Business consultant and author Scott Stratten shares examples of how your employees can make or break the brand
LAS VEGAS — Many businesses may not know it but their most valuable asset isn’t the goods they sell or the properties they own. While those may hold monetary value, it’s the people in the organization that carry the most weight, especially with customers. And how they represent your business can make or break your brand.
This was a key message from Scott Stratten, the keynote speaker at the FMG Symposium in Las Vegas this past week, who founded business leadership training and consulting agency UnMarketing in 2002 and has written several business books with his wife and business partner, Alison.
Stratten shared several personal experiences that illustrated how staff at well-known businesses such as the Ritz-Carlton and BestBuy helped shape his image of the brands. From the way loss-prevention staff at the hotel handled the return of a child’s beloved stuffed animal to the way the home electronics retailer’s staff left him and his kids unattended on the sales floor, gave retailers real-life examples of what to emulate and what to avoid.
A major takeaway? It’s about how the staff are treated themselves and ultimately schooled in how to treat customers they interact with, whatever their job might be. Stratten even shared the story of several staff at a mall retailer who made him feel like he interrupted their day. That experience was reversed by an interaction with a passionate worker who not only greeted him with hospitality, but who also gave him a grand tour of the tiny store where she worked at the time.
The lesson? Customers want to be acknowledged and helped when they are visiting your store. It’s a subject we’ve written about recently during a visit this HNN staffer and his family made to an office superstore, only to be utterly ignored until we were about ready to check out.
Sometimes employee interaction with customers — or even how an employee approaches the job in general — comes natural and doesn’t have to be taught. But in other cases it does and that’s up to leadership to make sure employees know how to handle themselves, particularly with the general public. It’s a message Stratten delivered throughout his presentation.
“For the most part you are not the one who makes a lot of this happen if you are not on the floor,” he said of the positive or negative impressions of a brand that people can walk away with based on their experience with front-line staff. “It is the people you employ that make this happen. That is the brand. I don’t care how many stores you have or how big the stores are. It is the people who can make or break the place.”
Stratten shared his own personal experiences when a manager at a movie theater where he was working during his younger years backed him up when a testy customer got rude. That experience, he said, significantly shifted his own view of the manager and his approach to his work.
“She changed the way I looked at my job by having my back,” he said.
In the same way, he noted, today’s younger generation can be taught and inspired by leadership to do a better job representing the business and the brand, especially if leadership and management take an interest in their employees and an active role in helping to guide them along the way.
“I learned by working in retail, passion plus knowledge equals profit,” he said.
Unfortunately, he noted, the individual day-to-day experiences of customers won’t show up on a financial report that focuses on the bottom line.
But in a world of social media where people can post reviews online, those individual customer experiences not only matter — they can steer other customers away from your business without you even realizing it.
But he also shared the story of a furniture store owner who responded to a customer’s negative review and fixed the situation in a way that totally changed the customer’s perception of the store that made them want to return. The customer also updated the review to reflect a more positive stance toward the store.
Stratten also encouraged businesses to foster employee engagement by asking for ideas and taking those suggestions seriously and in a way that makes the employee feel heard and valued as a team member.
“Most places have a person with an idea but where nobody has asked them for the idea,” he said refuting the notion that the younger generation doesn’t want to work. Instead, he noted — in an apparent reference to his own experience with his manager at the movie theater — what they want is to feel valued and respected as a member of the team. “If you don’t have each other’s back, you are not a team. That is what makes the difference. This is the way forward.”