Create a Branded Service Experience
By Susan Hash
Companies spend millions each year on marketing and advertising to distinguish their products from their competitors. Yet after spending their time and resources to create very specific perceptions and expectations about their brand's unique personality, most companies undercut their efforts by offering a generic service experience when customers call.

A generic customer experience may not be bad—in fact, your frontline agents may be highly efficient and professional. But if customers can't distinguish the experience that they had with your center from other call centers, it's not likely to inspire loyalty.

What is it that turns a good service experience into a branded experience? That is the million-dollar question—one that most companies are getting wrong. "The brand is the emotional connection that a product or service has with the customer," says Janelle Barlow, president of TMI US and co-author of Branded Customer Service: The New Competitive Edge. "Many organizations view their service delivery standards as good or bad—did I satisfy my customer or not? But as research shows, satisfied customers are not necessarily loyal ones. If your customer strategy is branded service, then your standards need to focus on engaging the customers with the brand—did they walk away with a stronger feeling about what you're promising, and what you stand for?"

Because a branded experience is primarily emotional, the contact center's hiring, training and management processes need to be aligned to ensure that frontline staff have the personalities and skills to support the brand—and that you have processes in place to support your staff. The following are just a few of the critical components needed to drive a branded service experience.

Recruiting and Hiring: Unfortunately, not all of your staff may be emotionally suited for the new role. "Getting the right people is half the battle," says Barlow. "Not everyone is capable of representing a brand, and not every brand is appealing to everybody. You need people who like the product, and like what your company stands for. If they aren't passionate about it, then they should be working someplace else."

Education: Delivering a branded experience over the phone is not easy. Frontline reps will need to be educated on service competencies and techniques to engage the customer, which is very different from the skills training reps typically receive.

Communicate: Does the staff know the story of your brand? Do they know how that story translates into service delivery? "Many organizations think that they can just tell the staff to show up and deliver an emotional product. But the brand has to be sold emotionally to the staff, as well as to the consumers," says Barlow.

Empowerment: Frontline staff must be empowered and encouraged to make decisions on their own to satisfy customers. Unfortunately, most companies send conflicting messages to frontline agents by focusing too strictly on efficiency metrics, like handle time. While most centers can't do away with handle time, make sure that your staff clearly understand the experience that you're trying to create, and empower them to decide when they need to spend a little more time with the customer.

Engagement: Customers are often much more engaged with the brand than the staff is. "That's a huge disconnect," says Barlow. "When you buy something, you want that staff person to be as excited for you as you are about having just made that purchase." Disengaged staff tend to deliver generic service, and actively disengaged employees can actually damage the business by devaluing the product to customers.

NCCI Holdings, a workers compensation insurance carrier based in Boca Raton, Fla., adopted a Six Sigma approach to enhancing customer interactions, which has helped to streamline call-handling processes and improve quality. Instead of looking for errors to improve in the individual agent's performance, NCCI focused on streamlining processes in the overall, end-to-end customer experience. The approach allowed the center to develop a quality program that evaluates calls based on customers' calling patterns and the attributes that customers identify as important in surveys. From this customer feedback, center management has developed a checklist of the elements that make up a quality call and has incorporated those items into its quality feedback forms and processes. Read the full story here.


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