I have always been fascinated by the intrinsic link between brand promise, employee engagement and how employees’ belief in and connection to their organisation’s vision comes to life. Years ago, in the height of the banking sector’s heyday, I ran a series of sales courses designed for relationship managers from one of the UK’s leading high street banks. The series was a huge success, with attendees charged and hungry to win new business. Their belief in the organisation’s growth and the vision of its future prospects was unequivocal and left a lasting impression. In fact, I was so taken by this enthusiasm that when setting up my own company, I decided that this was the bank for my business. I wholeheartedly bought into their brand promise and felt that if my business could be supported by employees with that much belief in their organisation’s offering, I could not lose.
Then, years later, the banking crisis hit and the promises once valued seemed a distant memory. What happened to the engaged employees hungry to sell the virtues of their bank to new customers? Suddenly it felt, even as a customer, that the message ‘You are lucky to have a job in such uncertain times…’ had stripped the banking employees’ drive and commitment. Perhaps it felt safer to do exactly what was expected rather than try to stand out from the competition?
Donning my undercover detective hat, I hit the high street looking for a new business bank that would once again share my values and commitment to employee engagement and meeting the brand promise. The first point I noted was that of the four branches that I walked into, not one had a dedicated business representative. After waiting in line at the first bank for over 15 minutes, I was given a brochure on business banking but told that the phone number listed was incorrect – yet the representative could not provide the correct one. A representative at the second bank wrote the business banking phone number on a scrap of paper. At the remaining branches, I was directed to take a brochure from the display. No one offered to take my details and pass them on to a relevant person.
‘We care about you and your business’; ‘we grow with you’. Brand promise matters to customers, and words seemed to restore my faith in finding a bank that could deliver. This was further supported by analysis from the Institute of Customer Service’s UKCSI (UK Customer Satisfaction Index) research that the banking sector scores relatively well on people-related measures and received above-average scores in areas such as friendliness of staff, attitude of staff and staff doing what they say they will do. I figured, perhaps over time, some branches had just become transactional shop fronts, unequipped to deal with walk-in business. I took this on the chin and entered into round two: a phone-a-thon, attempting to access the service I had been promised by the fresh and polished websites I saw online.
On the phone, I was met by indifference. At bank one, the phone rang out twice without an answer. I went onto their outsource call centre, who instructed me to call back in an attempt to get the department that I needed. I tried four more times over two days and finally requested for my call to be returned. No call ever came. At another bank, the representative told me that they were still being sold and rebranded; I should wait until the process was completed to become a customer. The third bank simply directed me back to their website. I never spoke to the fourth after three calls spent on hold for upwards of 10 minutes each.
Barriers and broken processes prevented me from reaching anyone remotely akin to the engaged employees that I met on the sales course all those years ago. Though their marketing teams made strong and enticing propositions, their frontline teams failed to deliver their brands’ promises. With employee satisfaction falling in the UKCSI from 77.9% in July 2013 to 76.3% in July 2014, I firmly believe that businesses must better focus their employees on the future prospects of their businesses, allow them to be participants in its future growth and ensure that internal communication reflects the external brand promise. It is time to put the drive back in the service industry.