Last week, I had an interesting experience in the Dallas airport that made me realize just how much everyone in your organization needs to live your brand. I’ve always been fascinated by Howard Schultz, the founder of Starbucks, not only for his vision, but the way he designed the stores as a 3rd place (after home and work). The design, attributes, and products in a typical store were carefully developed, and his desire to reflect a great coffee experience is notable. But last week, I was reminded that with thousands of employees, just how hard it must be for Starbucks (and other big companies) to train employees to live out the brand on a day to day basis.
At DFW Airport, American Airlines Terminal A, next to Gate 13 there’s a Starbucks. At 3:15 on Wednesday, while waiting for my flight, I ordered an iced soy latte. I first noticed something odd, when the lady in front of me asked for a drink that was clearly on the menu, but the cashier argued that the drink didn’t exist. Trying to be nice, the lady kept pointing to the menu board, but the cashier wouldn’t even turn around, he just kept saying there was no such drink. Finally, I leaned over and with a little more authority asked him to take a look, and sure enough, there was the drink, right on the menu. But rather than apologize to the customer, he just grunted and rung up the order without a word.
Next, as the barista was fixing my iced soy latte, she inexplicably started squirting caramel into the drink. I asked her what she was doing, and obviously annoyed, she replied, “Putting soy into it.” When I told her that was caramel, not soy, she looked at it, put down the bottle, picked up a spoon, and start trying to scoop the caramel out of the drink. She literally took the drink over to the trash, scooped about a third off the top, put the lid on it, and handed it to me. Pieces of caramel were still floating around, and I had about a third less of the drink in the cup. It was one of those truly amazing moments in customer service…
When I asked her to start all over, she just scowled at me, and refused to speak. She re-did the drink, but obviously was not happy. As I walked away, I noticed the same barista set up the next customer’s drink without putting the top on correctly, so when the customer picked it up, it spilled everywhere. Once again, she simply acted annoyed at the customer.
The point is this – at that moment, all the millions of dollars in advertising, creative marketing, store design, brilliant executives, and great products didn’t matter. The entire brand came down to that single indifferent employee.
Likewise, during the Jet Blue disaster not so long ago so many of their jets sat on the runways for hours during the Christmas rush, none of Jet Blue’s special ticket prices, advertising, innovative marketing, creative efforts, or anything else mattered. To those customers sitting frustrated on the planes, the flight attendants represented that brand, and in the airport, the ticket agents did the same. How those employees reacted to the customers either built customer loyalty or destroyed it.
If you’re church, ministry, or non-profit, whatever you’ve spent on advertising, promotions, branding, or design, can all be obliterated with a single rude usher, phone operator, receptionist, or other employee. Employees and volunteers are the point people in the branding war, and if they’re not qualified soldiers, you’ll lose the battle.
Too many organizations never take the time to share the brand with every employee, from the front office to the shipping department. Train all your employees, and take the time to encourage them to live the brand, every minute they’re on the job. Considering all the interactions your employees have with customers, members of the congregation, donors, or supporters during the workweek, it can make a significant difference in your success.