Is a chilly reception part of your brand?

Shutterstock_6607723 This weekend, my daughter and I embarked on the first of what no doubt will be many college visits.  We headed up to MN to visit my mom and check out one of the schools on her short list, St. Olaf.

We got there early, which was fortuitous because of three colliding factors.

  1. It had unexpectedly snowed the night before
  2. We had only packed clothes with short sleeves
  3. The walking tour of the campus was scheduled for an hour

So while she got us checked in, I ran over to the campus bookstore.  I got there around 9:40 and according to the signage, it opened at 10.  The exact time the admissions presentation was starting.  There were two middle-aged women inside the store, bustling about, putting cash drawers in the registers, etc.

Meanwhile, I am lurking at the door.

They straightened the t-shirt table.  They re-arranged a pumpkin display.

Meanwhile, I am pacing outside the door.

Did I mention the incredible lengths they went to, just to avoid making eye contact?  You see, the store walls were floor to ceiling glass, so they couldn't really miss me.

At exactly 10 am on the dot, they meandered over to the door and unlocked it.  I scooted past them with a hurried hello and rushed to the St. Olaf logo-wear, which of course, I had been eying for the past 20 minutes.

I grabbed the heaviest sweatshirts I could find and literally 4 minutes after walking in the door, I was at the register, ready to check out.  My guess is…this is not how their average customer behaves.

The clerk rang me up and while she was keying in the amounts, I asked her if she might have a scissors I could borrow to cut off the tags.  She looked at me and asked, "oh, are you going to wear these now?"

I laughed and pointed to my short sleeved shirt.  I told her I was there with my daughter, on a campus tour and we hadn't packed for the weather. She looked at me like I was a moron and handed me the scissors.

No, "welcome to St. Olaf" or "you're going to love the XYZ" or "be sure to check out the ABC." 

From the get -go of ignoring me outside the doors to the final kiss off, these two women could not have been less welcoming. 

From what I've seen so far, St. Olaf has a pretty aggressive recruitment strategy.  Plenty of expensive, four-color mailings, lots of personal attention, etc.

All with the solitary goal of making students and their parents feel like St. Olaf might be home for the next four years.  Guess which employees left the most lasting impression on me, the guy who will be footing the bill?

I think this happens every day in companies across the globe.  Marketing and other C-level people invest hours and dollars exploring and defining their brand.  Only to have it completely violated by one of their own teammates.

How do you know that everyone in your organization not only understands your brand…but is motivated to deliver it?  Are you sure?

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12 comments on “Is a chilly reception part of your brand?

  1. Jo Jordan says:

    The C Suite isn’t paid to develop marketing plans – they have front line staff to do that for them! They are paid to bring everything together. If staff are thoroughly demotivated that comes down to them. They take hefty salaries and are manifestly not doing their job.

    Equally, I don’t you’ll have any sympathy with the women in the shop when you hear the college is in trouble.

    Look elsewhere. Not a well led place.

  2. seo says:

    An interesting event you came across.Actually it is quite important to have a motivated group of people and educate them about the value and reputation of your brand.One wrong thing can change your reputation at its head.Your brands reputation is quite important from business perspective and to do this you have to make sure that you have educated everyone about how to tackle a customer.

  3. The thing is, front-line experience often forms a long lasting picture in a customer’s mind.

    However, front-line workers are often seen as being cheap, easily replaced and not work training by many employers (bit of a gross generalisation there) – but it’s true.

    If the first employee a new customer will meet doesn’t really care about the success of the business overall – and has no investment (be that financial or emotional) in how it is presented – the experience you present could be far below optimal!

  4. Ashley Anderson says:

    Interesting experience, and it’s sad that it happens ALL THE TIME. I was blatantly ignored by a saleslady at a home improvement store not too long ago because I was wearing an Iowa State sweatshirt. I wasn’t helped until someone pointed to me and said that I was there first and they would wait. The lady honestly ROLLED HER EYES AT ME. And after my transaction was finished, the saleslady said “Go Hawks!”

    Regardless of the fact that it was just ONE employee, I don’t go there anymore. More than anything, it’s just surprising that things like that happen.

  5. Some people get it, some don’t. In a recent conversation with our city manager, he talked about trying to trim the budget top down because, “the people at the bottom are who actually give the customers the service we keep saying we are gonna give.” He gets it. Too bad he’s only the interim guy and probably won’t get a chance to make a difference long term.

    Most companies would benefit if more resources went to hiring and training the frontline staff and getting them to understand your branding efforts than any other part of the business – including the branding efforts, themselves!

  6. Nigel Dean says:

    Really great example Drew, which shows that marketing counts for little when customer service doesn’t back up the promises which we make.

    The comment from Phil Wrzesinski sums up my point of view. Some people get it, but so many don’t. Remember “the people at the bottom (I prefer ‘Front Line’ but I am not going to argue) are who actually give the customers the service we keep saying we are gonna give.”

    But do they know what is required? Does Marketing get involved in training and developing front line staff? Do they have the time and resources to provide the best service? Are they motivated to do it? Most employees want to do a good job, so let them know what you want them to do, then reward them for doing it. I also believe that this cannot be done without effective internal marketing which is fully integrated with your external marketing.

  7. Karin H says:

    Nigel, should ‘Marketing’ be involved in the training of front-line staff, sounds as if they – marketing – are the ones responsible or even the only ones who matter in relationship building training.

    ‘Cos don’t forget there is also the matter of ‘internal’ clients – where departments ‘supply’ other departments with goods, services etc.

    IMHO you cannot pinpoint one specific department that should be involved in training, customer service mentality should be ingrained in all systems and procedures, no matter if the staff are front-end or back-end. The cook and the dish washer ‘boy’ also need to know why the clients – students in this case – expect great food, serviced at the right temperature, on the right places on clean plates and at the right time 😉

    Karin H. (Keep It Simple Sweetheart, specially in business)

  8. Maxwell Stein says:

    I am a soon to be graduating college student, but I remember those days all too well. I visited at least 15 schools, state and private in the Midwest. Almost every one of them had a phenomenal admissions team; they promised me the world, and I felt like the only customer. Most colleges offer an overnight stay where they match the prospective with a student for one night. I think this provides a much more realistic view or what to expect. You meet people, check out the food, hear gossip and get a ‘vibe’ even after one day. I would recommend this for any college your daughter is serious about. Be wary of admission’s smoke and mirrors.
    Best of luck,

  9. Great story Drew. Companies truly do not spend enough time caring about and training the front-line employees, those facing customers every day. Sadly, those are usually the ones that are paid the least, so they’re not as invested as the rest. Still, the U has to know that the bookstore is one of the most frequented spots for guests!

  10. Hi Drew,

    This is a great example of how marketing is often transitory but customer experience leaves a lasting impression.

    I had a similar experience at a pastry shop a colleague suggested for a meeting. It was rainy and cold, and I stood around 10 minutes waiting for them to open–late–while they ignored me. They even ignored their regulars, who turned up and gave me advice about what to order. Not sure how they have any regular customers; I haven’t been back.


  11. jnewman1 says:

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  12. And remember…technically, they did nothing wrong. They opened their shop right on time. They sold me what I needed. They were pleasant.

    But they weren’t remarkable. It’s not so much what they did. It’s what they didn’t do. They had a golden opportunity and they missed it because delivering on the brand isn’t part of their day to day mindset.


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