’ agenda, so the fail-safe position is to be a “mirror.” That is, mirror the customer’s behavior, i.e. – if the caller or visitor seems in a hurry, you should be too, etc. It is important to listen carefully and gather clues as the caller’s point of view and goals reveal themselves. Then it is time to demonstrate the next important skill – Authenticity.

Authenticity is being a knowledgeable representative of the company and seeming a vital part of the customer’s company visit and experience. It’s knowing the job, doing it well and understanding how the organization can solve problems for customers.

Authenticity includes product knowledge. Armed with a large volume of product knowledge, you can decide what information to share to help inform a customer and what to keep in reserve. The skill of Relating moderates the tendency to recite every excruciating detail of a product’s virtues and arcane attributes.
How competently each individual and team performs their role (which we call a Pivot Point, or simply “Pivot”) determines in large part the visitor’s perception of the company. While most managers and employees feel that Authenticity (how well I know my job) is the central skill, without ample measures of Relating and the last skill – Steering – the customer’s experience can still be quite unsatisfactory.

The Steering skill involves expanding the customer’s relationship with the company. Each customer has limited time to discover the company’s hidden product and service gems. The process of informing customers and potential customers about the uniqueness of the company and the value of the product requires a skilled guide, sometimes drawing on other team members at critical moments. Sometimes called “closing the sale”, “creating a customer relationship” or “developing a lead” – guiding a customer through that company discovery requires a person accomplished in the Steering skill to keep the process moving efficiently and deliver.

The stakes are high, don’t leave this to chance
Success in the marketplace comes from repeated success with customers and other visitors. The cost of customer acquisition is so high that losing customers due to repeated customer disappointment is simply deadly for a business. Satisfied customers are like free advertising. Angry customers are also free advertising – though definitely not the kind you want. Angry or dissatisfied customers retain the scars of a bad experience for a long time, while spreading the warning call to others. Tales of bad customer experiences travel quickly and far.

Once is never enough
A good brand experience should not depend on which employee a customer happens to tumble onto. Management must strive to have all employees represent the brand well. Simply look down the company roster and identify the employees that have strengths or weaknesses in Relating, Authenticity and Steering skills. Have the CMO (Chief Mentoring Officer) – that’s you! – explain the skills, and do a little coaching. Ask each individual to perform his or her own self-analysis – which is the strongest skill which is the weakest. Identify the stars, point out some of their best performances and let their actions be the guide. You’re on your way!

Remember that we live in an entropic world, where employee development usually returns to chaos and randomness! Monitor the progress, expect a certain return to old habits and make improvement tune-ups part of your company routine and culture.


About the Author:

Dave Bertoni is a strategic marketing professional with extensive senior management experience in multi-national corporate as well as startup environments. In the last 25-years he has brought over a dozen technical products to domestic and international markets, as well as forming and funding three high-tech startups. He helps medical technology and high tech firms to uncover new opportunities, establish clear goals, overcome difficult business challenges and achieve sales and margin targets.
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