Preparing Employees For the Front Lines
… of your brand

by on 05/11/2011 • 16 Comments | Branding

Once again, Amber Naslund is right on the money.

Amber’s right when she says it doesn’t matter how great your product is, how well known you are or what fancy features you may hail – your brand lives and dies by your front line employees, nothing else. And in this hyper-connected world of social media, all of your employees are front line employees. If your stomach just dropped at that thought, you have a problem.

A big one.

This isn’t a new business concept. We’ve always been able to learn everything we needed to know about a company from talking to their receptionist. We knew that the receptionist treated us the way they were treated. If she was rude or argumentative, it told us one thing about the company’s culture. If he was warm and helpful, it told us something completely differently. What’s changed is that in 2011, regardless of their official title, everyone on your team is the receptionist.

And with that comes a different kind of training. Sure, people must be trained on how to do their jobs well and how to get results…but they also need to be trained on how to live on the front lines. Because it’s a war zone out there! Each person on your staff must know how to represent the company, how to be the unofficial spokesman, and how to be the face. It’s up to you to arm them with the ability to do that.

How are you going to do that? With a new training program based around the five areas below.

0: Realize you must train everyone

Let me restate this because I know some of you are already ignoring me. Everyone on your team is now the receptionist. It’s not just your entry-level employees manning the phones or your high-level executives that you need to worry about. Social media touches every member on your team and every facet of your organization. Through your phone lines, your blog, your Twittering, Facebook, in-store interactions – everyone has the potential to make or break your sales process.

1. Officially promote everyone to the front lines

Make your employees’ new responsibilities official by formally adding the role of Company Brand Evangelist to their job description. This will not only change the culture of your company, but it will make this role ever-present in employees’ minds and open up a new conversation about transparency. Talk to your team about what this change means to the company and the new power that they have to change external about the brand. You no longer a team of employees, you’re a promotional force. By involving them and building an army, you make them much more invested in their success. You also introduce them to their new role and make them more self-aware about their own social media presence.

2. Introduce them to the company’s social media policy

With their new promotion still warm, give your army their new rulebook. If you haven’t yet taken the time to create a company social media policy, do it now. Without one you leave yourself vulnerable to confused mistake-making employees, accidental tweet mishaps and other brand badness. You allow your employees make the right decisions by helping them to understand their new roles, giving them the best practices for engagement, and explaining the company viewpoint on social media. Empowering them with this information will calm their fears and build their confidence while talking about the brand publicly. It’s the difference between creating a unified brand presence, and a fragmented one.

3. Help them find their power move

Hey, some of your employees will be natural brand ambassadors. You will turn them loose and they’ll easily be able to translate the passion they have for their job into personable conversations, displaying their unique power moves (my favorite). This is awesome and you should hug those people tightly. However, not everyone will take to social media like a fish to water. So will get stuck on shore, unsure of how to dip a toe in. And that’s okay. This is where introducing your team to case studies of success, people they can emulate, and real-time examples can help them find their footing. You way even want to give them a script they can work off until they feel more comfortable interacting without a net.

It’s also worth noting that every person on your team does not have to be an outspoken brand evangelist; they just have to be competent. They should be able to handle public customer complaints, product questions, and know how to represent the brand while in full view of the public. That doesn’t mean they have to be the life of the party. Because some people, despite all their awesomeness, will still drop a drink on themselves in public settings.

4. Give them combat training

I’m a firm believer in that employees need combat training before they should ever be near the front lines. Your employees must become full-blown jedis. They not only need to be schooled in the ins-and-outs of your product/service like never before in order to answer questions in real-time, they also need to know how to find the conversations they need to be part of. They need to be able to wrangle Google Alerts like it’s their job, they need to understand how to work a company social media dashboard, and they need to know what to do when someone shows up to Twitter to call them a fake, a fraud and a liar. This is where their training really comes into play. Because it will be in these situations that someone will either make your brand or sabotage it. Teach them out to walk out of the fire before you throw them into. Sweet Jesus, do I wish someone had given me combat training before I started blogging.

5. Trust them

After each member of your team has completed their front line training – trust them. And let them know that you trust them. If you’ve done your job right, your employees will understand their role, its importance, how to handle situations, and where to go for additional information. Now let them loose. Being a helicopter parent and hovering over them will make them feel unsure and apprehensive about participating. Back off and give them the authority and the approval to act on their own accord. The power this will have on your brand will be felt throughout the entire organization.

Those are my 5+ tips on how to prepare an employee to fight on the front lines of your brand. What’s your process or how have you trained yourself? Anything you wish you knew before you started?

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About the Author

Lisa Barone

Lisa Barone co-founded Outspoken Media in 2009 and served as Chief Branding Officer until April 2012.

