For a long time external and internal communication was placed in separate boxes with the belief that communicating with customers was somehow more important than with employees.
This has often resulted in employees being disengaged or completely unaware of the “brand promise” and their role in delivering it. External marketing was seen as glamorous and central to the business while internal communication was low budget and tactical.
Fortunately things are changing. The more enlightened organisations now consider employees as the core audience. With research indicating (Journal of Marketing) that 68% of customers defect because of the attitude or indifference on the part of a company employee this is hardly surprising. The term internal communication is even being replaced by some organisations by internal marketing.
Central to all this is, of course, the brand. Again, for many years brand was the domain of the marketers. Today, however, more organisations in the private and public sector recognise brand as something that can excite and engage employees as well as customers. To achieve this often requires a deep and sustained culture change across the organisation.
The first task is to define the brand proposition – in other words the values the organisation abides by. This is not a senior management project or initiative that results in a set of posters on the walls and a silver plaque in reception. The top team needs to content itself with setting the vision and then build a cross-company group to develop meaningful values that underpin the way the company will set about achieving its vision. An organisation that truly sets about developing its brand proposition from the inside is moving towards becoming a true customer focused business.
To deliver this the “brand” team needs the commitment and ongoing support of the CEO and board who, hopefully, appreciate the strategic change taking place in their organisation to focus all employees on the customer and away from internal process.
In practical terms values should be developed by employee working groups drawn from all parts of the company. They ought to be aspirational but also practical. Each value should then be distilled down to identify the behaviour set that demonstrates the value is being lived day by day. These behaviours ought to align customer and employee expectations – in other words we should treat and behave toward our employees as we do our customers.
The next stage is to research the employee perception of where the organisation is in delivering and living the behaviours relevant to each value. This, we call, “current reality compared with management ambition” The outcome from this research will drive a programme to change behaviours in key values that score low. Ideally this research should also be conducted among customers to align customer and employee perception of values and behaviours.
For example, customers can be asked whether certain phrases (the values) align with their current perception of the organisation and how they would expect an organisation to behave that claimed to live by these declared values.
The purpose and business benefit of all this activity is the creation of a customer-centric organisation. One that understand as part of its corporate ethos that its future prosperity is dependent on those “moments of truth” when employees interact with customers. Moments of truth are possible right across the organisation and not just in the case of obvious front-line employees. If an employee delivers poor quality to a colleague who in turn has to explain this shortfall to the customer the result is poor service and a broken brand promise.
In today’s world delivering outstanding customer service is often the competitive advantage. Organisations across the world cannot survive unless their employees understand and are engaged in delivering the brand day by day to every customer. To be able to do this, organisations must recognise that a strong and sustainable brand promise starts inside the organisation.
Alan Peaford is chairman of Trident Communications, a Dubai based communication process management agency with offices in the UK, Germany, and the USA.