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Brands Are Built With Bridges Not Silos

by David Stewart

Brands are all about customer experience. Great brands deliver great experiences regardless of whether that experience is the taste of a freshly baked pizza, an exhilarating ride in sports car, or a refreshing night’s sleep on a firm mattress. Products that fail to deliver are rarely on the market for long.

The responsibility for brand building usually resides with marketing and sales, but these business functions cannot deliver an experience, product benefits, or satisfied paying customers without the help of the rest of the organization. Who has not been frustrated by a payment department or a retail clerk who could not seem to get the payment right? Most consumers have suffered through a defective product that a service department could not seem to repair or even acknowledge. The problem can be even greater in service organizations. The experience of a guest staying in a hotel is influenced by a wide array of factors: the check-in experience, the cleanliness of the room, whether the Internet connection works, the noise coming from inside or outside the hotel, the quality and speed of food service, and many other factors that marketing neither manages nor in many cases even interacts with. Nevertheless, the experience and satisfaction of the customer depend on these many other functions performing their roles in a manner that meets or exceeds customer expectations.

Organizational Silos And Bridges: Their Role In Building Brands

It is often the case that operational and service failures occur because people in organizations work in silos, and many of those silos have been created for the convenience of employees and the firm rather than that of customers. Consider the airline that has decided to sell food rather than provide it as they once did. Customers might be willing to purchase food but on some airlines they can only do so with a credit card – no cash please. In fact, there is at least one airline where only credit cards are accepted on some flights but only cash is accepted on other flights! There are probably operational reasons for such practices but they leave customers frustrated and confused. Or consider the financial services company that decided to better serve its high wealth customers by reducing their access to basic banking services at the local branch in favor of providing these customers with “personal” bankers who could only be reached, if at all, by telephone. Needless to say, the customer seeking to make a simple transfer of funds from one account to another is irate when the teller explains they do not have the authority to make the transfer. To make matters worse, these high worth customer had not even been informed of the change. Again, this was a case a good intentions and efforts at operational efficiency by the bank but it did not meet expectations.

It is easy to conclude that these types of problems occur because people are not doing their jobs. The reality is that these problems arise precisely because people are doing their jobs and perhaps doing them very well. No. These problems arise because many jobs are defined within a narrow range, a silo that does not recognize nor appreciate the broader impact of actions and how employees’ jobs are defined: my job is to handle maintenance, not create a satisfied customer.

Marketing’s Role In Converting Silos To Bridges

The marketing function can be helpful in busting these silos by building bridges to other functions in the firm. Marketing can be the voice of the customer in the firm and represent the customer when the firm is making operational decisions that will impact customers (and most operational decisions do impact customers at some point). However it is the role of senior management to create and support the type of cross-functional teams that will infuse the voice of the customer throughout the organization.

The Ritz-Carlton hotel chain, whose motto is “Ladies and Gentlemen Serving Ladies and Gentlemen,” provides an extraordinary example of how to eliminate silos as it creates a consistently positive experience for its guests. Every morning, the entire staff of each hotel meets to address service issues. Participants include gardeners, housekeeping staff, the restaurant waitpersons, the front-desk staff, and so forth. If a guest’s luggage wasn’t delivered to her room in a timely basis, the staff member who received the complaint lets other employees know about it. That evening, as the guest takes her seat in the dining room, her waiter might say, “We understand you had a delay in getting your luggage. Please accept a complementary dessert as our way of apologizing for the inconvenience.” Through ongoing communication, the Ritz coordinates service across the hotel and demonstrates its awareness of and appreciation for guests’ concerns. This kind of careful coordination among functions can go a long way toward overcoming a negative experience—so customers keep coming back. It is this type of bridge building within the organization that destroys silos and creates satisfied customers.

Contributed to Branding Strategy Insider by: David Stewart, Emeritus Professor of Marketing and Business Law, Loyola Marymount University, Author, Financial Dimensions Of Marketing Decisions.

At The Blake Project we are helping clients from around the world, in all stages of development, reach their next stage of growth from the inside-out. Please email us for more. 

Branding Strategy Insider is a service of The Blake Project: A strategic brand consultancy specializing in Brand Research, Brand Strategy, Brand Growth and Brand Education

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