Branding at the Interaction Center

Ask your CEO how much he or she spent to develop your company's brand, and you stand a good chance of getting an answer. But ask how that brand is being communicated at the interaction center, and you'll probably draw a blank. If this is true for your company, it may be discouraging, but you're hardly alone. Our research study on Branding in the Interaction Center, conducted jointly with Preston Creative Marketing, discovered that only a quarter of the companies with established brand identities felt confident that their interaction center agents could define it.

The fact is, most companies spend huge sums of money to develop their brand, but fail to follow through by helping the interaction center breathe life into it. Companies expect the interaction center to be the brand shepherd for the company--95 percent of companies in our survey said they believed the interaction center is responsible for delivering brand messages--yet only half have a formal process for communicating brand strategies, and less than half feel they prepare interaction center agents to deliver on the brand promise.

The interaction center is your most intimate point of connection with your customers, so it's the ideal venue to communicate your brand. But agents and managers need tools, training, monitoring, and coaching in order to be effective brand shepherds.

What is your brand?
According to Preston Creative Marketing, a brand is not a logo--it's a promise your customers expect you to keep, and a personality they come to know and trust. Your brand communicates your company's essence at every customer interaction. For example, your company may have invested vast sums to become known as Easy to Work With. You may have created advertising, products, and literature that supports that message. But is it integrated within your interaction center? Think about it--if customers have to navigate through a 15-step IVR, you're not delivering ease to your customers. In fact, you're diluting your brand, and potentially destroying it.

The interaction center is a crucial link between the customer and the company. Your agents must be trained to deliver the experience your customer expects and trusts they will receive every time they come in contact with your company. You do it in a store, through an advertisement, on an invoice--you must also do it via your interaction center. That's called delivering on your brand promise.

Barriers to delivery
Once your company buys into the premise of branding at the interaction center, there are significant challenges to actually conveying your essence to customers. Here are a few situations you're likely to face.

“ Communication is a challenge for many companies, and the problems are often magnified in the interaction center. Because companies tend to view it as a transactional environment, the interaction center can be isolated. Much of the work needed to integrate the interaction center within your company's strategic process can be done simply by improving communication. With branding, it's particularly important, because so many departments are involved: typically marketing, PR, sales, customer service, and operations all "own" a piece of brand funding dollars. Unless these groups share information, it is impossible to determine if the money you've spent on branding is actually paying off.

“ Productivity measurements. More often than not, interaction centers are measured on numbers--calls handled per agent, length of time to call resolution, after-call work time--it's easy to get wrapped up in statistics that measure the wrong things. Yes, it's important to develop a reasonable call length, but you must train agents on how to communicate brand promises within the time allotted. Productivity gains are counterproductive if you end up diluting your company's brand in the process.

Bringing the Brand to Life in Your Interaction Center
Many firms equate brand identity with good customer service, but they are not the same thing. Instead, weave your essence and brand promise with customer service skills throughout your interactions.

Communicating your brand message and strategy internally is a critical step. Your agents can't embody your brand identity if they don't know what it is. You need a formal process that includes things like meetings, newsletters, orientation, and/or e-mail-- multiple touch points that ensure your agents access and absorb the message. Also, make sure you incorporate brand integrity into recruiting messages and job descriptions. You'll hire the right people to deliver your brand promises, and they'll understand that it is part of their job.

Interaction center agent training is an essential ingredient. Without it, your agents won't know how to incorporate your brand into their interactions with customers. Make sure you include information on how your company got to where it is today, and how your essence should be translated to customers. Develop models and role plays that allow agents to practice interactions that are consistent with your brand messages. Give them a framework for what is--and what isn't--appropriate.

Agents like incentives, and these can be excellent opportunities to develop brand shepherding skills. Create incentives that reward agents on their ability to communicate brand. If you want your company to be branded as a partner, for example, then incenting agents to wrap up the call quickly won't help. Partners spend the time a customer needs to get questions answered, to delve into deeper meanings, to discover other products or services that can help. Partners don't rush to get you off of the phone.

Infusing your company's brand in the interaction center will help differentiate you from your competitors, and can evolve customer interactions from one-time events into a continuum. Another bonus we've found in our research is that a strong brand equates to high employee morale, and low turnover. The money you invest on training and incentives won't go to waste.

Interaction centers have spent the past decade developing best practices to deliver consistent, high quality service. This has been a positive framework, but the real work has just begun. The next ten years will be devoted to individualizing interaction centers so that they become true differentiators in terms of customer experience. And it all starts with your brand.

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