Every day we have multiple interactions with the brands around us. These brands offer a promise in return for our money, loyalty, advocacy and sometimes all three.
The best brands keep us in a loyalty loop by continually meeting or exceeding our expectations to a point where we don’t bother to consider alternative options. Apple and Nike fans are typical of this cohort.
However, quite often brands do not deliver on their promises. Consider your experience the last time you visited a restaurant, hotel, retail store; booked accommodation online, took a flight or implemented a new applicant tracking system (ATS). Did it meet or exceed your expectations. If you have used the brand more than once, was the experience consistent?
The physical product or service you are consuming is only one of two parts contributing to how the experience makes you feel. The other (more important) part is the people working ‘backstage’ or ‘behind the scenes’ and responsible for your experience. Their input is often hidden so it’s difficult to assess the impact their engagement level has on the quality of the service you are experiencing. It is possible to have a great experience at a restaurant if the food is exceptional, even if the customer service leaves a lot to be desired. Why not have both? Wouldn’t delicious food matched with great customer service have you coming back again and again for more?
There is no question customer expectations of service levels from brands have risen over the past five years. This has been fuelled in no small part by advancements in technology and the global reach of social media where online ratings and comments about one’s personal experience posted at the speed of light, can make, break or hurt a company such as United Airlines experienced in early 2018 when a customer was dragged off one of their planes forcing their CEO to apologize three times.
We are now in an era where voice activated automation on routine tasks through virtual assistants such as Siri, Alexa and Google Assistant will further increase our expectation levels. As these devices become more intelligent over time, great customer service won’t be a nice to have, it will be a business imperative and a key measure driving your success.
Traditionally your product or service experience has been the responsibility of the marketing department, whilst engaging the people who are working behind the scenes to ensure you have a memorable experience, has been the responsibility of human resources. It is not uncommon for a disconnect between what marketing is promising and what HR can deliver based on its knowledge or capabilities. Compounding this further is the challenges of navigating endless plans and strategies. It is not uncommon for a company to have an HR, talent management, recruitment, learning and development, customer service and marketing plan all spinning in different directions.
This disjointed approach not only impacts on employee engagement, it is also felt by your customers through inconsistent experiences as they interact with your brand across multiple touchpoints. This disjointed approach has no place in business today where companies are increasingly being measured by their level of agility, integration and employee and customer sentiment.
This issue has been continually highlighted to me over the past 10 years as I have flown internationally to more than 50 cities around the world. It has also come up regularly in discussions with senior leaders as they study their Employer Brand Leadership Certification.
I have spent endless hours on long flights from Australia to overseas destinations conceptualizing a framework to assist companies to deliver better brand experiences through stronger alignment between their consumer brand promises and employer brand capabilities.
Many students have also raised the issue of a disconnect between what was being promised by marketing to consumers and a lack of thought by leadership on how this impacts the ability of their people to deliver on these promises either as a result of poorly aligned systems and processes or a lack of the right skills and capabilities. I have experienced this myself on numerous occasions flying internationally with few airlines being able to fully deliver on their promises communicated in television advertisements, websites or social media.
The Employer Brand Architecture Model
In early 2018 I developed the ‘Employer Brand Architecture Model’ to provide a new way for leaders to strategize how they differentiate their customer experience through their people by aligning the employer brand with the corporate plan. The key elements of the Employer Brand Architecture are detailed in figure 1.
Figure 1: Employer Brand Architecture Model
(click here to download pdf)
The impact of the employer brand on customer experience
Over the past 15 years I have flown more than 50 airlines and they all offer a promise of flying me safely from A to B (sometimes A to B to A to C). Of all the consumer touchpoints, this is the one I favour most, the downside is not so attractive. However there are literally hundreds of times I will experience the brand across the customer journey lifecycle that will impact on how I feel about the brand.
The international airline industry is a highly competitive market and most offer a flight on a similar plane manufactured by Airbus or Boeing. It is difficult for airlines to differentiate across their customer touchpoints due to the ease in which features can be copied by their competitors. Some promote that their flatbed is 10cm longer than any other airline or you can adjust the light intensity on your window. These are ‘nice to haves,’ but I doubt very much they are important factors for many customers when choosing an airline. Frequent flyer points are also another method airlines use to promote differentiation but I have found these programs are offering less today than they did 10 years ago. I am still bemused that, with the technology available, why it takes up to a month to claim missing points on a code share airline.
The field of service design can inform a leader’s perspective on the role of the employer brand in delivering a world class brand experience to customers.
Service design focuses on systems and on the organization, which makes it uniquely suited to address organizational change and organizational resistance which is often where brand experience breaks down. An organisation makes promises to its customers but is often unable to deliver on these promises due to a breakdown in technology, systems, processes or people capability or culture.
Service design breaks down the front-stage and backstage of the customer experience in a way that helps align organization and business capabilities with customer needs, wants, and experiences.
The front-stage view helps people in the organization gain a shared picture of how the service is experienced by customers. It shows how different touchpoints meet diverse needs in a range of situations. The backstage view includes both the organizational view (who is delivering a particular part of the service) and the business capabilities. These capabilities include people, policy, process, practice (how reality differs from designed processes), and systems (IT and other systems).
Most of the customer touchpoints I consider to be most important in my experience when flying can be impacted positively or negatively by the strength of the airline’s employer brand. Often, if it is an international airline, the customer experience may differ depending on where the plane is departing from or the composition of the in-flight crew.
Where airlines can differentiate to a significant degree is through their people, be they employees and/or contractors (see figure 2). People can influence a large number of the key customer touchpoints which is why I believe only a small cohort of airlines stand out from more than 2000 registered airlines. Too many airlines focus on product and service features without giving enough thought to the impact this has on people, technologies, systems and processes to support the delivery of these promises.
