Preparing Employees For the Front Lines… of your brand

May 11, 2011
By Lisa Barone in 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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