Is Your Operation Brand Driven?

Kathleen Peterson Rants & Raves by Kathleen Peterson

Consider popular book titles such as “Execution” and “Confronting Reality.” These focus on the importance of making things happen, getting things done, and the significant (in fact, crucial) impact this has on overall company performance. What books like these really deal with are Operations. Operations are present throughout the enterprise and represent all manner of activity. In many companies they are important enough to warrant a Chief Operations Officer (COO), or Senior VP of Operations. According to Wikipedia, “the focus of the COO is on strategic, tactical, and short-term OM (Operations Management) which means he or she is responsible for the development, design, operation, and improvement of the systems that create and deliver the firm’s products/services.” COO’s everywhere are facing a new and complicated challenge – to integrate the company Brand into the operational side of the enterprise house.

Customer Care is an operation. Back office activity is an operation. Distribution is an operation. Manufacturing … the list goes on and on. When we are responsible for managing an operational area within an enterprise we must focus not only on the functional activities but on the manner in which these activities are “executed.” Herein is the distinction of the “Brand Driven Operation.”

A Brand Driven Operation understands the impact its performance has on the Customer Experience and on the Brand itself. Brand has been traditionally thought of as a marketing function. But it is much more than the packaging, logos, advertising, and “spin” that surround a product or service. Brand has emerged in the Customer Experience revolution as a means to define the behaviors, processes, talent requirements, cross-functional effectiveness, and all other aspects of execution associated with the delivery of the Brand “promise.” Brand must manifest as an experience. Brand is a company’s identity in the marketplace and is, at least in part, responsible for attracting customers. It is branded experiences that retain customers.

When a company’s Brand promotes high quality products or services, operations better be up to the task of delivering on that promise. The translation of Brand to operations is the job of the business leader. The leader must understand the tasks, tools, cross-functional relationships, and behaviors required to deliver on the promise of the Brand. Leaders must also understand the budget requirements to deliver on the Brand promise and be able to build a compelling case for investment.

If your operation’s objective is quality, there must be cross-functional responsibility. For example, if Manufacturing has its priority wrong and focuses more on speed or cost-cutting than on quality, no amount of being nice or possessing excellent communication skills in Customer Care will repair the Brand damage done by poor decisions made elsewhere. And it is unlikely that a peer leader will be able to alter decisions made in another area. The data that proves the impact of such decisions is the kind of compelling evidence that spurs action from the COO types of the world, and they can actually influence changes of a significant nature within the enterprise. When there are failures in cross-functional relationships that damage the Customer Experience, data (empirical evidence) is the real driver of significant change.

When the Brand promise includes promptness and accuracy (critical for Healthcare, Insurance, Finance, Utilities, etc.), but the back-office operations are flawed, the experience and the Brand are exposed to damage – not to mention the additional contacts from customers to straighten out messes or answer status inquiries. This is all pure cost, offers minimal value, and provides very little as far an experience or revenue generating opportunity. It is very difficult to up-sell a customer with troubles.

The Brand promise also includes proper support from IT/IS. Organizations in which the IT department takes a paternal posture – one where “they know best” – often neglect to include “domain experts” such as the Contact Center leadership when discussions and decisions are being made regarding the tools primarily used by the Contact Center. Tools such as the Automatic Call Distribution (ACD) system, Recording/Reporting, and Workforce Management tools (to name a few) are loaded with functionality that many IT staff have never been trained on. Or if they have, they still lack an intimate level of experience – running a Contact Center and actually using the tools – to effectively deploy these unique applications.

Unlike many other applications, Contact Center tools allow for massive changes to be made in real time, for reporting to be delivered in more ways than there are to count, and for data to be provided that allows the Contact Center to craft a nimble response to ever-changing dynamics while simultaneously managing queue delays and staffing requirements.

When a new or replacement ACD is deployed without input from the domain experts, it is likely to include serious “restrictions” in accessing the reporting engine, changing skills or queues in real time, utilizing supervisor tools, etc. This model expects Contact Center staff to “open a ticket” with the IT Help Desk when they want to make these types of changes. This model also denies the enterprise access to the very thing that makes ACD systems cost so much – REAL TIME MANAGEMENT! Only those that do not understand Contact Centers would deploy this investment in such a way as to minimize, not OPTIMIZE its value.

The Brand promise cannot be enhanced while investments in sophisticated tools to drive efficiency and improve the Customer Experience are deployed with a classic software implementation mentality instead of a more accepted telecommunication approach. What is that accepted approach? It is when implementation is preceded by a requirements discussion with end users (aka “domain experts).” It seems simple enough doesn’t it?

Let me put it this way. Would IT dare deliver a new CRM system to Marketing without their input? It’s doubtful. But the Contact Center, where enormous amounts of interaction time with customers takes place, is expected to agree to have no input regarding requirements. Why is that? Sadly, we continue to see this condition and no one seems to know the reason … it’s just the way it is.

So when it comes to the Brand Driven Operation, understand the promises that your company has made to the customer. Evaluate your operation’s effectiveness in meeting that promise. Ask questions: Do you have the right people, technology tools and permissions, processes, training, leadership, and BUDGET to deliver? Are your cross-functional relationships healthy? Do you genuinely share being Brand Driven? Are you collecting data that identifies improvement opportunities? Think about it … then do something!

I long to accomplish great and noble tasks, but it is my chief duty to accomplish humble tasks as though they were great and noble. The world is moved along, not only by the mighty shoves of its heroes, but also by the aggregate of the tiny pushes of each honest worker. Helen Keller

My Best,