Category Archives: internal marketing

Turkish Airlines and the price of a reassuring brand

I started writing this somewhere over Eastern Europe aboard a Turkish Airlines Airbus 320 bound for Istanbul the third leg of four in a round-trip from Bahrain to Europe and back.  I can’t recall ever having traveled Turkish Airlines until two weeks ago when I made the reverse trip from Bahrain to the UK, but had I not been a captive of my round-trip ticket I would probably have switched carriers at Istanbul, never to return to the carrier again, such were the horrors of my first leg.

I find it hard to remember a more dour cabin crew than that which accompanied me from Bahrain to Istanbul.  I felt sure their training must have included hours spent in front of mirrors perfecting their scowl.  Their general, attitude toward passengers was variably off-hand or aggressive and they seem to have taken their frustrations out on the in-flight fare, which they had managed to suck all the moisture out of before throwing it at us.

What a contrast, therefore, was the second leg of the same journey, where we were greeted by smiles and tended with tasty, well-presented (by airline standard), in-flight catering.

Leg three of the round-trip was even better.  New plane, pretty attendants with nice smiles and truly good food and as I lounged in leather-clad comfort I reflected on how my opinion of Turkish Airlines may have differed, had this been my initial experience.  The final leg demonstrated how great, well-trained customer-facing personnel can even overcome other deficiencies in your offer.  The last of the quartet of Turkish Airlines planes I was to experience was clearly in the twilight of it’s years and it hadn’t been at the front of the maintenance queue either.  I found myself hoping this was because they had spent so ling diligently servicing the engines!  In the cabin there was only one working toilet, a number of the entertainment centres were faulty and the crew were put to the test by a woman with two juvenile delinquents who were sitting behind me and promised to ruin my flight.  However, they didn’t because the cabin crew worked hard to bring the experience back on track.  The complete event has underlined to me the importance for any business of achieving consistency and the essential role that internal marketing plays in that.

I have spoken many times in my seminars and writing about the importance of consistency in the success of a brand.  Not just consistency between the different facets of your business, but within each one too.  Had my third flight been my introduction to Turkish Airlines and what was my first been a subsequent experience I would have been more ready to accept that it may be difficult to get it right every time.  As things are I need more reassurance before I accept that Turkish Airline’s good stuff isn’t the fluke!  I often quote some statistics I picked up years ago that say it may cost ten times as much to sell for the first time to a customer than to make subsequent sales to the same person, but it will cost a hundred times that to entice a customer back once you have disappointed them.  Such is the price of reassurance.

Customers need the reassurance that only consistency will provide and of course while its best for everyone if you are consistently good, with all the implications that has for customer retention, pricing policy and margin; being average all the time is better than lunging from crap to brilliant in a way that makes doing business with you a lottery.

Achieving consistency is about nothing more or less than internal marketing.  Identifying your brand, its values and attributes and introducing them to every employee at every level of your business in such a way that they adopt them as their own.

If you have the right people in place they’ll take this and run with it bringing their personal skills and experience to bear and adding value to your brand and therefore your business.  There’s no shortcut.  Organisations who have chosen instead to apply a dictatorial approach to what they call “training” have consistently failed.  As dictators around the world have learned, dictatorship only works if you can preempt every eventuality, which of course you can’t, so you have to adopt a more nurturing approach and allow well-trained and motivated staff to interpret your brand values. In fact, one of the organisations that has achieved most success in this is another airline – SouthWest Airlines, who famously wooed customers with a consistent, if off-the-wall, brand personality through two industry slumps, almost uniquely maintaining profitability throughout.

These days we are all looking for ways to squeeze the highest return from investment and with the price of mainstream media what it is, communicating within your own business looks like a bargain.  What is more, most organisations find that the return they get on internal marketing significantly outstrips that of external campaigns.

I’m quite sure that had the cabin crew on my Bahrain to Istanbul flight focused on delivering the Turkish Airlines promise my overall impression of the airline would have been a lot better.  As it is, because I was a captive of my round-trip ticket the carrier had the chance to demonstrate what they really could do and I might just be persuaded to book with them again, but probably only if they were cheaper than their competitors.  As I said … such is the price of reassurance!

