Consistency – the Brand Manager’s Mantra

One of the most challenging issues for any brand manager – and if you run a business, that means YOU – is achieving the consistent delivery of your desired Customer Experience. As a very distinguished strategist and senior retailer once told me:

The consistent delivery of Excellence is the brand manager’s mantra.”

I was reminded of this on the second of two brief visits to the coffee kiosk at my local rail station (a kiosk that I regularly use when passing through):

The first time, I just needed change for the bus (because bus drivers can be relied on to be fairly unpleasant when presented with a £20 note; however that’s another story). I’d just withdrawn (the minimum available) £20 from the station ATM, and needed to change it, fast, before the bus went.

I went over to the coffee kiosk, picked up an apple, and offered my £20 note. “No”, said the unsmiling barista. “Excuse me?”, I replied. “I can’t change that”, he said, still unsmiling. I pointed out that it was late in the afternoon; that he must have plenty of change in the till, but to no avail. Frustrated and angry, I returned the apple and, as a last resort, bought a packet of nuts (that I didn’t want) in M&S, just making it to the bus stop in time.

As we pulled away from the station, I reflected that the barista had given the impression that he just couldn’t be bothered to give me change: I may have been wrong, however in the absence of any meaningful communication that was how it felt.

Result: one damaged and diminished brand.

A couple of days later, I was again passing through the station and ordered my regular black Americano from the same kiosk. This time, the barista (not the same one) could not have been more friendly, even offering to put an ice cube in my coffee “to cool it down a bit”. Smiling throughout the transaction, that barista made me feel like a valued, individual, Customer.

Result: faith in the brand restored – at least, for now.

So what was going on?

What most coffee chains have in common is that they promise consistent excellence – at least where the coffee is concerned. It so happens that the chain in question states the following (on its website):

Although it’s not always easy, only the best will do for our customersOur fast paced and well trained Baristas make, with incredible consistency, the best coffee in the UK and serve it quickly and with a smile®.”

Yes – apparently, the “smile” is trademarked!

The company says a lot more about this on its website: for me summed up in the following statement:

We’re always looking out for new team members to deliver first class customer service and act as the Brand Ambassadors.” [my Italics]

The conclusion then: everything your Team members do is a reflection on your brand. It doesn’t matter if their primary job is to serve coffee; every interaction matters, as I’ve argued in past posts. And, as I’ve said, this is YOUR responsibility. Great servers are born not made; great Customer Experiences – those that ultimately outstrip the competition – are made not born:

To achieve consistently excellent coffee, you source the best beans, the best milk, the best equipment; you work out a process for creating the required drink and you train your Team to follow that process. All of this can be systematised. Even checking that everything is being done to specification, is part of the system. That is how McDonald’s, Starbucks and their ilk got so big – they created a product the market wanted, and designed a system to produce it, perfectly, every time, in every location.

But – can you systematise the interaction between the server/barista and the Customer? Well – yes and no: the coffee company in my example above certainly thinks you can. But how do you systematise the spontaneous reaction to an off-the-wall request by a harassed Customer who just wants change? Or water for their dog? Or directions to the local tourist attraction?

The answer to that, has two parts:

Nice People - Pret
Hire Nice People
  1. You systematise the culture of your brand (and thereby your brand experience) – by articulating it with coherence, authenticity and passion – remembering that it must have meaning for your Team members, whose attitudes and communication preferences are not the same as yours;
  2. You hire nice people – you can systematise the hiring process (in fact you must) – but you ultimately have to leave it to the Team to deliver the experience; so by hiring people who like people (people who naturally smile, laugh, are curious, have palpable energy, are enthusiastic) you will have the best odds that every interaction with a Customer will be a positive one.

In summary:

To get the best return on your investment in your brand, you must model your brand experience.  Note that the model is not just your business model; nor is it solely the Customer Experience model. At its heart is the model of the experience your Team needs to be having, in order to deliver the Customer Experience and thereby the sales and reputation that will generate ROI.

Once you have designed your model, you must ensure that it is at the heart of every decision you make about your business. In this way, you will always be able to ensure (and justify) that your investment in people – recruitment, training, development – must be commensurate with your investment in hardware – physical, online, IT, brand.

Somewhere along the line, my unsmiling barista had become detached from the brand he was supposed to be representing. Perhaps he hadn’t received the investment or support that would have made it second nature to him to help me out. Or perhaps, his manager or the HR department hadn’t a system in place to hire only nice people.

If you’d like to connect about anything in this blog post, please get in touch.


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