Get social with Lisa at Twitter

16 thoughts on “Preparing Employees For the Front Lines
… of your brand

  1. This is just awesome, Lisa. I have witnessed and heard about so many companies guarding their brands so tightly that employees feel alienated from their organizations. This ties really well into the idea of putting people first for organizational success. If you empower your employees to carry the torch for your brand, they will be your best assets. You need to trust your employees and treat them like stakeholders in your organization, because they are.

    PS – I’m so glad I work for you :)

  2. Damn Lisa! How do you hit the nail on the head every time! Manning the ship is like being on the front lines everyday. We only have one employee thus far. The point I emphasize is “Why”. The reason we’re on the front lines. I don’t believe people are inspired by sales projections or flat screen television contests. It breeds mediocrity. People are inspired by being a part of something bigger than themselves. I always try to paint a more profound picture. Our services indirectly effect the livelihoods of others. We help add value to a company’s bottom line which ultimately helps families and the financial security of this generation and even the next. Awesome post!

  3. I posted this on Amber’s post, and I’ll share it here. I think it is important, if we are going to be realistic about front line brand ambassadors.

    When front line employees are treated/paid like brand managers, perhaps they will start behaving like them. Historically, capitalist/corporatist culture in America expects so very much from the least of its brothers. Profit is built on the backs of the most willing and, often, least paid.

    Rather than thinking about how much more we can get from our front line — or, how much more our front line people can do for us to improve our brand; perhaps we should be thinking, “what more can we do for our front line people?” This shift in approach will more likely create naturally willing and enthusiastic brand advocates on the front line.

    • Tom, I agree with you. But sometimes empowering your front line and giving them autonomy is one of the best things we can do for them. Nothing is worse than being babied by management. Do you have some suggestions about other ways to give back to the front line?

      • I’m thinking about more practical displays — a pay-scale that minimizes disparity between the highest paid and the lowest paid in an organization. If each role is “significant”, then each salary should reflect that. Otherwise, we send a signal that some positions, in fact, aren’t as important as others. Other practical things would include flexible work hours, expenses for food and travel, inclusion at regional and national conferences, performance-based raises, productivity-incentives, stock options, quality health and dental insurance on par with executives, holiday pay, personal time and other benefits at equitable levels to what any executive in the company might receive, etc.

        Basically, if we are going to expect high standards from all employees (executive or front line) all remuneration elements should be equitable for each employee, regardless of position or title to reflect those expectations. I’m not saying that they should be identical. Part of organizational incentive is the possibility to move upward in the organization — but the gap should be smaller if our expectations are not so disparate.

        It’s simply too easy (and perhaps even a bit cheeky) to say “We’re empowering you to add “creative problem solver”, “buzz agent” and “brand manager” to your list of responsibilities but we’re not going to give you anything extra to do it. Gee, thanks…

        • I forgot to mention offering a solid training program, to include practical educational investments for industry advancement. We should encourage front line employees to become our next executives and give them every tool necessary to make that happen. Rather than making them feel like a brand manager, give them the tools to actually become a brand manager within 5 years if they want to be – even if they have to leave the company to be one when the time comes.

        • Businesses should create an environment where employees feel valued, regardless. I don’t think this changes that. I think making employees feel PART of the organization they’re working for, giving them a larger voice and encouraging them to be more involved is actually making them feel more valued. Or at least that’s always been my feeling, both as an employee and a boss.

          I think as people bring more value, they should definitely be compensated for that. But I’m not sure giving a raise simply because their job has evolved is always appropriate. Or maybe it is? When people had to learn to use a computer instead of doing things by hand, were they given a raise because the office progressed or did they have to adapt first?

          Employees have always been expected to represent the company they work for. Now we just have an audience.

  4. These are excellent tips, Lisa. And as basic as some of these sound, I think many companies are going to be slow to lend brand equity to employees who are neither receptionists nor executives–because those roles’ branding responsibilities are so clear-cut (receptionists deliver the message; executives craft it–and if they want, they also deliver it).

    What I like about this post is how it highlights a very new and emerging shift: A company’s publicity can no longer be handled by a single entity; it’s a role that everyone represents–even in routine emails. These days, the price of an incomprehensible email is so much higher, because it doesn’t just represent the sender, but his company, too.

  5. Lisa, thanks for these great suggestions. Your analogy that all front-line representatives are actually the receptionist for the company is right on target. Companies need to realize that if they employ associates who like to help people….that they will automatically love being on the front lines and make customers happy. And, happy customers love to tell all of their friends (by traditional word-of-mouth and social media platforms) how special service can really be. The bottom line is the bottom line…if you want to have a successful business make sure you staff and train your associates to make each customer feel welcomed, important and appreciated. Richard Shapiro, The Center For Client Retention

  6. WHen I work with a client I try to educated them on what I do. When they get it everything runs smoother. I am sure it is the same with employees, but I have none yet. :)

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