It's time to look inwards

It's time to look inwards
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Internal audiences like employees, customer service representatives and retail partners are just as important as customers to the success of your business. After all, their behaviour directly influences purchase and consumer experience, as Helen Graney reports.

With the start of a new year we often find ourselves thinking of checklists of things to keep top of mind and of behaviours we want to change.

Like 'customer experience is king'. Like 'advocacy is the most powerful medium'. Like 'eating breakfast every day is a pretty good idea'.

What you and every nutritional expert knows is that breakfast is the most important meal of the day and there's no shortage of studies that show people who skip breakfast are disproportionately likely to have problems with concentration, metabolism and weight.

What feeds us affects us. If we don't get fed it affects us even more.

The same is true for our relationships with brands.

Today, more than ever, how a brand behaves is more important than what it says. Messaging is important, but what really matters is how a brand engages and interacts with the people who impact the business.

I see an exciting change in the direction of a number of Australia's brands, a shift towards the strategic priorities of listening to the voice of the customer, improving customer experience and building advocacy. It's a different way of thinking about consumer priorities.

These strategic priorities are often supported by a Net Promoter System. It's a process that helps brands ask customers to rate how likely they would be to recommend them. The outputs are both good to know and great to act on.

So why doesn't this hefty investment transform organisations' fortunes instantly? Why doesn't the implementation of measures such as NPS radically change a brand's behaviour for the better?

Because it's not a 'set and forget' solution.

And because all too often, the internal audiences (employees, customer service, retail or channel partners) are not engaged or treated with equal importance to that of the consumer.

These 'internal' audiences are fundamental to the success of any brand because their behaviours influence consumer experience – in ways that may be visible or invisible, but are always meaningful to the business.

We all know that experience – how your brand behaves – rules how people feel about your brand, and how they in turn behave. Every interaction creates an impression, good or bad.

The more you can optimise these interactions, the better your experience will be. We know from global Jack Morton Worldwide research (New Marketing Realities 2012), that 90% of people say experience is a top factor in determining what they buy and how loyal they are to brands.

We also know that experience is important to market share. According to research by Bain, 80% of companies' leadership say that they believe they deliver a superior experience. But sadly, only 8% of customers agree.

So, while NPS may identify the 'chinks in your experience armour' you need to engage and empower your employees to shape and deliver the customer experiences that fuel positive word of mouth – because according to our research the biggest influence on people's brand decisions is other people. And 60% of advocates believe good brands are worth talking about.

So, aligning employees behind brand and business goals is the most fundamental thing that companies can do to improve their brand experience. This human element of brand-building is arguably the great untapped marketing opportunity of our time. Yet, most companies struggle.

To be a successful, people-driven brand in the 21st century, your thinking about brand and your thinking about people need to be perfectly aligned. To do that, the business needs to invest in meaningful cultural and behavioural change.

Consider Peter Drucker's notion that "culture eats strategy for breakfast". Unless you feed your culture through change, your strategy will be toast. Your internal audience will be eating it and consumers get the crumbs.

Consider Best Buy's Twelpforce, the 2010 Titanium Cannes winner that launched a 2000-strong army of tech pros to address consumer problems on Twitter. Not only did this program get the brand talked about, it changed the business and reimagined customer service. It allowed the business to use its key asset – its employees – and have them share their passion.

It would not have been possible without the employee engagement program. As a cultural change program it had a rallying cry, an identity and a set of rules which drove amazing outcomes. Customer complaints dropped 20% in the first year.

These higher ratings translate into increased purchase intent as well as the likelihood to spend more per purchase. Not bad for a program that was built in two months under the premise that "If we were going to fail, we wanted to fail fast."

The program was real, relevant and connected to the people.

Implementation of NPS is not enough. It needs to be viewed as part of an evolving action plan. It needs an identity, a purpose and a reason for employees to participate. You need to build and feed culture. Process is not practice. A change in a KPI does not build belief. And implementing measurement cannot alone change the fabric of a company. Your people can.

According to Jack Morton research, your people are at the heart of three of the five top drivers of brand experiences as surveyed by consumers.

That's as true if they are the CMO, the customer contact person in a call centre, or a customer. Feed them all a healthy cultural contract, every day and not only will they all be a lot happier, so will your consumers.

Helen Graney is MD of Jack Morton Worldwide

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