Consumer trust was called the most perishable of assets in a recent Business Week article. Given the assault on our various brands and our inability or choice not to respond to this market dynamic, we find ourselves at a loss of credibility in the public eye. We have let our performance standards lapse, our staffs depart, and product quality become minimized. There is some rebuilding to do!
So, how do we put trust back into our brand equation? First, a little honest retrospection is required. We are not and will not be operating like we were just two years ago, luxuriating in public consumption and gleeful spending. That is gone. If you're still holding on to your old brand message, it's time for a change.
Consumers are very savvy and niggardly with disposable spending, now and going forward. Ergo, look at your marketing and advertising, from your web site to your collaterals — what are they saying? What messages are you communicating? What expectations do you emit? Consumer demands honesty, truth and authenticity in the world of spin. The train has arrived, and you did not stop, look and listen.
Ah, the listening! You simply cannot change, adapt or progress until you bring your customers into the loop. If you rely solely on comment cards, you might as well lock your doors. Your customers are wired, bombarded, just like you, with data, but that data is not information. You have many means to reach out, and your customers has similar avenues, which you do not control, such as blogs and user-generated reviews. But, the key is to manage what you can and be responsive (react) to those means for which you cannot. You want to direct the conversation, rather than engage in daily donnybrooks. Perception always rules the reality.
Internally, you have trust issues, too. Look at your staff. Can you blame them? They have watched their friends become redundant, shifts shortened, benefits reduced, required to do more with less, yet dutifully serve your customers with a high level of execution and courtesy. Beyond the challenge to again curry favor with your customers, you need to rebuild your team and their brand allegiance. Time to reengage!
This is not an overnight assignment; this is an ongoing investment, for your ambassadors are the solution. Service is the differentiator on the new “brandscape.” Commit to this paradigm. Bring your staff into the conversation, the process and the rewards. Tap them for suggestions, empower them with accountability, shower them with appropriate praise and develop their potential.
Discuss the guest experience with them; provide what you have learned from your feedback mechanisms. Through their eyes, does the marketing match the actual picture and delivery? Revisit the job descriptions with them as editors. Reestablish the performance standards, not just the mechanics but also the behaviors. Understand that continuing training and development is a worthy investment.
Finally, take a fresh look at your product and facility. Of course, you have responded to market dictates. Preventive maintenance schedules have been delayed, as have extensive renovations. Costs have been reviewed and slashed wherever possible, from office supplies to detergents to food ingredients. Your consumers gets it, for they, personally, have undergone the same exercise. They respect due diligence and expect due value. You simply cannot present an offering that cannot be delivered.
You may be bloodied and bruised, but you have a unique opportunity here. Retail was designed to respond to the marketplace, and for many years it was directed by clever marketing. But now with more circumspection, your customer demands more. Gain their trust and they shall return and tell others.
Ragsdale Hendrie believes remarkable hospitality is the portal to the guest experience. He can be reached at www.hospitalityperformance.com or 978-346-4367.