Figure 2: Employer brand impact on customer experience
(click here to download pdf)
The service at check-in (often by contractors) and in cabin (by employees) can have a lasting impression on a customer and can be a driving force to whether they fly with the airline again especially if the route they are flying is served by more than one airline.
I believe airlines can differentiate their customer experience primarily through their people. Based on my experience, below are four airlines that excel at this.
I have flown with Emirates on around 50 occasions and the experience has been consistent every time. Check in is always quick, I am always greeted when boarding with a smile, and often by name, from one of the in-flight team members, the food is delicious, the in-flight entertainment is the world’s best and I always leave the flight happy. The numerous other customer touchpoints occur almost seamlessly and whilst many aren’t important to me, the one’s that matter most are always on brand.
On the ground with Emirates
In the sky with Emirates
Australia’s national airline, Qantas not only has the world’s best safety record (there has never been an accident fatality on a Qantas flight), their charismatic CEO Alan Joyce managed to turn around a struggling airline in 2011 that was losing money and where employee engagement was low to one of the world’s most profitable airlines. For the past three years employees have also shared in the company’s success with a $2000 bonus provided to all staff to acknowledge their contribution.
I always feel safe on Qantas planes, maybe it’s because I am usually in Australian skies close to home. It’s reassuring to fly with a national airline with a world class reputation that very few national airlines enjoy. I find flying with Qantas to be authentic and I always feel no matter where I fly with them, I will arrive back home safely and in a good mood.
On the ground with Qantas Airlines
In the sky with Qantas Airlines
I used to fly Singapore Airlines a lot prior to Emirates and Qatar offering direct flights from my home city, Adelaide. It was a game changer for me as my flying time was reduced by five hours and after trying both airlines once, I found the experience to be as good as Singapore Airlines. Total travel time is important to me, the less the better, so it was an easy decision to switch my loyalty. I always felt like I was being welcomed into a family lounge room when I boarded a Singapore Airline’s plane. I find them one of the world’s most service oriented and people focused airlines in the world and this service is delivered effortlessly by their amazing staff.
In the sky with Singapore Airlines
I never knew what to expect when I first flew Qatar Airways. The flight was arranged by a client and I had never previously heard of the brand. Wow, was I surprised! Qatar Airways is a brand that well and truly exceeded my expectations. I find their planes to be very well presented and clean, they always look like they have just rolled off the production line. Like Emirates and Singapore Airlines, they have great staff who are very engaging and always willing to accommodate any customer request and make you feel special in the process.
In the sky with Qatar Airways
The Employer Brand Architecture Model in practice
To test the model in practice, Employer Branding College students were set the task to develop an Employer Brand Architecture Model for their company as part of their major assignment. The first adaption of the model was undertaken in 2016 by the Employer Brand Manager at Poštová banka, a leading Slovakian retail bank.
After the employer brand strategy was agreed and signed off by senior leadership, the Employer Brand Architecture was developed to inform the design of employer brand and EVP assets such as their career site, recruitment marketing materials, training manuals, induction initiatives, and actions to enhance the user experience across all employee lifecycle moments of truth, etc. (see figure 2).
Poštová banka’s Employer Brand Manager developed the Bank’s Employer Brand Architecture to act as a framework for the company’s employer brand strategy. This was a defining moment for the organisation as senior leaders could clearly understand the link between the Bank’s employer brand and its consumer brand.
The assignment work subsequently became a major project within the bank as was published as a case study in Excellence-A Case Study Approach Volume II in 2017. For a copy of the case study please click here>>
Figure 3: Employer Brand Architecture model adapted at Poštová banka
(click here to download pdf)
Questions for leadership consideration……
Delivering a world class customer experience requires a deep understanding of how the brand experience you promise in your communications impacts the technology, systems and processes and specifically, the people working behind the scenes and who are most likely to be the responsible for differentiating your customer experience.
Below are 10 questions to consider at your next senior leader planning session to open up discussions on how to deliver better customer experiences by differentiating through your people.
What are the key linkages between our employer brand and corporate plan?
Do our customers or employees come first or are both given the same focus?
Have we clearly defined the experience we want customers to have and considered how this will impact our people, systems and processes to support this experience?
Have we conducted a customer journey mapping exercise to understand the key touchpoints where we can differentiate through our people?
How can we align and integrate our marketing, HR, communications, legal and IT functions to deliver better customer experiences through our people?
What are we doing to improve our agility, responsiveness and integration across processes to increase customer, employee and/or external provider sentiment levels?
What should we remove or keep in our business processes to reduce levels of bureaucracy and redundancy to enhance the customer and employee experience.
How is digitalization and automation impacting customer and employee our industry? Are we in front of it or lagging behind?
How does the level of employee engagement levels in our company impact our ability to deliver a differentiated customer experience?
What should we be measuring? How do we know our employer brand is aligned with the corporate plan?
Brett Minchington, chairman/CEO of Employer Brand International, along with Lisa G. Morris, Global Employee Experience Design Practice and Offering lead, Sparks (USA) will be co-delivering a workshop, "Employer brand excellence-Design for experience," at the Pre-Event Workshops Day on 15 May 2019, Day 1 of World Employer Branding Day 15-17 May 2019 | Lisbon.
Brett will also deliver the opening keynote address at the International Employer Branding Day Summit at the event on 16 May 2019. His keynote, "The development of the employer branding global industry," will highlight the current status of employer branding around the world, the key players, trends and the roadmap ahead.