The following is a guest post by David Kippen, Ph.D. of TMP Worldwide. Dr. Kippen serves as TMP Worldwide’s Vice President, Global Brand Strategy, and leads branding and communications initiatives for TMP Worldwide’s largest accounts. His post today focuses on the challenge of building employment brands.
Selling Service Sectors
Every job has elements that are a pleasure and others that are, well, a challenge. Now, while you might assume that building brands is nothing but fun, building employment brands in the service sector is a real challenge.
Part of the challenge comes from the nature of the sector itself. It’s stunningly self-evident that the product of a service brand is…service. Also self-evident: service is ultimately an intangible that your organization relies on your workforce to deliver.
You know good service when you experience it—you know when you’re not getting it—you may even be able to document the kinds of service that you want your company to deliver on, but your organization relies on every individual with a public point of contact to live up to and deliver on the brand experience.
In other words, unlike a product brand (let’s not get sexy—think peanut butter, laundry soap, motor oil) or an experiential brand (based on your experience in an environment, not the products or service you receive, this could range from a brand like Disney to Starbucks), your people are your product. And to survive and thrive, service brands need to prove not good, but great service.
Hold on now. Before you start composing postings in your head to explain all the ways in which this is true in every organization (true, but it’s a matter of degree), let me get to my point.
The golden rule of selling service sector work is this: selling service doesn’t work. (Okay, start composing now.)
Why? Well, assuming you care about turnover (as in, you don’t want any more of it than you have to endure), here are a few reasons:
1. Good service is a job; great service is a gift. Employees can be coached to deliver good service to the extent that the training they receive anticipates real-world challenges they’ll face. But great service, service that makes you say "wow" is service that goes above and beyond that script. By definition, then, great service is something employees can choose to look for and deliver, or not.Now, here’s the most important thing to understand about that gift: in most cases, it’s a gift given to the customer.
The gift originates in the chemistry between employee and customer or the individual employees calling to service. While the organization benefits from this exchange, the organization is an indirect recipient.
2. A calling to service isn’t "ownable" by the organization. When someone does a great job handling your problem they receive satisfaction intrinsic to the interaction. The employee gives a gift of service and receives a reciprocal satisfaction from the customer. The organization may have provided the tools to provide the service—in the case of a call center, for example, the organization provides the phones, the scripts, the training and the options customer care reps can call on—but the organization relies on the individual to deliver "wow" service. And again, that’s a gift the employee gives the customer which benefits the organization.
3. Selling and service are complimentary if there’s a mutual value basis, but if there’s a mutual value basis, it’s the value, not the service that sells. By mutual value basis I mean nothing more than the economic basis of the employment agreement: you need a job; I have an opening; your skills match my requirements. The "skills" you have and the need I have are an ability to be of service. In exchange for the promise to exercise those skills, I’ll give you money. In exchange for the demonstrated aptitude to deliver service per my requirements, I’ll continue to give you money.
But that doesn’t get to great service—just to "meets requirements" service.
So, if it’s not with selling and not on the basis of the value transaction, how do you position service sector employment opportunities? I know of only one sure-fire answer: as a calling, an avocation, a mission.
But doing that positioning without resorting to selling…now that’s a challenge. What you have to find is what I think of as a magical fusion point: "unique enablement."
Put simply, if what provides the brand value (outstanding service) is owned by the employee and given as a gift to the customer on behalf of the organization, what the organization actually owns is the ways in which it makes that mutually-satisfying transaction possible. And of these, what your messaging needs to convey are the elements you don’t share with everybody else. (The unique part). This should be the basis of positioning and messaging.