Your Brand Promise: What Customers Hear You Say and What They Actually Get

David Lee

"When I hear how our people talk to our customers, I cringe." This was said to me recently by someone calling to inquire about customer service training. Her comment reminded of a story I heard recently from marketing guru Dan Kennedy about a business owner client who overheard his inbound call center staff at work for the first time in years. A flood forced the business owner to take up residence in an office right next to where the inbound call center employees worked.

He was stunned by what he heard.

"What company do these people work for?" he wondered, incredulous at the disconnect between what he had taught and what they were saying to would be customers.

Years ago, when I lead a customer service training department at a large insurance company, I remember walking through the call center and flinching at certain voice tones I heard piercing the air. Some sounded like the stereotypical Flo the waitress whose voice had been altered by a three-pack-a-day-plus-pint-a-day habit. I remember thinking "Who hired this person in the first place?" Since the only channel you have available over the phone is auditory, you need your customers’ auditory experience to be pleasant at the bare minimum, not grating.

Fast forward several years, now out on my own, I listened it on customer care call center reps from a cable company to get background for upcoming training I was going to provide. I again found myself stunned by some of the voice tones and word choices I heard.


Hard, bored, cold.

Blowing by customers’ attempts to connect human to human, including making no comment when a customer mentioned they had recently lost a family member.

Do Your Customer Service Representatives Know What You’re Telling the World?

Do your customer service representatives understand your brand promise?

Do they know your marketing and advertising messages?

Do they know what you tell the marketplace about what differentiates you from your competition?

If you want to deliver a customer experience that sets you apart and…delivers what a potential customer expects you to deliver based on your branding and marketing efforts, you better make sure your customer service representatives know the customer experience your brand promises to deliver.

Do Your Customer Service Representatives Know They Make Your Brand Honest…or Not?

We have all experienced brand dishonesty. Who hasn’t been on hold for twenty minutes while listening to messages about how much that business values its customers? Who hasn’t heard a clever radio ad about how amazing a business’s customer service is, only to go there and be treated by an indifferent employee? When a business makes a brand promise and then delivers the opposite, it has an even worse effect than if customers arrived with no expectations and received mediocre service.

If thinking about delivering a brand promise seems too complex or too theoretical, think about the simple act of satisfying your customers. Customer satisfaction is created by the gap between the experience customers expect and the one they receive. If the service you deliver exceeds a customer’s expectations, you will have a satisfied customer. If your advertising creates high expectations and the experience delivered fails to meet them, you have a dissatisfied customer.

Do your customer service representatives understand the central role they play in your ability to deliver your brand promise?

One of the first actions I took when I was hired by the insurance company to lead their customer service training team was to address this in new employee orientation. We immediately stopped the "death by administrivia" orientation program with which my employer was currently tormenting new customer service representatives on Day One. Instead, we started out their first day talking about how they were the voice of our company. We wanted them to understand at a deep emotional level that, to our customers, they WERE our company.

Do your customer service representatives get that? Do you continually impress that upon them?

Do Your Customer Service Representatives Understand How Specifically They Can Deliver Your Brand Promise?

The specific behaviors that deliver your brand promise—plus those that help you achieve your business goals and strategic business objectives—are what I call your Behavioral Vision. Your Behavioral Vision is reverse engineered from your brand promise, your business goals, and your strategic business objectives. The employee behaviors that comprise your Behavioral Vision make these possible.

For your customer service employees to understand how they can make sure your brand promise is an honest one, and how they can help you achieve your goals, they need to know what specific behaviors make those possible.

You do this by giving examples, by sharing stories. For each key value or component of your brand promise, you want to give one or more examples of what that "looks and sounds like." You do that by collecting stories that illustrate that value, quality, or promise in action. You do that by taking customer feedback and using it as a teaching story.

What to Do With This

  1. Find out what experience your customer service representatives are actually delivering.—I recommend multiple sources for this information. At the simplest level would be to call your business or department and listen to the greeting. Conduct in depth customer interviews of both delighted and not-so-delighted customers. Seek out customers who have defected and interview them. Conduct a brand analysis to find out what your brand is—intellectually and emotionally—to your customers and the marketplace. Review your marketing materials for the brand promise you communicate. Analyze whether your processes and your customer service representatives are delivering your brand promise, and how they can deliver it better.

  2. Assess how you are communicating to your customer service representatives about the importance of their role and how they can best play it.—If you’re not communicating this clearly and compellingly, they might upgrade their service delivery short term. Sustaining great service over time—like Southwest Airlines has managed to do—takes having a clear strategy for keeping this message front and center inn all employees’ minds.

  3. Learn how to communicate a clear Behavioral Vision, and continuously coach using it.—Most of us endure mediocre service day in and day out, so that becomes our typical benchmark. If you want your customer service representatives to give great service, you need to upgrade their vision of what "equals" great service. Also, as mentioned previously, you need to educate them about what specific behaviors on their part allow you to deliver your brand promise. The greater your ability to communicate a clear Behavioral Vision of your brand promise, the more your customer service representatives can deliver the customer experience your brand promises.

David Lee, the founder of HumanNature@Work, works with employers who want to improve employee engagement, customer service, and morale. He has worked with organizations and presented at conferences both domestically and abroad