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Building Brand Britain

Over that last week or so, prompted by the UK riots, we Brits have listened to endless analyses and proclamations by local community members, civil servants and politicians centred on fixing our “broken society”.  As always with these situations, there has been plenty of scepticism heaped on the potential any new initiative has for success.  However, there is only one real obstacle to all the remedial plans announced by David Cameron and others and that’s motivation.

I believe that Dave is a good motivator and getting better, he talks sense, even though his opponent Ed Miliband, seems intent on trying to neutralise that with mindless and responsible political point-scoring.  (If I were him I’d shut up before people started to realise that it’s the left-wing, crap that his party has expounded for decades that has given certain sectors of society the idea that they have rights they haven’t earned and therefore created this disaffection).

The marketers among us will recognise the task facing us as brand-building and as anybody reading this blog over the last few years will know building Brand Britain is one of my pet subjects. The problem is that we have singularly failed to respond to the obvious need to develop Brand Britain and we still don’t have the right people in harness to tackle the job.  Forget the political masseurs, data-analysis’s and bean-counters, where are the marketers in the team?  Without them we won’t get past first base because the people who are currently in the driving seat simply don’t get it.

Over the past few years I have approached politicians, government departments, local councils and private enterprises with initiatives designed to help build Brand Britain.  In many cases, because I have always believed that unemployment and local business initiatives are both inextricably linked and critical to the cause, these initiatives have addressed local unemployment, been designed to strengthen communities and help the mid-sized local businesses who are the key to the future of our nation, shift up a gear and take on the world.

The responses I have received from the public sector jobs-worths in particular, though unsurprising have been nonetheless frustrating.  Unimaginative Job Centre Plus employees civil servants and local councillors have simply disregarded projects and initiatives as representing just another unwelcome task.  There’s no point and very little scope for public sector workers like these to adopt an initiative that’s not dictated letter by letter from Whitehall because their world isn’t a meritocracy.  Why should they take on something they aren’t compelled to?  There’s nothing in it for them.  Besides, these people aren’t employed for their creativity and they are entombed in a culture that actively discourages any kind of creative thinking, so expecting them to appreciate any concept is always an ask too far.

Life skills that should have been taught throughout a person’s school life, if not at the cradle, are belatedly outsourced by Job Centre Plus to HR and recruitment companies.  I’ve spoken to a few of these contractors.  They view these projects with the glee of a paedophile assigned to changing room duty at kids swimming gala and submit proposals that represent minimal input and maximum income for them with the balls-out cheek that comes from knowing the people assigning these projects don’t have the first idea what they are doing and are just relieved to have a tick in the “assigned” box.  When I have gone to these organisations to volunteer help and advice, the response has been eerily uniform and something to the effect that “…we‘ve managed to blag the approval of the JCP people for this half-baked programme, so there’s nothing in it for us if we actually do the job properly”.

These are the kinds of issues that will threaten any British brand development programme and unless someone wakes up pretty quickly and recognises that we ARE building a brand and therefore need to follow the appropriate process, we are destined to failure once again.  That means someone (Dave will do) having a clear picture of what Brand Britain looks like and starting with the mother of all internal marketing campaigns that will bring the public sector and government puppet masters into line behind the concept.  The public are motivated, the players are listening and we’re unlikely to find ourselves with a better promise of success for a brand building venture than now this side of World War Three.

When customer service is more about internal marketing than training

Because, unlike most other countries, when a bank holiday coincides with a weekend, we Brits nominate the nearest weekday a public holiday, today (Monday 2nd May) was Mayday bank holiday in the UK.  As a consequence, I caught “Don’t Get Done Get Dom” on daytime TV where, cheeky chappie Dominic Little champions the consumer cause.  The object of his ire this week were the retailers Currys and PC World and Dom had a mailbag full of customer service complaints that he set out to resolve with the retailers’ parent Dixons Stores Group.

Over the last few years the consumer group Which have consistently highlighted DSG’s customer service deficiencies, its surveys revealing a customer satisfaction rating of something in the region of 30%, so the state of affairs can’t be news to DSGI management.  It’s bemusing therefore that, if they have done anything at all it’s had little or no impact on the end product, which frankly appears as bad as ever.

