Chief Customer Officer ClearAction Continuum
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Customer Centric Internal Branding

27th Oct 2010
Chief Customer Officer ClearAction Continuum
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Customer centric internal branding revolves around customer well-being. Internal branding has various meanings, such as becoming employer of choice, communicating the company's marketing programs to employees, emphasizing core values, engaging employees for high morale and productivity, or alligning internal behaviors with what's promised to customers.  (By the way, what's promised to customers should, in fact, be what your internal behaviors produce.) While all these versions of internal branding are valuable to the company, the latter definition has greatest potential to impact customer profitability: aligning internal behaviors with what's promised to customers. Living the brand promise is another way of describing customer centric internal branding.

Alignment with customers is the essence of customer centricity, and since customers make paychecks possible, internal branding is an integral component of customer experience management. A leading health management organization, Kaiser Permanente, has an excellent internal branding approach. Employees' stories are spotlighted on We Live the Brand bulletin boards in the halls among the doctors' offices (part of the workspace that customers rarely see) to inspire desired internal behaviors. A dozen employees' photos are featured on small posters, sharing How I Greet and How I Thrive tips for passersby. (Thrive is the theme of all Kaiser advertising and communications, both internal and external.) Other posters feature employees' Glow stories about how they greet customers and how they listen to customers (also known as patients or HMO members). This is just one aspect of Kaiser's initiative to truly live their brand promise. Kaiser achieved top satisfaction ratings in the 2010 JD Power study which examined seven key factors of customer experience in this industry: coverage and benefits, provider choice, information and communication, claims processing, statements, customer service, and approval process.

Once caveat of Kaiser's current approach is its over-emphasis in doctors' incentive pay on customer satisfaction ratings. Semiconductor equipment-maker Applied Materials pursued an extensive internal branding initiative with a very different strategy for customer satisfaction bonus pay, emphasizing action plan progress much more heavily than customer ratings. This seemingly small distinction has tremendous implications. During my visit to Kaiser, I saw a doctor's patient visit room door with a note on the back, saying:  "You may receive a survey asking you to evaluate your visit. This survey provides me with invaluable feedback. I'm hoping for ratings of excellent or very good. Ratings of good are considered a failure for me. If you feel that you cannot rate me highly, please let me know. It is my goal to meet your health care needs, and I would appreciate your help." Your reaction to such a message may be "ouch!" Whenever I hear or see this guidance from service providers or sales persons, it feels insulting, as if we are not able to formulate our own opinions and voice them freely. Consequences include alienated customers, wasted survey investment (the data is no longer valid), and wasted bonus pay (it wasn't really rewarding what was intended).  To overcome this caveat, make sure the weighting of survey ratings is significantly smaller than satisfaction improvement action plan progress or other readily observable desired behaviors of the employee.

Customer centric internal branding is not just nice to do, but essential in today's transparent world. Customers will certainly agree that actions speak louder than words.  Make sure your internal branding strategy emphasizes alignment of internal behaviors with what's promised to customers.


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