Frontline Employees – Brand Ambassador or Brand Assassin?

Posted on January 13, 2010

Earlier today I met a colleague for a business lunch meeting at a new restaurant that has just opened.  This restaurant is part of a well-known chain in the city and enjoys steady customer traffic. On the menu is a delicious 1/2 pound burger that is advertised as “cooked medium” and so I ordered the $8.00 protein brick with much anticipation.

When the burger arrived, I could tell by its shape and texture it had been frozen 15 minutes ago, but I wanted to reserve judgment until the taste test.  Upon biting into the burger, I noticed it was well-done — but being too hungry to complain, I ate it anyway (as did my friend).

The conversation with my colleague covered many marketing topics and concluded with service marketing and the importance of customer touch points and how they communicate cues about a brand (see Harry Beckwith’s book “Selling the Invisible” for a more in-depth discussion).   The over-cooked burger provided a timely illustration of the importance of a brand experience living up to the brand promise.

When the waitress delivered the lunch check, I kindly asked her if I could share some constructive feedback to help the restaurant delight customers.  She looked surprised and hesitantly said “yes.”  I shared with her that the menu boards promote delicious “cooked Medium” burgers, but ours were well done.  I suggested that perhaps she might pass this information back to the kitchen in the interest of ensuring food quality and keeping customers happy.  The waitress responded “I don’t cook the burgers.”  I smiled and replied “I realize that, but most customers never share constructive feedback with restaurant management — preferring instead to trash the brand to friends and on social media.”  This was her moment to be a brand ambassador for her employer.

As the waitress left our table, my colleague was amazed at the waitress’ indifference and commented how she was not interested in customer service.  My response was that while I agree with indifference, its was really management’s fault for not enrolling the waitress in the brand vision and helping her understand how she’s part of the brand experience.  Whereas the waitress thought she was serving lunch, she was really building (or killing) a brand.

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