Posted by: Chris | June 4, 2007

This Job Would Be Great if it Weren’t for Those Pesky Customers

Recent posts on a couple of blogs I read regularly have roused my ire against marketing professionals; to wit, Dustin Staiger’s transcript of a grocery store’s holiday weekend ball-drop and Mike Wagner’s hotel toothbrush fiasco. These posts expose a service provider mindset that is becoming more and more commonplace these days: front line service employees (let’s just call them FLSE’s from here on out, you know, to keep things simple) are not only occasionally lazy and incompetent, they are sometimes actually indignant that customers would ask something of them—that money-spenders would have the gall to interfere with their otherwise pleasant shift. (I know, you’re saying, “But you said you were mad at marketing professionals. It sounds like you’re really mad at FLSE’s.” Just keep reading.) My first question is, how and when did this sort of behavior become acceptable? (OK, that’s actually two questions.) Of course, the answer to that question(s) doesn’t matter nearly as much as Dustin and Mike’s question: how can this issue be resolved? Sure, there are a few spot treatments: retrain, or perhaps even fire the perpetrators (on very shaky grounds). On a slightly broader scale, one might work with managers to help them observe, identify and correct this sort of behavior. But honestly, I think the scrutiny should go deeper into the organization. (Here comes the part about marketing professionals.) I see these problems as marketing problems-as issues brand managers and CMO’s need to address. I would ask, have the marketing managers/execs truly caught the vision of the company? Do they wholeheartedly ascribe to it or are they simply making a paycheck, as are the previously mentioned FLSE’s? (And if the latter is indeed the case, how can we blame the FLSE’s?) Have marketing managers/execs implemented the company’s top-down vision into every aspect of their marketing plan including service provision? What tangible, daily-practicable initiatives have managers and execs clearly stated in their service provision processes? What initiatives have they defined clearly enough in their FLSE job requirements that “failure to perform” said initiatives could safely become grounds for firing an employee without reserve? (When is the last time your CMO and your VP of HR had a company-changing discussion?)

In past posts, I have made reference to the May 2005 Harvard Business Review article entitled “Creating the Living Brand,” by Neeli and Venkat Bendapudi. Take a moment and put down your copy of insert latest popular marketing book title here and read this article! The concept of the branded service employee is still not quite catching on with many marketing execs (and authors). Ultimately, it’s not just about the final product, nor is it just about the idea. It is the FLSE’s who translate these things into felt value. They are the implementers. Put more concretely, they make dollar bills appear in cash drawers. It is their branded service provision (which is completely different from “good” service provision) that makes me want to go to back to QuikTrip for gas rather than any other convenience store (read: “commodity”) in town, using the only store credit card I have in my wallet, driving past 2 or 3 other convenience stores on the way, even if I don’t have to deal with an FLSE face-to-face on that particular trip. Branded service provision is what keeps me coming back to Cold Stone Creamery every time my wife and I decide to take our 1-year old out for dessert. (Well, that, and the Mud Pie Mojo.) And, call me a dreamer, but I believe it is one of the most significant ways for brick-and-mortar businesses to win back customers from the Web. More on that later.

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  1. […] Who Will Your Customers Mimic?- This simple illustration by Drew McLellan at Drew’s Marketing Minute attests to the importance of internal marketing and the impact of FLSE’s. […]

  2. […] Empowerment Cost? Posted October 16, 2007 One group of Front Line Service Employees (FLSE’s) that I sometimes fail to consider is the team of call-center workers many companies […]

  3. […] how does one win such a competition? Well, in a commodity service, it all comes down to FLSE’s. It’s been a while since I’ve blogged, so just as a reminder, FLSE stands for front […]

  4. Great post Chris

    Reading your post the movie CLERKS comes to mind. While bad customer service makes for a hilarious movie, it is all too often a company killer. Bad word of mouth is very costly, especially in this ultra connected day and age. The most powerful marketing tool a company has is what it actually does for customers, not what it says it does.

  5. Great! Thank you for your post.

  6. […] systems change, DLL or JVM dependencies must be managed, and no one reads the manual – they all want support over the phone. Unfortunately, wide-eyed project sponsors or IT directors with […]

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