How can it be that a big organisation like DSGI can firstly deliver such poor customer service and secondly fail to address the fact when its pointed out to them in such irrefutable fashion?  Well, it could be that it’s a strategic choice.  I’ve heard of organisations before that had made the conscious decision to set their customer service rating target low because they had calculated that the cost of raising it above that point would not be recouped.  Putting aside the many and obvious flaws in that argument, I can’t imagine that a 30% rating would be acceptable to anybody, so I have to assume that this state of affairs is rather more an accident than a plan.

The feedback Dom received from DSG management was confusing.  Their comments suggested that they view inconsistencies in customer handling skills as an inevitable consequence of their rapid pace of recruitment and accepted that limitations in training capacity would result in new employees arriving on the shop floor with limited or no training.

I don’t buy any of this.  Firstly training may be an issue, but the fundamental problem here is clearly internal marketing.  The reported problems had far more to do with the willingness of customer-facing staff to disappoint or even upset customers than it did with processes, which it seems were largely not at fault anyway because all the customer issues were resolved once Dom had escalated them.

It seems obvious to me that the focus of DSGI employees is miss-aligned.  They seem to act on the assumption that customer satisfaction was secondary to adherence to processes (which they misunderstood anyway).  Yes, training would help them get to grips with the processes, but internal marketing is the tool to set customer satisfaction as the priority.  Once that’s established, when an employee can see that they are in danger of disappointing a customer they’ll realise that the process, as they understood it, is leading them down the wrong path and put the brakes on.

I don’t accept that employees find themselves on the shop floor without first receiving training either.  Training like this doesn’t have to be process-based.  In fact, the priority should be a culture-based induction that can be undertaken by the local manager, on-line or in a classroom, depending on time and cost pressures and there are many ways in which this process can be policed.

Over the years I have devised and run numerous training and internal marketing programmes, for retailers, who have witnessed improvements despite high volume recruitment.  In fact internal marketing, linked to a clear brand model reduces employee turnover, so volume demands are usually reduced too.  The evidence of Dominic Little leads me to suspect that DSGI are making a fundamental error in thinking that training holds the solution to their problems.  My belief is that they need to take a step further back.  Their customer service issues and a number of their other problems are, I am sure, all down to the lack of a clearly defined brand model and the internal marketing programme that makes it live and the sooner they recognise that and address it the sooner they will stop finding themselves the focus of programmes like Don’t Get Done Get Dom.

It pays to engage your employees

Only a real idiot would fail to nurture and care for his employees.  After all, your employees ARE your business.  Their personal traits are your assets, their values are your values and their passions the seeds of your future products.  They have the ideas that, in an environment where a business is only as good as its NEXT big idea, are the difference between success and failure.  Its also down to them that these ideas get turned into products and services and delivered to market and the level of efficiency with which they do that is also in their gift.  That’s why my Brand Discovery programme focusses on engaging the organisations’ workforce.  They, not the directors are after all, going to bring the brand to life.

Internal marketing will deliver by far the fastest performance improvement for pretty well any business.  For one thing its massively neglected.  Many businesses don’t even have a budget for it and we are all familliar with the law of diminishing return, so its easy to see why a little attention given to such a neglected subject will quickly deliver disproportionate results.  When I am faced with a business that’s strapped for cash, but needs to turn around, my first call will be to the internal marketing toolbox.  Its rare for my marketing strategies not to include HR initiatives.  I usually have HR people on my project teams and I’ve frequently delivered results without increasing marketing investment by switching marketing funds from external communications to internal initiatives.

My fascination with this subject explained my glee when I came across Dr David Kelly’s account of “Designing Curious Employees“.  Just about every paragraph on this piece contains a priceless insight that most businesses I encounter could do well to contemplate.

Although he may not express it in these terms, David Kelly recognises that getting your employees behind your brand is the key to success.  Brands fail because they don’t live up to expectations and that’s down to employees, but for employees to do their stuff requires that they are comitted to playing their part in delivering your brand promise and in my experience few employees even know what that is, let alone have a sense of ownership.  Most businesses issue instructions to their employees rather than explain and involve them in decision and as Dr Kelley says, that’s the worst thing you can do. Why should they feel anything for a concept or even a business that they haven’t been allowed to participate in the development of?

