Bourbon on the rocks
Chill glass. Put whiskey stones in. Pour bourbon. This isn’t about the drink, it’s about branding. I first was introduced to bourbon through Knob Creek. I’d had Jim Beam before, but it was usually as a substitute for Jack Daniels in accompanying Coca Cola. I swore I’d never drink Beam once I discovered Knob Creek, Makers Mark, and their contemporaries. I was rather embarrassed when somebody dropped the bombshell: Makers and Knob Creek were both Beam products. The alternate labels were merely tools to find the market like me, those who would recoil at “Jim Beam Reserve” or “Beam Especial.” Branding, right?
In an early post, I talked about the conversation I had with another manager about the “ideal candidate.” The topic as a whole was establishing a broad, diverse, and loyal candidate base for hiring. One social media branding class later and a Beam/Knob Creek-like bombshell hit me, taking on such a campaign is entirely similar to establishing a broad, diverse, and loyal customer base. It should have hit me sooner as this manager was the one who introduced me to the concept that our employees are our customers.
To build a customer base, one needs to have a product or service to sell. It should be of reasonable quality: people are loyal to Kellogg’s Raisin Bran, but few seem to be loyal to that generic clear plastic bag of raisins and bran flakes at the end of the aisle. Tag Heuer and Mont Blanc are passed down from generation to generation, but I’ve seen people leave Bic pens, unchained, at banks. The difference is that you know there will be two scoops of raisins in that box of cereal (how big is a scoop?) and that Tag Heuer will keep time better than any drummer not named Neil Peart. Tag, Mont Blanc, and Kellogg’s know what they provide and can project that with clarity. For an employer, the product is the working environment, the management style, Total Compensation Package, and experience. Knowing and being able to communicate the quality of these aspects is the first key.
Second, you need people capable of creating that product on the front line. Switching cereal brands for a moment, think of those Honey Bunches of Oats ads. These people, or the people the actors portray as the case may be, know and believe in their product…sometimes a little too much. It is because of Diana Hunter and her compatriots that Post can credibly peddle their cereal. Your employees may be making the product or the service that builds company loyalty, but it’s the management team that produces that working environment, provides the management style, offers the Total Compensation Package, and shapes the employee experience. If a department is undisciplined, unsafe, unsanitary, it’s because the manager allows it.
Third is understanding that relationships take time. Every salesperson knows that a customer that is gained in one “call” can be lost in one “call.” It takes time to establish a relationship, establish that loyalty. Apple released the iconic “1984” video seven years after it was established. Even today they are far from the largest market share in PCs and cellular phones, adhering to their 15-18% market share as Android consumed Symbian and others to seize 81% of today’s cell phone market. However, those 15-18% remain fiercely loyal to the brand in part because of the relationship established in that ground-breaking commercial 30 years ago. Recruiters can use universities, online aggregators, and temp agencies to fill spots, but the staying power and treatment of those placed in the organization will decide if the agency wishes to continue a relationship with an organization. And what better advocate in the recruiting world than professional recruiters?
Finally, and I can’t stress this enough, have an effective feedback protocol. Nordstrom famously has a generous return policy, so it’s no surprise that any region that has a Nordstrom has cars toting the “Outta My Way, I’m on my way to Nordstrom.” It’s not about giving away the shop either. Southwest Airlines, Starbucks, and USAA consistently rank highly in customer satisfaction because they actually have people who will LISTEN. Raley’s (Nob Hill, et al) appeals to me because they frequently leave recorded voice messages about food recalls including detailed information on what’s being recalled and how to reconcile the issue. Employees are an excellent source of feedback. They should feel free to complain about issues in their workplace and, when legitimate, see an effort in correcting the issue. An employee who is voluntarily (or sometimes involuntarily) leaving your organization should be allowed a “no holds barred” exit interview. Bad companies will endeavor to discredit the departing employee’s testimony; the good ones will work to address those departing issues.
At the end of the day, we are selling our organizations as the “employer of choice.” We need to remember the effort that is required in building that lasting relationship. From this, we can take a cue from our sales force.