Why Your Frontline Staff Need to Be Your Best Storytellers
Amazon -- currently eyeing locales for a second U.S. headquarters -- knows that its core value lies with providing convenient, personal service to customers.
But Amazon faces a challenge in this expansion: how to maintain for customers the feeling of personalization they value, even as the company grows its brick-and-mortar presence. Amazon needs to keep its focus on convenience, as well, the way it's done, for example, through its recent partnership with Kohl's, enabling returns through Kohl’s stores.
With the level of financial success Amazon enjoys comes the opportunity to expand a brand through more and more locations: In fact, Amazon plans “pop-up” locations of mini retail storefronts.
For any company blessed enough (on a smaller scale, perhaps, than Amazon's) to expand its reach and to branch into new locations, it’s vital to stay connected to what people loved about them in the first place. That starts with hiring managers and a frontline staff who are all well-versed in what defines the brand. And that's where "story" comes in: The brands that can nurture, communicate and embody their stories will see noticeable growth: In fact, a PointArc study estimated that the business-to-consumer brands it looked at that put a focus on storytelling averaged 7 percent greater revenue as a direct result.
New market, same story
At Glassybaby, customers connect with the story behind our giving 10 percent of all revenue earned, as well as our sustainable products and the feeling evoked by the glass votives we make. The reason why that happens is our staff: At the start of managers' meetings, for example, we have everyone share a story of how the company has enhanced others' lives.
The anecdotes that result might be about running into a satisfied customer in the store, or hearing from a giving partner we’ve helped with a donation. No matter what the story, I know that I feel good being in a room with smart people who are as invested as I in making an impact -- and as dedicated to our brand narrative.
Your brand’s narrative, too, should course through each employee’s veins and flow freely from your front-line staff members, who are crucial to conveying the first impression your brand gives viewers. When you expand, and especially when you establish a new location, you must get the new staff members you add to connect with your brand story in order that new customers to do the same. Here’s how:
1. Ingrain that story in staff. Don’t discount the role employees can play in telling your story. A MSLGroup study estimated that brand messaging is 24 times more likely to connect with customers when employees deliver it than when the brand itself does. Members of your frontline staff need to deeply understand the story they’re supposed to tell and be empowered to tell it in their own way.
We opened our New York store with a new team and manager, both qualified but not as immersed in our story as I’d hoped. Our product’s story -- which revolves around what goes into coloring and naming each glass votive and our model of giving -- is its very essence. Instead of highlighting those story elements, our new staffers were emphasizing our in-store ambiance and offering customers 20-minute manicures as well as selling other products. Both actions attracted more customers to the store, but neither felt true to us.
Looking back, I should have transferred seasoned home-office managers to our New York store to help maintain our brand and storytelling continuity. Chances are that your best frontline storytellers know, value and in some cases have lived your story. Put them front and center to get your expansion off the ground.
2. Hire for harmony. Unsuccessful hires can come at a big price. Just ask Zappos' CEO Tony Hsieh, who's said he believes his own earlier hiring miscues -- prioritizing quick hires over the right ones and firing employees too slowly when those people failed to fit the brand’s culture and messaging -- cost his company $100 million. Teammates not doing their part to keep an organization’s heartbeat strong need to be carefully reassessed.
Our company isn’t just a business to me; it’s something I feel and know with all my heart. And I think part of the reason we’ve fired more people than we’ve permanently hired is that I’ve always been able to tell when employees don’t "feel" the product and culture the way some of us do. Some companies thrive off employees bouncing opposing ideas and opinions off one another. To me, our company is at its best when everyone is of one mind and comes to a single decision without any heated confrontation.
Different opinions are great, but don’t be afraid to let go of people who don’t align with your company’s big vision. According to Cornerstone OnDemand’s Toxic Employees in the Workplace report, good employees are 54 percent more likely to quit jobs if their co-workers are considered toxic. The more people you bring along who aren’t focused on your overall direction, the easier it is for the entire team to wander off the trail.
3. Make your story accessible from the top down.
When people have worked with your brand for a long time, they've absorbed its message. They know instinctively what your brand represents, why it looks the way it looks and what its value is. Connect these people who have built the brand with you to the newer staff members on the front line.
Sometimes, that’s as simple as working alongside employees in something like an open workspace. For example, HubSpot’s offices have C-suite executives sitting in cubicles in the same room as interns. I’ve worked alongside our staff at the register. While I’m not ringing up every purchase, I’m there telling our story to customers and employees and helping them absorb the spirit of what we’re trying to do.
Just as in a family, it’s the older members who create and pass down stories to keep the family identity strong -- that’s what you should cultivate during your own expansion. If you’re going into a new market, have a seasoned employee head up the move and take a hands-on approach to ensure your values and story continue to translate to your new staff and to the customer.
For a new product or location, team a longtime employee or executive with planners of the new venture to connect those changes to the company ethos. Leaders and proven people within your company should be involved in all aspects of your expansion to make sure it’s rooted in a company’s core values and story.
Your product and what goes into it sells. Train your frontline salespeople as storytellers first and foremost to ensure your story matters wherever you decide to go next.