Keeping them in the loop is but a facet of internal marketing.  If you want your employees to truly own your strategy (and belive me you do) they have to have played a part in its formulation.  There are all kinds of tools that you can engage to ensure this is happening, but most of all you need to engage your ears.  Once they know you are listening, in my experience emplyees will respond with all manner of ideas and suggestions that could set your business on the road to success.  I once created an entire business unit from an idea that came from a junior secretary and businesses that harness their people power are doing the same every day.  So, take heed of what David Kelly says.  Internal marketing is a powerful tool that in the right hands can transform a business.

Halfords’ customer service sucks – well, it would if I had my way!

I’ve never had anything against Halfords.  In fact, I could refer to various supportive comments that I have made over the years.  They seems to have carved a niche for themselves in the bike sector, they triumphed in a deal to distribute Boardman bikes, they were smart enough to partner with an auto service business and now fit the products they sell to motorists and cyclists alike and they made the forray into Poland and the Czech Republic.

Their staff in the UK at least, while nothing to write home about, are certainly, if Mary Portas is to be believed, as good as you would expect from a multiple specialist retailer these days.  On the down-side, their on-line performance leaves a lot to be desired and dealing with their head-office at any level is a bit like wading through porridge, but its my recent experience of their approach to customer support that has sent my overall personal satisfaction rating way into the red.

OK, so Halfords aren’t having the best of times at the moment.  Like-for-like sales are down and despite all the usual excuses – recession, weather, cost of car ownership etc – that always has something to do with the way you treat your customers.  You’d be right to point out here that, last we heard, profits were up, due in part to a concerted effort to drag their back office, logistics and pipeline into something approaching the twenty-first century – Oh, and a quick reverse out of the Czech Republic and Poland.  Nevertheless, I still hold on to the idea that if you treat your customers well you’ll succeed whatever the size the market may shrink to.

Halfords has never gone out of its way to make customers feel wanted.  It wasn’t that long ago that they undertook to respond customer-support e-mails …  wait for it …”within eight days”!  Communication has been a bit quicker lately, but that’s not a lot of use if they aren’t being helpful.  Someone should point out to them that making statements like “we value your custom” and “we pride ourselves on our customer service” is all very well, but until you actually resolve issues its only “lip-service”, not “customer service”!

If you drop your Tesco shopping on the way to the car, Tesco will replace any broken items.  They don’t have to, it’s just their way of making you feel good.  You may consider this as giving 110%, but, let’s face it, it costs Tesco tuppence and the value to them in customer satisfaction ratings is worth far more than that.  Yes, every little helps!  In contrast, telling you they make every effort to make you satisfied, is “job done” in Halfords book!

Last weekend I bought a four-litre plastic container of concentrated screen-wash from Halfords, along with a bunch of other stuff.  I placed it in the passenger foot-well of my car and drove home, only to discover, when I arrived, that the foot-well was now an inch-deep in screen-wash and the container was almost empty – no doubt where that had come from then!

I took it back to the store where the manager pointed out that the seal that should have prevented the cap from coming off the container, had been broken, presumably by someone in the store, which he added, was not unusual.  He replaced the purchase, but I still had a screen-wash lake in my car and thick-pile carpets that don’t come out just like that.  On his instructions I e-mailed Halfords’ customer service to seek recompense for the cost of having my car bailed.  And after a couple of days I received a reply.  Apparently, they don’t see that its anything to do with them and suggested that if I had taken proper precautions while transporting the screen-wash I wouldn’t now have an on-board swimming pool, steamed-up windows and a very smelly car.  I get the impression they think that by explaining this to me they resolved my issue.  I’m sure I just went into their customer service database as another satisfied customer, but right now I feel as though the customer service manager should personally suck the screenwash out of my carpets!

They may be making a profit, but with an attitude to customer service like this, in a shrinking market I wouldn’t put my money on this lasting long!

Brand Britain or Big Society. Could Cameron use some marketing expertise?

It may be another word for the kind of national service the countries of Central and Eastern Europe have only recently abandoned, but it seems to me that David Cameron’s “Big Society” idea is missing a basic ingredient for success.

