A brand message breakdown can have far-reaching negative effects on your company’s image, and can ultimately affect your company’s fate. Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Yelp, Google…there are more soap boxes for dissatisfied customers to shout from than ever before. And because these platforms don’t have borders, messages can go further, faster. All it takes is one negative experience to change the perceptions of many.
Most of us have come to terms with this reality and know that businesses can’t afford to have an “off” day or even an “off” moment. There is no “on” or “off” time for service businesses in the Internet age. But should this level of speed and transparency really change anything? We’d argue no.
If you think about it, there’s never been a time when it was okay for service businesses to be inconsistent in their messages or service experience The only real difference is that now, we, the business owners, can very clearly see the messages our customers are putting out there regarding their experiences with us. And these messages can go much further and be seen by a lot more people.
These messages are heard by other customers and potential customers, and become part of our brand message, whether we like it or not. For many of us, just the thought of this is scarier than running out of TP in a public restroom.
But many business owners are so consumed by their fear of negative online reviews and comments that they shut down – they miss the treasure altogether and forget to ask the questions that really matter. Questions like:
Are certain people or behaviors in my company sending out the wrong messages and hurting my business? Where is my message breaking down and why? Do my employees know what our brand message is and how they’re expected to communicate it?
You see, it’s not that business owners got breaks or “had it good” in the pre-Internet age. It’s not that you should fear (or hate) the platforms that now give your customers a far-reaching voice. And it’s not that you should focus your efforts on trying to weed out the Negative Nancys that might leave your business a bad review.
Instead, you should focus on where, how, and why your brand’s message is breaking down, so you can work on making that message clearer and more consistent. When you do that, you’ll find that some of that fear around online reviews dissipates.
And as you do that, remember: Your brand message isn’t just coming from your marketing department these days, but from every post on your social accounts and every single employee that is a part of the customer experience. So, if you’re cringing at the messages your customers are receiving and the messages your customers are sharing about their experiences with your brand, zoom out and take a hard look at what’s really wrong.
All it Takes is One Inconsistency to Destroy Brand Trust & Skew Brand Message
I recently went to a new coffee shop in town to grab a Green Tea latte and get some work done. I was pretty excited when I walked in to find the place empty, with the exception of one employee. In fact, I texted my coworker several confetti emojis to express my joy.
Post-text, I placed my order, took a look around, and chose the perfect little table with the perfect lighting. As jazz music played softly, I opened up my laptop and prepared for a record-breaking productivity streak. But shortly after I started typing, the barista picked up her cell phone, prematurely ending my epic productivity streak.
She talked with her friend about every car her brother had ever had, when she had last taken the bus to work, how her mom had been nagging her to get her flu shot…yada, yada, yada. It completely ruined the atmosphere and made it impossible to focus. My hopes were dashed.
But, as a relatively easygoing person, I decided to give the barista the benefit of the doubt. I figured she would hang up any minute and restore the focus-friendly atmosphere that we’ve all come to love and expect in a coffee shop. Instead, she committed the cardinal sin: she talked about the customer and the job as an inconvenience…in front of the customer (me).
“There’s nobody here…just one person. It’s so slow…”
“I told you, I’ll do that when I’m able. I have a customer and it’s a very small place.”
“I still have hours to go and I just want to leave…”
Ok, now I just felt awkward. My patience had worn thin, so I packed up my stuff and headed to the door. As I left she said, “Have a nice night.”
Now, I know everyone thinks millennials are the worst and have no idea what professionalism looks like, but I’m here to defend at least some of us. I’ve had several jobs in the service industry and I would never have considered having a personal conversation in front of a customer. In fact, I would have lost my job if I pulled out my phone while working. But this millennial…she didn’t seem to have a problem completely decimating the line between professional and personal.
What was the difference between me (a millennial) and this girl (also a millennial)? I’d argue that one of us knew the brand message we were expected to communicate and how we were expected to communicate it, and the other didn’t (or didn’t respect it enough to follow through).
Well, who cares? I had one bad experience at a coffee shop that I otherwise loved. No harm done, right? Eh. Actually, that one bad experience forever tainted my view of the shop. It altered my perception of the brand and made me question the kind of customer experience I would have on my next visit.
