1 Nov. 2017
Are Frontline Employees Brand Ambassadors?
Employees are rarely thought of as brand ambassadors, yet behavior of frontline employees can almost break a brand’s reputation. Since consumers may evaluate a brand based on their interactions with its employees, especially when the employees are the first or the only sources of brand awareness, planning, managing, and monitoring these interactions can be very important. In this paper, the authors investigated how strategically aligning frontline interactions with brand positioning effects a brand’s overall evaluation and customer-based equity. They also researched two factors involved in the relationship: conceptual fluency of the alignment and employee authenticity. The findings can be utilized by new and emerging brands and by people who want to build personal brands.
The researchers set forth four hypotheses. First (1), overall brand evaluation and customer-based brand equity are more when employee behavior is aligned with brand personality than when it is misaligned with the same. Second (2), the positive effect of employee-brand alignment is stronger for unfamiliar brands than for familiar brands. Third (3), conceptual fluency mediates the positive relationship proposed, and the meditative effect is stronger for unfamiliar brands than for familiar brands. Fourth (4), the positive effect of employee-brand alignment is stronger when employee behavior is authentic. Again, the effect would be stronger for unfamiliar brands than for familiar brands.
Four different studies were run to test the hypotheses and the reliability of the finding. In the first study, the participants read a cover story that included information about brand personality (rugged or sophisticated) and date of incorporation (familiar or unfamiliar). They listened to a simulated service call and rated the employee on personal qualities, focal brand, and customer service. At the end of the survey, they responded to, in their own words, how the retailer could improve its customer service. Both hypotheses 1 and 2 were confirmed in the study. In the second study, the researchers looked at the role of conceptual fluency in the proposed relationship. They held brand personality constant (sophisticated), but employee behavior was either rugged or sophisticated. They found that, conceptual fluency, meaning how easily consumers understand what a brand represents, mediated the relationship found earlier. Hence, hypothesis 3 was confirmed. In the third study, almost the same methodology was used. The voice actors in the recording were either authentic (they embodied the brand's personality) or unauthentic (they only promised the brand's personality but did not internalize it). Here, hypothesis 4 was confirmed. However, for familiar brands, employee authenticity appeared disconnected from brand evaluation.
The findings lead to many implications. For a new brand, their front-line employees can be their brand ambassadors. They need to be careful while hiring to ensure that new employees' personalities already align with their brand personality. Of course, perfect alignment may be difficult to find. They should be ready to pay their employees more to incentivize them to learn their brand personality. A minimum wage attitude won't work. Paying employees more should also make them like their employer more, which may encourage them to willingly emulate the brand’s personality. Nevertheless, once the brand becomes known, managers can refrain from raising their incomes since the relationship weakens with familiarity.
Human resource development should also focus specifically on employee authenticity. Presumably, it is not difficult to act in a certain way or say certain words, but consumers are evidently more instinctive. They can detect inauthentic demeanor. Managers should collect consumer opinions on employees’ personalities very frequently so they know that the brand personality consumers are extrapolating from the personality of the employee(s) they interact with is the actual brand personality. The findings can also be extended to argue that every other employee, not only those at the front end, may also contribute to a brand's image if he or she is situated at a touchpoint.
It can be suggested that there is no perfect approach to customer service. Being neat and clean matters only if the brand portrays that. If the brand personality is rugged or economical, it might lower brand evaluation. The stereotypical paradigm of good grammar, perfect enunciation, professionalism may all lower both brand evaluation and customer-brand equity unless the brand personality is the same. Hence, customer service should be approached top-down rather than bottom-up. Strategic positioning should dictate how customer service professionals behave rather than the conventional wisdom about everyday customer service.
The suggestions may also be used to build personal brands. Most people are not well-known. They are heavily evaluated on their behavior because there is no background value chain already present [they are akin to new brands]. Here, strategic alignment should be of utmost importance. How they dress, speak, walk, and what all they do would altogether impact their brand evaluation. The newer they are, the more impact there would be of all the above factors. Thus, people must understand their core values and their mission. With a personal strategy, they can direct all their actions and interests. When everything is strategically aligned, they can establish a very strong personal brand.
Even though frontline employees are hired just to do low-level jobs, they are immensely important for new and emerging brands. Cashiers at restaurants, janitors at hotels, and customer service professionals at banks can be way more influential than previously thought of. Not only should their behaviors be consistent with their employer's brand but also be perceived as authentic, or else their roles get reduced to mere workers, in which case, firms leave opportunities untapped.
Sirianni, Nancy J., et al. “Branded Service Encounters: Strategically Aligning Employee
Behavior with the Brand Positioning.” Journal of Marketing, vol. 77, no. 6, Nov. 2013, pp.