How do you turn a brand positioning into a Customer Experience?

Producing turnaround in an organisation is always hard. It’s harder when the brand hasn’t been touched for 20 years. And it’s hardest of all, I’d say, in luxury retail when you stand or fall on how the brand is brought to life by the people selling on the shop floor. Add a little bit of Manhattan intolerance to the Customer Experience and you’ve got a tough job.

A couple of years ago we were involved in the re-imagining of a venerable US luxury retail brand. (And you know what people mean when they say, “venerable”, right? If you’re not sure, it’s closer to the second definition than the first, if you Google it.) We worked with the board and lead team to produce a new brand manifesto, a dynamic verbal identity and an engaging tone of voice. But what happened then? Did the big ideas stay as a document or did they come to life?

This week, we looped back and caught up with Cindy Drankoski to find out how things went.

The good news is, it worked. Not just by the internal measure of giving everyone inside the company a rationale for making decisions. But also for giving the front line staff something new and engaging to talk to.

Much as we’d like to claim all the glory for that, it was down to some other people’s smart work. I now wish two things: first, that we’d recorded the call because Cindy’s an interesting and passionate speaker. Secondly, that I’d not been to the dentist today and had anaesthetic (I might be mis-interpreting Cindy’s words – – and I feel like I can’t write today, I am merely linking bullet points with conjunctions).

So in summary, here’s what worked in turning the brand around in the Customer Experience:

Coaching or Telling?
You wouldn’t get far just telling a kid what to do different. If you were any kind of experienced parent with any kind of hope for a good outcome, you’d encourage them. Adults expect even more respect. You need to coach. You need to allow a considerable period of time (Considerable = at least 2 years, sorry.)
51% of Coaching is asking questions.  The other 49% is knowing which questions to ask.
Use concrete examples. At Verbal Identity, we often make the point that words aren’t numbers. They mean different things to different people and are open to interpretation. (And if you checked out the two contrasting definitions of ‘venerable’ you’ll know how one is a compliment and the other is an insult.)  So don’t tell, use concrete examples of sales situations. If it helps, get an Improv Company in and workshop some scenes. Ask your sales staff to watch, then tell the actors what to do better.

Coach to What They Just Told You, Not What You Just Said.
If you’ve asked them what the challenges are & how they might deal with them, this is the platform for feedback and behaviour change. Ask them how  their actions stacked up against their intentions.

Consistency and Reinforcement.
No one can live to one set of values given to them by HR if they’ve been given another set of values  last week by Marketing. Consistency builds momentum, variety squanders it.

It’s About What We’re Trying to Do – And, Why We’re Trying To Do It.
It’s often overlooked. We’re so keen on letting people know what the new customer experience should look like, we forget to explain why it’s important. Without that ‘Why’, we’re in danger of being seen as whimsical in our intentions. You tell me, I listen. You explain to me, I understand.

Mystery Shoppers Work. But That Doesn’t Mean Everyone Will Believe You.
Using mystery shoppers does work. They build a picture. But not a universally believable and defendable one that you can use to adjust anyone’s pay scale. Instead, use real customer feedback. Incentivise your customers to give their opinion, then use that as feedback. Real customers, real feedback: there’s no disputing that as a picture of Customer Experience.

Different Departments, Different Levels, Different Behaviours.
It’s one brand manifesto and one tone of voice document. But it will require different behaviours by different departments – and different levels within the department. The more specific you can be, the better the outcome.

Well, that’s what worked with this retailer. If you’ve had different experiences or found something working better for you, we here at Verbal Identity would love to hear it.

Our thanks again to the wonderful and every helpful Cindy.
Love and Respect,