I lost trust and confidence in the brand and the experience the brand provided. In other words: even though I had positive experiences with the brand in the past, the honeymoon was over.
The point is: Making sure some of your employees “get it” isn’t good enough. It’s important that every single one of your employees is crystal clear on expectations and brand message, because just one bad apple can end the honeymoon for your customers and decrease their trust in your company. Just one bad experience can communicate a totally different brand message than the one you had in mind.
Let me give you another quick example…
I was on the road recently and stopped in at a Sheetz to grab a water and use the bathroom. If I hadn’t known better, I would have sworn that my 5-year-old twin nieces had just been left unattended in the women’s room for a solid half hour. The floor was covered in water and paper towels, and it looked like the trashcan was more of a suggestion than a requirement.
Now, as a girl who grew up with Wawa and not Sheetz, this one experience was responsible for shaping my expectations of the brand. And I was thinking, “Holly hell…Sheetz is gross.”
As I tiptoed to the sink avoiding what I could of this travesty, I saw it right at the heart of the disaster: A sign from the owner.
“We want you to be satisfied every time you visit Sheetz, so I personally promise the cleanliness of all Sheetz restrooms. If they’re not to your satisfaction, or if you feel there is room for improvement, please call me toll free at …”
Obviously, Mr. Sheetz had a clear vision for his brand message and standards. That message was even written out in his store’s bathrooms. But not everyone got the message or took it to heart.
Maybe there were checklists in place to ensure that the Sheetz bathroom never reached the disgusting level I witnessed, but if so, those checklists weren’t followed. It’s up to you, as the owner, to figure out what’s causing the breakdown so you can fix it.
3 Tips For Keeping Your Brand Message Crystal Clear & Consistent, Even When You Aren’t Around
Running a business is hard work (That’s an understatement). You may not be able to anticipate and prevent every brand message breakdown and customer service disaster. But there are some things you can do to help ensure that everyone in your company maintains professionalism and upholds your company values, culture, message, and customer service standards, even when you aren’t around.
- Hire Right. The first step is to hire right. This is easier said than done, but if you take the time to do things right and really evaluate whether or not a candidate will make a great employee and be a good fit for your company culture and values, you’ll have employees that you can trust to uphold your brand message and maintain your expectations for professionalism and customer service — whether you’re in the room or not. Here’s a great article on how Southwest Airlines approaches hiring to ensure a clear brand message and consistent culture.
- Clearly Communicate Your Brand Message Repeatedly. Does your team even know what brand message you’re trying to communicate? Do they know what qualities you value and what kind of company culture you’re trying to create and uphold? If this isn’t communicated clearly to your employees, how can they work with you to keep your brand message consistent and protect your company culture? Team meetings, SOPs, employee manuals, and company mission statements are just a few ways you can communicate this to your employees. Everyone should know what you stand for and why your company exists. With a clear vision and purpose in mind, it’s much easier to hit the mark.
- Set Expectations & Lead Well. As a business owner, it’s important that you set expectations for your employees. For example, when I worked in the service industry, my employers made it very clear that I was expected to stay off of my cell phone for the entire length of my shift. When I was at work, our clients were my world. And because I knew what was expected of me and what types of behaviors were and weren’t acceptable, it didn’t matter if my bosses were around. I communicated the brand message they wanted me to communicate: that we were a professional company that was 100% focused on our customers, not on what was happening in our Instagram feeds. But you don’t have to get out the employee manual or make a long list of rules to communicate these expectations – you can lead by example. If you maintain professionalism and handle yourself appropriately at work, your employees should hear the message loud and clear and follow suit. Still, it’s always wise to clearly state expectations, so there’s no room for misunderstandings.
Don’t Wait For a Bad Experience – Crystalize Your Message Now
We all get a pit in our stomach when we see a nasty review online or have to face an outraged or disappointed customer. And hey, you can’t always avoid these things. But if you’re proactive and you take a long look at your company and staff now, you can find ways to make sure your brand message doesn’t break down or get altered by employees that don’t know what message you’re trying to communicate or understand (or care) what’s expected.
Ask yourself what could be done differently to ensure that your customers are receiving your brand message clearly and consistently. If you see areas that could use some improvement, don’t be afraid to make those changes. Your business, your customers (both existing and potential), and your employees will thank you for it!