Wednesday, 10 February 2010

When your brand ambassadors don't know...

I have been sick with a bad cold for the past few days and yesterday was the worst, with my head feeling like a hot air balloon just about ready to over-inflate and burst. And after the suggestions of a few colleagues, recognising that my self medication tricks were not working, I went to a pharmacy to get the much recommended Theraflu. Now though I have never used the product, somewhere in the ether I knew they had hot drinks as part of the product line. Noone had told me exactly what to buy, but I knew I wanted one of those hot drinks. So I approach the counter - walking germbot that I was - and asked the girl (I dunno if she was a pharmacist or not) whether they had Theraflu. She said they did and picked up a box of Theraflu caplets. So I told her I wanted the hot drink instead. Ay caramba!

- Hot drink?
- You know, the hot teas with all the yummy healing stuff.
-No. They don't make that. (pushes the caplets towards me)
-You sure? (eyeing the caplets annoyingly)
-Yes. They only make the caplets. You want it?

I think my nasal congestion had by this time gotten the best of me, so I decided to not argue, since I was not 100% sure anyway, but to just take the caplets, go home, medicate and knock myself out.

But you know I could not just go home and take the caplets, but I immediately went online to the Theraflu site and there was a very useful and snazzy "Theraflu Treatment Selector" where the sick and dying like myself could go find the right product for their symptoms. Guess what I found?

I mean, I am sorry but I don't care if you're running a corner shop or a multinational organisation, you really should have a fair idea of what you're peddling. And this is just a small example. I have gone into large organisations, with huge marketing budgets, which promote products and services to customers, often successfully. Then you go in, meet someone on the frontline who cannot give you a clear understanding of what the product is, how it differs from what is on the market.

Now, in the case of the pharmacy girl, she is not selling HER product per se. She is a third party provider for Theraflu, so I will give her a small bligh. Maybe not. She is representing her pharmacy and representing its brand as my dependable, knowledgeable neighbourhood drug store. I simply cannot forgive a customer service representative who does not know enough about his/her company's product to make me, the customer, want to buy it or support the brand.

Investing, up front in employees, so they understand the company, its products and services, its history and culture and how all these and more tie in to the brand, is probably one of the most important parts of employee management. An uninformed employee can cost a company sales and reputation. How am I to believe what you are selling, if you clearly don't know and thus don't believe in it? The efforts of the marketing and comms team in getting persons to talk about what you're offering and seek you out for more information can all be for nothing if basic understanding and participation are absent not only on the frontline, but throughout the organisation. Every employee becomes a product advocate and brand ambassador from the time they sign that dotted line. Leaving that responsibility to chance is suicidal for any organisation.
So what can you do?
  • Fresh meat preparation: New employee orientation sessions should include product and sales training
  • Ever heard of the Lunch 'n' Learn? Oh gosh, how many of these have I been to? Some people come just for the lunch, but if your presentation is engaging, interactive and informative, they leave with much more, and you end up with much more - an informed and excited ambassador. Not recommended for training on a new product or new employees, but it can be a good "tune up" session and a refreshing change from sitting in stuffy conference room with a dull PowerPoint presentation
  • Specific interval training - Be it for frontline staff, supervisors, managers, continuous training on your company and its product are essential, especially since any good product undergoes periodic reviews and revisions to meet the ever changing needs of the customer
  • Regular communcations on company and product development - And though intranets and newsletters are fun, when it comes to customer service and product knowledge, managers should be the first contact for information, Q&A, etc. Face to face discussion can help clear up misconceptions which you do not wish to communicate to a customer, reinforce knowledge, gain an understanding of what customers are asking/customer FAQs.
  • Role playing. Great for testing out what the employee knows and how he/she reacts to any given situation with any type of customer - from the very savvy, to the very green, from the calm and patient, to the irate. Can be a great team building session as well.

And when you're informed, your communications skills are stronger cause you can speak confidently and with conviction and meet customers' objections and questions head-on. Ummms and maybe's don't quite work in persuading cynical customers to support your product. And not only should employees know about what you're selling but also what your competitors are selling. You better believe when I go to buy anything, I know what the other guy is offering and I ask a lot of questions and if you cannot convince me that yours is better because you simply don't know about what else is out there - bye bye.

I am not sure my corner pharmacy has a training plan set out for its staff, cause I only saw 2 people in there, but a little product knowledge is recommended for the future, cause had I been 100% sure the hot teas existed in that brand, and was dead set on getting it, I would have left and nursed my cold elsewhere and lost confidence in that pharmacy as well. I mean, if you do not know about a simple hot tea for a cold, what else don't you know about more serious drugs??? I have a serious problem with this!

And special thanks to Theraflu - I feel human again!


No one takes the time to train anymore. I didn't get much at all at my last job. Glad you feel better!

As a trainer, I can tell you it's not always a training issue. I firmly believe that not everyone is meant to do every job. I used to get into arguments with my old boss because I strongly believe you cannot teach everyone how to provide good customer service. Some people have the skills and some don't. That said, we both know that there is almost NO emphasis placed on customer service/training at home, and it really sucks.

**If you start a company which goes around customer service/common-sense training, will you hire me as your trainer? :) LOL

***Theraflu ROCKS! :) We always have the packets around...that liquid will KNOCK YOU OUT! :)

I dont think it has much to be with training I just think she wanted to sell you what she had and not what you wanted. If she was to say oh yes they do carry that but we dont have it in stock and then tell you where else to try she would have lost the sale. Not everyone is forward thinking cause when people are nice to me in shops i go out of my way to then shop there or suggest the place to others.

Well, I agree - some people are not meant to do every job, and no amount of training can rescue them from the depths of cluelessness. But if you're not a good fit, then something needs to be done - be it reassignment or bye bye - cause ultimately you're affecting my productivity, my profits and my brand.

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