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Front-line employees are your brand

Many companies pour millions of dollars into advertising campaigns and brand identity projects, yet seem to forget that the way that the front-line staff interacts with the customer can undo years of marketing in an instant.

Managers need to take seriously the idea that a customer or prospect will form an opinion about your brand based on their experience interacting with the company much faster than they ever will from advertising.  And it will be much more strongly held.  Once this notion is accepted, hiring, training, and process decisions need to change to make sure the front-line staffers are up to the demands of the position.

I ‘m sure we all have customer service horror stories.  My point in writing this post isn’t to bash anyone or to vent over some perceived slight.  It is to point out the tremendous damage that can be done by just one careless, apathetic, or rude employee.

My experience with a major airline serves as an example of the long term financial cost of shabby treatment.  Through most of the 1990’s, I was working in consulting positons that required a fair amount of travel.  Like most business travelers, I was pretty loyal to a single airline for the miles.

I decided to use some of the miles I had accumulated to take a trip.  I got to the airport and found that I was assigned a center seat all the way in the back.  When I inquired with the gate agent about the possibility of getting a different seat, the response was “for what you paid for that ticket, you’re lucky to have any seat at all.”


What did I do?

I started flying another airline.  In the 8 or 9 years (and several hundred thousand miles) since that incident, I haven’t spent another dime to fly with that carrier.  I don’t plan to anytime soon, either.  Now I own a business and have staff that travels – but not on that airline.

It’s pretty easy to see how that incident cost the business well over a million dollars in the long run.

To be completely fair, there were plenty of other things to be unhappy about with that company’s service and that incident alone didn’t drive me away.  What it did do, though, was cause me to become much less forgiving of the other issues.

This happens every day in businesses large and small.

How much do you invest in the people who deal directly with the customer?  Do you even know what a customer’s real experience with your front line staff is?  Does your front-line staff have the skill and the authority to make the right decisions for your brand?

About the Author

Ed Erickson is the President of Erickson Research, a Chicago market research consulting firm. You can find Ed on LinkedIn and .

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