Those who have followed my comments on National Branding in the past will understand where I am coming from on this.  I’m all in favour of a self-supporting society and a move away from the nanny state that far too many of us have grown to rely on, but are those who are driving the Big Society initiative seeing it as a step towards Brand Britain or reliant on it?  My feeling is that in order to get there you have first to nurture a feeling of belonging among the populous and, judging from the debates on the Big Society that are currently taking place, this just isn’t there and the media are doing their usual best to divide us still further.

I see there are a number of facets to the Big Society.  There’s the need for us to stand on our own feet as individuals again, there’s the need to cut the cost of the services and resources that have supported the lazy and over reliant among us and there’s the belief that by focussing on community and encouraging people to participate, society and our nation can begin to realise the many opportunities that a community mindset opens up.  However, government is missing far too many opportunities to “big up” British and Brits’ achievements and, as I have said before, this is a key component of any Brand Britain development programme.

If I am reading Dave’s agenda right, I can’t see anybody grabbing and managing this initiative nor can I see what is being done, apart from a lot of talk (which has its place, of course) to get everyone on the same page.  If the “Big Society” is, after all just a money-saving scheme, then David Cameron is surely missing the bigger trick?  Anyway, ultimately it won’t work, because the people who are supposed to be implementing the programme at local level have neither the skills or experience to make the right judgements or the motivation that a real Brand Britain campaign would provide.

Cameron and the Tories may have come closer than previous governments to getting this kind of campaign right, but we need a whole lot more internal marketing and brand-building to be brought to bear if the Big Society is going to be the really worthwhile initiative I hope and believe was the intention.

In successful companies employees dance on tables

You don’t need me to tell you, its tough out there.  Many businesses that I come across are struggling to adjust to the new rules of business and a few are still realising that many of the old ways of running a business simply don’t work anymore, but, old habits die hard.

I’m seeing a disappointing return to purely tactical focus and its hard to persuade the companies heading in this direction and whose priority is to pay this month’s wage bill, that  it’s a dead-end street.  A still more worrying trend I am witnessing though is towards whip-cracking.  Much as I sympathise with the desperation of managers who simply don’t understand why the approaches they have used successfully for years to build or run a business don’t work in the era of new model marketing, flogging your staff is the desperate last twitch of management that has already failed.  High-pressure tactics like this are doomed to failure in both the long and the short-term.

I overheard a conversation last week where a middle manager was bemoaning the loss of the “good old days”.  “I remember …” he said “… the days when, if I was out of the office for a day, I’d return to find my stuff all pushed to one end of my desk because someone had been dancing on it!”.  Extreme perhaps, but there are offices throughout England where the atmosphere is so dour and depressing that its hard to imagine that this kind of thing once happened in successful businesses.

My mind goes back to a quote by Tom Peters in one of his early presentation where he begged business leaders to ask themselves if there was a spring in their employees’ step as they walked across the parking lot from their car to the office each morning, saying “If there isn’t, it’s your fault!”.  His overarching point being that unless employees are happy and enthusiastic about their work, your business will fail.

How many organisations, who today are battling to put together a business strategy that works under the new rules, are paying attention to the absolutely vital element of employee engagement?  Without the backing and buy-in of employees, no business will stand a chance of delivering its brand promise, and when you fail at that you’ve just failed!

For those tempted to respond with “… but we never did any of this stuff before”, I’ll underline what I have said earlier and many times before – If you got away with this omission in the past, it was only because the competition (despite what you may have thought then) wasn’t that tough.  Now its “game on” and there’s no room for slack.  No business can afford this level of inefficiency and, believe me, trying to deliver a promise without having first secured the committment of your employees is inefficient in the extreme.

If you think its par for the course for managers to be hated by employees, forget it!  If you confuse respect for you as a manager with distant or non-existing relationships with your staff you need to take a reality check.  Successful businesses have always had figureheads who employees are happy to stand behind – Richard Branson, Bill Muirhead, Maurice and Charles Saatchi, Stelios Haji-Ioannou, Steve Jobs … I could make a long list, but you get the idea.  Developing and leveraging relationships like these are all part of the internal marketing task.  Don’t side-step the issue.  These internal “brandships” are the key to the “brandships” you have with customers and that’s what drives your business.  When you need all the help you can get to keep afloat, the last thing you should do is abandon your internal relationship-building, so double-check your marketing strategy to ensure you are doing all you can to get your employees dancing on the tables!