Friday, October 31, 2008

Stop The Negativity

There's no question about it. The unpredictable rise in energy costs is having a dramatic impact on every industry and every individual. For both service providers and customers, it is causing frustration, tight budgets, lost jobs, and escalating pricing. But most of all, in my opinion, it is affecting how employees and customers are reacting to the circumstances and treating one another. Companies must address this and reverse this negativity to preserve goodwill and create loyalty.

Companies need help reversing this negativity to preserve goodwill and create loyalty. Employee marketing programs and behavior need to be closely coupled with external consumer marketing programs. It's long past time to retrain employees how to treat customers. Whatever happened to "the customer is always right" and "say it with a smile"?

Airlines: the best (or worst!) example

The airline industry is probably the best example of this negativity, causing havoc among the consuming public, shareholders, and airline employees.

Like many of you I am a frequent domestic and international traveler. We have all witnessed angered customers and ticket agents coming close to throwing punches, impatient gate agents curtly corralling customers like cattle (no eye contact, no thank you, no have a nice flight), baggage claim managers who laugh at customers with lost luggage woes. Perhaps most startling of all, we overhear flight attendants, right in front of customers, badmouthing their own employers for a lack of appreciation. Employees wear strike buttons and tell customers that the airlines don't know what they are doing.

And airlines don't make it easy on their employees. JetBlue's recent announcement that the airline will charge passengers $7 for a pillow-and-blanket kit, even though it comes with a $5 coupon to any item from retailer Bed, Bath & Beyond, will be a tough sell for flight attendants.

"Replacing our old, recycled pillows and blankets with this state-of-the-art, high-quality take home kit is an eco-conscious, health-conscious and customer-conscious decision," is how Brett Muney, general manager of product development for JetBlue, spun it. "We are constantly seeking ways to enhance the in-flight experience for our customers, and providing them the option to purchase the world's cleanest travel pillow and a fleece blanket at an affordable price delivers on that promise."

State of the art? Customer- and eco-conscious? World's cleanest? Does JetBlue really think we're falling for this self-serving line? It's painfully obvious the airline figured that charging for pillows and blankets would add incremental revenue to the flight, plus reap a bonus by blending the charge with a promotional coupon through a sponsor. Flight attendants will have a tough sell ahead of them, and the negative effect of trying to sell this program to passengers affects the attendants' ability to be positive brand ambassadors. I bet the whole idea will be abandoned when JetBlue gets an all-too-predictable backlash from its customers.

Are your customers, employees, and shareholders facing a similar situation?

Confidence is broken in the airline business on all sides. There is an urgent need to instill employee engagement and reverse this unfortunate situation. Many will ask, how can you afford to do this in an era of cost cutting and unexpected oil-price increases? My question, however, is this: How can you not address this urgent situation and make your people brand advocates and emissaries for what you need to achieve? Companies who recognize that employees are the face to the brand and manage effective internal communication and advocacy provide an incremental 19.5% shareholder value, according to a recent Watson Wyatt study.

Inward Strategic Consulting is a leader in successful change management and behavioral communications. We help companies transform their employees into customer advocates and change their behavior to support brand values. The experiential methods we have designed are creative, and they work.

If you and your team would like to learn how to achieve internal and employee branding that changes behavior and wins over your own people, please contact us. Put a stop to the doom and gloom by recognizing that your people are the face of your brand, and that their behavior needs realignment.