Why HR and Marketing should be Best Friends

October 1, 2019 | blog | By Mike Sullivan
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This month, we’re taking a look at how challenger brands use their most important communications channel to create extraordinary marketplace distinction and an unassailable competitive advantage.

The most important marketing weapon for a consumer-facing brand isn’t advertising. It isn’t PR, or social media, or even the products themselves. It’s people. In fact, at a time when year by year we do more and more shopping online, the way your employees interact with your customers, and the brand experience they deliver, has never been more critical.

The customer experience is a social one driven by emotion.

Whether it’s a restaurant, a shoe store, or an airline, the way customers feel about their interactions with the people serving them is the heart of the brand experience. Each exchange either strengthens or weakens the customer’s bond with the brand.

Again, paraphrasing what one of our favorite authors, Joe Calloway, says in his book, “Becoming a Category of One,” a brand represents what people think it’s like to do business with your company. And what customers think about a company and the way it treats them has the power to make or break that relationship.

Great products and smart advertising are potent marketing weapons, but the customer experience trumps everything.

Seems simple enough. Big or small, as the company expands, you hire people, train them up in your way of doing things, and hold them accountable. For decades, companies have spent untold sums developing and implementing bigger, better, longer training. And in large part, it hasn’t really delivered. But in the last decade, an alternative to better training has emerged that’s as simple as it is revolutionary. It’s not easy. But in retrospect, it does seem fairly obvious.

Just ask the friendly folks at Chick-fil-A.

Chick-fil-A knows how to deliver a strong customer experience as well as any company. In study after study, Chick-fil-A stands alone as the leader for delivering quality customer service with a gaping chasm separating them from second best. In one study fielded by Coca-Cola, Chick-fil-A’s score for friendliness was nearly twice that of the second-friendliest fast food chain, and more than double the category average.

According to the Coke study, friendliness (which is a critical performance indicator in the restaurant category) includes simple pleasantries like saying “please” and “thank you,” smiling, and making eye contact. Being polite sounds simple enough. But based on the comparably poor scores for the balance of the fast-food chains in the study, it’s exceedingly difficult to get front-line employees to extend themselves. The question is why? What’s so tough about smiling and saying, “thank you?”

Get more context for just how difficult it is to hire and retain good people in the restaurant industry in our Breaking Restaurant Trends post.

The reality is unfortunate for most companies, because it couldn’t be more important. As social beings, we’re constantly evaluating our daily experiences based on social interaction and feedback. An evaluative loop whirls away in our minds behind the scenes, giving us constant information about our sense of belonging, status, self-respect, and so forth. In fact, this process is so fundamental to our human experience that we tend to forget about it.

Too often, as marketers, we do forget about it, or at the very least we overlook it. But not at Chick-fil-A. From leadership to the front line, they always remember that delivering quality, social experiences is core to its success. And that begs the question: in a society where the prevailing consensus is that basic civility and good manners are on the decline, how does a company train people to be well-mannered and friendly?

How do we teach employees to show up socially in a manner that invites people to connect with our brand? You don’t. You hire them.

Chick-fil-A founder Truett Cathy directly addressed this very question in a 2005 interview. In it, he acknowledged the tremendous energy the company puts into training and retaining employees, but he said the key is to begin the process by selecting the right people in the first place. Not surprisingly, Chick-fil-A is extraordinarily selective when hiring. Instead of trying to train people to say “please” and “thank you,” Chick-fil-A hires people who already say “please” and “thank you.” Cathy summed it up in the interview saying, “We give them good training, but I expect them to bring their personalities with them.”

It’s tempting to dismiss the company’s commitment to careful hiring as the byproduct of some unseen advantage. But Chick-fil-A enjoys no such thing.

The company slugs it out in the wildly competitive fast-food restaurant segment against industry titans with huge marketing war chests like McDonald’s, Burger King, Wendy’s, Subway, Dunkin Donuts and hordes of others. To make matters even more challenging, capacity in the fast-food segment has been outstripping population growth for nearly two decades. And the front-line jobs at these restaurants aren’t high paying or particularly fun — compounding the recruiting challenge.

Anybody who’s worked in a restaurant environment can attest to the long hours, fast pace, and just plain hard work. Chick-fil-A’s commitment to finding people who work hard with smiles on their faces boils down to just that: commitment. The company’s leadership believes in the difference people make, and they focus on recruitment and retention through practices that consistently deliver the best front-line employees in the industry. And their enviable financials underscore the efficacy of the approach. In 2017, in just over 2,200 locations in 47 states and Washington, D.C., Chick-fil-A reported more than $9 billion in revenue, marking 50 years of sales growth. That’s about $4 million a year per store – in a fast food restaurant that’s only open 6 days a week.

Next week, we’ll take a closer look at how a company’s commitment to service drives bottom-line financial performance.

MIKE SULLIVAN is President of LOOMIS, the country’s leading challenger brand advertising agency and a top Dallas advertising agency for digital, social, mobile and user experience. For more about challenger branding, advertising and marketing, leadership, culture and other inspirations that will drive your success, visit our blog BARK! The Voice of the Underdog and catch up on all of our posts.

For more about LOOMIS, or to discuss how we can help your company succeed, CLICK HERE

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Mike Sullivan

President at LOOMIS, the country’s leading challenger brand advertising agency

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