Wednesday, August 29, 2007

Branded training for front-line managers

Front-line supervisors who undergo management training learn how to provide feedback, resolve conflicts, assert authority, communicate, delegate, and motivate employees, reports The Wall Street Journal in "Firms Step Up Training for Front-Line Managers" (8/28/07). Companies like Dell and Home Depot are expanding their programs in an effort to "better motivate and engage workers in an increasingly global and fast-paced environment."
 
The question from a brand perspective is, should these programs include training on how to deliver the brand to employees (and by extension, customers) or should they focus simply on excellence in management? In short, is there a benefit to having a brand component of the training?
 
The answer is, yes and no. In Branded Customer Service (2006), co-author Janelle Barlow recounts an embarrassing experience she had in a Rite-Aid store (which was branded with a large sign stating that "The Customer is #1"), in which she was made to wait in the check-out line for a manager to reverse a purchase she did not want. Long story short, the cashier loudly called out for a manager, stating that Barlow did not want the item becaue it was too expensive. 
 
Would branded management training have helped in this situation? In a way, yes...because if managers are taught to help staffers uphold the brand promise that "The Customer is #1," the manager will have tools to help staffers do so. But in a way, no...because treating the customer as #1 is a rather generic brand promise. It is really, in fact, nothing more than a customer service promise. And you don't need brand training to help employees deliver excellence in customer service.
 
I think the bottom line is, if the brand is truly unique or different in a demonstrable way then branding should be a key component of frontline manager training. And not every brand is demonstrably different when it comes to managing people. For example, if someone intends to work at Southwest Airlines, then they need to understand that a sense of humor is key to handling typical job situations. However, if someone intends to work at Starbucks, it is harder to teach them to offer a satisfying "third place" (not home, not work, just a hangout) experience...simple training in positive employee interaction and customer service would cover that.
 
To sum up: Branding is important, but it's important to use it wisely and sparingly - not every situation calls for it. Sometimes excellence alone will deliver the brand results that are sought.

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