Customers won’t love your company until your employees do

In the age of transparency, your culture is your brand

We live in an age of transparency where consumers are rich with information. They’re aware of how brands behave from the inside out and support brands that align with their values, cares and concerns.

How does a successful brand withstand this scrutiny? By being an open book. A company’s leadership must be clear about what matters most to the brand — then inspire, empower and equip their employees to authentically live those values out with contagious enthusiasm. After all, how can you expect your customers to love your brand unless your own people do?

A disconnect between your brand and the actions of your employees comes at a high cost. Your company can find itself labeled untrustworthy and inauthentic. Social media can ignite a storm of bad publicity and mockery. Repairing your brand and your reputation becomes a full-time distraction from actually running your business. But if your people love and live your brand with authentic buy-in and enthusiasm, you’ll find yourself reaping piles of goodwill, trust, and loyalty. 

To illustrate, let’s look at two companies that could use a little help and two that are living their brands from the inside out.

On the culture struggle bus: Wells Fargo and Uber

In 2016, Wells Fargo ran into trouble when it was revealed that customer-facing employees had been behaving unethically to meet sales pressure. Millions of accounts were opened under customers’ names without their knowledge; improper mortgage fees were charged; unneeded auto insurance was sold; and deceptive car loans resulted in 25,000 repossessions.  Management turned a blind eye as goals were met and bonuses flowed. 

A wounded Wells Fargo made adjustments, changing goals and commission formulas. But they have not helped employees buy back into the brand: Many complain their income has not been supplemented to cover the amount lost to lower goals and commissions — an especially painful slight after the CEO received a 36% raise last year to earn more than $17 million annually. Until their employees trust Wells Fargo, it will be hard for customers to trust them and they will continue to struggle.

Uber suffered from a toxic, cut-throat culture at the head office. Employees had very little loyalty to a company where everyone was out for themselves. While the company implemented remedies in 2017, Uber is still recovering. Almost two years later, when Uber filed its initial public offering, leadership showed a surprising amount of self-awareness in their disclosures:

“Challenges related to our culture and workplace practices and negative publicity we experienced have in the past led to significant attrition and made it more difficult to attract high-quality employees.
The loss of qualified executives and employees, or an inability to attract, retain and motivate
high-quality executives and employees required for the planned expansion of our business, may harm our operating results and impair our ability to grow.”

While Uber still has work to do to regain the trust of their workforce, we applaud their self-awareness. The company’s next step? It must create a culture of inclusion and positivity, work for employee buy-in and get the word out to customers.

Winning with culture: Southwest Airlines and Starbucks

Southwest Airlines has defined the modern employee-first culture. Every employee is hired for, and buys into, three pillars: a warrior spirit, a servant’s heart and a “fun-luving” attitude. Potential leaders are recognized, lauded and sent for leadership training. Employees are empowered and appreciated. Executives and managers model expected behavior and coach associates who need guidance.

By putting its employees first and empowering them to make sure every customer’s experience is five-star, Southwest enjoys a 4% voluntary employee turnover rate, while 85% of its employees say they are proud to work for Southwest. Happy employees make for happy customers, resulting in the fewest customer complaints in the industry.

Starbucks knows how to treat its employees — and they, in turn, love to live their brand. Starbucks has provided healthcare benefits to both full-time and part-time employees, including same sex and domestic partners, since 1992,. The company also reimburses college tuition, offers stock and a 401(k) plan.

Starbucks has valued diversity and inclusion from the start, so when racial discrimination in a Philadelphia store made news in 2018, Starbucks looked deep into its brand and closed every store for sensitivity training to double down on its corporate values:

“Creating a culture of warmth and belonging, where everyone is welcome. Acting with courage, challenging the status quo and finding new ways to grow our company and each other. Being present, connecting with transparency, dignity and respect. Delivering our very best in all we do, holding ourselves accountable for results.”

By simply reaffirming who it was as a culture, Starbucks empowered and unified its employees with the knowledge, tools and camaraderie to pull through the crisis with renewed belief in the brand.

As we have seen with examples like Wells Fargo, Uber, Southwest and Starbucks, your brand starts from the inside out — with the people that bring it to life. Building a solid foundation of culture among employees is a winning strategy to building a strong, resonant, meaningful brand with consumers.

(This sponsored content was provided by Signal.csk.)

Cheryl Farr is the founder of SIGNAL.csk, a Denver-based brand consultancy and strategic creative firm. She is a brand innovator, public speaker, a former lifestyle and travel writer, mid-century modernist, passionate traveler, New York Giants fan and Instagram voice of her shih tzu, Harry Carson.

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