As consumers, we spend little time thinking about the people behind our favorite brands. We expect that the employees readying the products and services we spend our dollars on know who we are and what we need. After all, they are responsible for the experience we have. Plus, our loyalty reaps personal and professional rewards for them. Yet, do they really know us?
What about your organization’s employees? Do they know what gets your customers out of bed each morning and what their biggest concerns are? Do they know what the customer expects from your product and service? Conversely, do customers know what happens inside your company’s walls to take care of their needs day-in and day-out? Are you seen in their eyes as a corporate conglomerate or faceless brand, or do they see a dedicated team that is passionate about pleasing their customers?
There is a great opportunity to create a meaningful connection between your corporate culture and external customer base.
I work for Vermeer Corporation, a global industrial and agricultural equipment manufacturer. We recently underwent a major brand initiative to align our 3,000 employees, 600 dealers and countless suppliers with our global customer base. We knew we wanted to use a storytelling framework to connect our employees to our customers and our new brand promise. But, given our heavy manufacturing mindset, we were leery to call our efforts “branding.”
That’s where the idea of “customer alignment” came into play. Could we enable our employees to align their work more closely with our customers and their expectations of our company? The short answer? Yes.
Over the course of the last few years, but specifically at time of launch, our marketing and communications teams created multiple opportunities for our employees and customers to interact and get to know one another.
Here are a few tips to start aligning your customers and your employees.
Tip #1: Create opportunities for employees and customers to look each other in the eyes and share experiences. We have the luxury of having customers on our corporate campus regularly. But, in the instance of the brand launch, we went above and beyond by having customers come in to interact with our employees. Customers spent time on-the-line in our manufacturing environment and held small group conversations that we called confidence conversations with our office personnel.
Tip #2: Find ways for individual contributors to see customers using the product or service you provide. It’s meaningful for your team and the customer. After we launched the brand, our employees were hungry for more customer interaction. So, we introduced an application-based jobsite visit program. This allowed employees from functions like finance, manufacturing and IT to go out to customer jobsites to see our equipment in action. They came back with tangible ways we could better serve the customer and took it upon themselves to make improvements. As for the customers? Knowing Vermeer cares enough to send employees outside of engineering and sales to their jobsites was a huge hit.
Tip #3: Create voluntary brand champions within your company. Give them the tools to align to the brand. Even when it’s not possible to get customers to your offices regularly or to get employees out to the customer, you can champion customer stories. We hold a monthly 4-hour storytelling training open to all employees, where they can share their customer experiences and hear from others as well. We aim for a mix of customer-facing and non-customer-facing employees each month. They walk away as Vermeer brand builders with a framework and expectation to take their personal experiences and turn them into Vermeer brand stories they can use when influencing decisions that impact the customer.
I will be presenting more on this topic at the upcoming Strategic Collaboration Conference in Chicago (May 24-25). We’ll dig into more practical tips on how to create internal alignment and customer connection. The moral of the story? Develop a culture where knowing the customer is king not just inside your marketing and communications department, but throughout the company.
Kate Guess is the Director of Communication for Vermeer Corporation, a global industrial and agricultural equipment company. Prior to joining Vermeer in 2013, Kate most recently worked for a privately held patient communication company leading both marketing and training. She has also held marketing and communication positions at Motorola, Maytag, Polaris and Cold Stone Creamery. Kate earned a Bachelor of Science degree in Journalism and Mass Communication with a business minor from Iowa State University and a Master of Business Administration degree from the University of Northern Iowa. She is also accredited in public relations from the Public Relations Society of America. Connect with Kate on LinkedIn.