Managing Brand Integrity through Customer Service

Integrity is about being honest and upright in all aspects. A person with integrity will do the right thing always and will earn the trust and respect of those around. A brand is the defining part of any company. Managing brand integrity then becomes as vital as the integrity of a person. Companies can claim Brand Integrity when customers can perceive that the company is who it says and what it says, about itself. For example – people expect food to be delivered ‘fast’ and without any frills in a fast food joint and would expect classy service, silverware and all the frills when dining at a posh restaurant. These defining features are what ultimately define the brand’s integrity.

Brand Integrity is not the same as branding. Branding is about what the brand does and its benefits and once established as a brand, managing it with the highest levels of customer service and delivering on what was promised in the branding exercise, is what makes brand integrity. Customer service staff has a major role to play in managing brand integrity by executing successfully all that was said about the brand at the promotional stage. Engaged and highly skilled customer service staff will deliver high standards of service and consistently great customer experiences and this builds brand integrity. Some truths about building and managing brand integrity are:

– Build a brand strategy that aligns with what your company stands for and can deliver long term. This is the surest method of building brand integrity. Your brand strategy must include aligning your staff with your company’s purpose and the kind of customer service you would like to deliver. Hiring the right kind of people for customer service is an important part of the brand strategy.

– Ensure that your brand strategy sets you apart. Shows your company as being different and better and offering what no one else can. Achieving brand integrity would be actually showing that differentiation to your customers. When your customers say that they perceive you as having leadership in this realm, you know that you have achieved brand integrity.

– At all times focus on and remember that the customer’s perception is reality. What you think and say about your brand will not matter unless your customers agree with you. Defining your brand through a robust strategy and keeping it that way through integrity will make your company a leader. However, if you falter on the strategy and its execution, the customers will soon be defining your brand which you can be sure will not be positive. Managing brand integrity is a responsibility of everyone in the company starting with the top leaders. Enforcing your brand’s image is the prime responsibility of the customer service staff.

– Brand integrity comes from managing what the customers think are the strengths and weakness of the brand. What they hope to get from it and what it actually delivers should be the same if you want the customer’s trust and loyalty.

– Constantly ask for feedback. Start with the customer service staff – what are they hearing from the customers, what the staff think the company and brand is doing right and what can be improved. Ask your customers whether they are seeing value in the brand, consistency of positive experiences with the company, does the brand reflect the company’s culture and delivering what the strategy said it would and host of such questions. This will show your commitment and incorporating the feedback will establish your brand’s integrity. As pointed out earlier, making a difference and establishing brand integrity is not the responsibility of a few individuals or of the customer service team.

– At the brand strategy stage your company lays down some salient features of what they expect the brand will deliver and the use it will have for the customers. If this is not supported by the right people, robust processes and operational tools, the brand will fail irrespective of how good it is. It must deliver outstanding customer experiences to justify brand integrity. The people who use it must be able to find it beneficial and worth an investment.

– Ensure that your staff and especially the customer service representatives know exactly what the brand is supposed to convey. They must believe and be convinced of it in order to display the behaviors that will convey the brand’s identity. There must be accountability and each staff member must know those accountabilities and face the penalties for not delivering on the same. With penalties there must also be rewards for those who consistently strive and build on the brand integrity. This serves to make the brand very visible and very real leading to happy customers and their loyalty to the brand.

– If you want your brand to stand out and be known as having integrity, have the right employees. Make them your greatest asset and have zero tolerance for employees who insist on being mediocre. Be known as a company that excels and hire people who have that passion. Have a good pay structure, great benefits and a work culture that will attract the best employees. These are the assets that will establish your brand and help in managing brand integrity. Getting buy-in from every level and every member of the organization is vital to achieving brand integrity and establishing your company as a market leader. The leaders in the company must be focused on delivering success and must lead by example.

– Ensure that your reward and recognition process is not perceived as eye-wash. It must have stringent checks and measures in place using norms like peer recognition and nomination, actual positive customer experiences must be taken in to account and better still if the customer recommends an employee. Also these actions must be provided an environment to allow them to be replicated by acknowledging every distinguishing effort put in by the staff. Genuine appreciation will help reinforce the idea of brand integrity.

– A strong exemplary leadership will ensure the brand’s success and establish brand integrity. They must lead the journey and not expect that the staff will do what it takes to get success without them showing the way. They must ‘teach’ these things to the staff by exemplifying them. The top leaders are the ultimate brand managers and would set the ball rolling for all to establish and manage brand integrity.

Building the reputation of the brand or brand integrity is a team activity – every member of the company must act as leader and execute the strategy put in place. All must be aligned to build the brand’s image in the mind of the customer – relentlessly and consistently. If the internal stakeholders lose sight of their brand they can be sure that the customer will too since there are many players in the market vying for their attention. All employees in the company must act as brand ambassadors and have the knowledge and enthusiasm for it. Building a brand would be hard for any company if they do not care for their employees – if a company does not take care of its employees, it is certain that the employees will not bother with brand integrity or the customers. Building brand integrity is an inside out process – build internally first. If as a company you keep promises to your employees and reward them for exemplary behavior, they will translate this in to excellence in customer service leading to your brand’s popularity.

Brand integrity is not a fluke or something that happens overnight. It is directly associated with customer loyalty and hence takes time to establish with concerted and consistent efforts. It happens by putting in to practice the brand strategies by every member of the organization led by example by the top leaders. Customers are smart enough to see whether the promises made on the brand are being met and when they experience positive interactions and great customer service their trust in the company increases. They will repeatedly use the brand leading to brand integrity and have more customers lining up to experience the brand.

“Integrity is congruence between what you know, what you profess, and what you do.” – Nathaniel Branden

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