The $6 million dollar lesson
In 2007 as the recession took hold, Starbucks share price plummeted 42%. The chain had expanded too quickly, and the board was concerned that the chain had watered down its brand with changes.
In February 2008, a month after returning as CEO, Howard Schultz made an audacious move. He closed 7,100 stores in the US for 3 ½ hours to retrain its baristas on how to make the perfect espresso. Starbucks reportedly lost $6 million that day.
This was the first step in turning performance at Starbucks around – focus on delivering a consistent customer experience and ensure brand consistency in retail business. It helped Starbucks staff re-focus on what was important and laid down a very important message that consistency of service was at the heart of the Starbucks offering.
The image and credibility of a retailer’s brand is fundamental to the prosperity of the business. Studies suggest that a consumer needs between five and seven impressions to remember a brand. There are so many elements that create a brand experience. The style, design, tone, experience. Everything counts when considering brand perception, so when all these elements do not work in harmony in all channels, the image of the brand is harmed.
The aesthetic aspects of a brand–signage, store design, logo consistency – convey a very important first impression. However more likely than not, it is the intangible elements such as customer service and product quality that leave the more lasting impression. And unfortunately, that’s the most difficult part of managing.
Offering the customer a consistently high-quality experience in the different locations in which your brand operates must be your main priority since the image given by each member of staff ends up having a positive or negative impact on the whole chain. When your brand is reliable in delivering a satisfying service or product across outlets, you will earn the trust of customers. This trust is the basis of customer loyalty and loyal customers are one of your best promotion channels.
Richard Solomons, CEO of InterContinental Hotels & Resorts, agrees with the importance of brand consistency in a retail business: “You have to have brands that are consistent and truly deliver to get through good and bad times. While we would like to have higher system growth, we aren’t going to do it at the expense of quality and future sustainability.”
This mindset is applicable to any retailer – regardless of its size: get the staff to understand the distinctive features of the brand and how to deliver to meet customer expectations every time.
So brand consistency is the secret of success… But how do you apply this principle effectively when staff is often located in stores and outlets hundreds of miles away and you do not have the financial resources or the time to personally handle their supervision?
Howard Schultz realized that the quality and consistency of what was being served in his stores was a major factor in declining numbers. The key to getting that quality and consistency to the required levels was going back to basics – training.
Training for Brand Consistency in Retail Business
The good news is it won’t cost you $6 million to improve your staff performance. The hefty price tag in the Starbucks example reflects the expense and difficulty of on-site training. Fortunately, improvements and innovations in learning technology mean that engaging training can be delivered at a fraction of the cost.
It is becoming more common for chains to use technological resources to create better content, distribute it more efficiently and, consequently, improve the training process. Greg Willman, CEO of Qdoba Mexican Grill, -a franchise with 641 locations- explains that they use “mind mapping tools” to “offer an initial training program along with ongoing training.”
The key point is to ensure that you leverage the benefits that using technology can bring. Firstly, you can create resources in a number of different formats to engage the audience. Visual content such as images, charts, and videos help comprehension. Quizzes and tests improve retention. Gamification can make the whole progress a lot more engaging.
Tests and quizzes are a useful way to get staff involved and offer them interactive training since they allow you to evaluate each employee and identify those points where they have greater difficulty understanding.
Secondly, it is easier than ever to distribute training content. Gone are the days when staff manuals resided in cabinets gathering dust. Staff can receive regular training updates about why brand consistency in retail business matters through websites, email or even social media. This allows for more regular interaction and a more consistent learning experience.
Ongoing assessment and fluid communication flow
The Starbucks example was a case of having to take extreme action – a reset on what the staff knows and how they deliver the main product. No one wants to take such drastic measures. Therefore it seems intuitive that training for a consistent experience should require consistent training.
To maintain brand consistency, it is necessary to regularly reinforce concepts to your troops on the ground, test them on aspects of brand training that need to be retained, and explain the latest business developments in a timely manner. Building a timetable or schedule for regular training will facilitate these tasks.
But all this is of no use if you don’t react… If you do some form of testing or assessment in your training, make sure to build in a feedback loop. Once you get results, it’s imperative to give feedback to the employees to make sure that any issues are resolved and a consistent customer experience is delivered in all your retail locations.
Fluid and efficient communication will enable you able to identify each staff members performance and will generate a better overall understanding of the state of your chain. One final point about the quality and consistency of training. It will no doubt lead to better and more consistent experiences for the end customer. It will help bring clarity and direction, leading to better motivation amongst frontline staff. There may also be further positive consequences, such as what’s happened at Domino’s.
A very interesting fact that Domino’s have been championing recently is that 90 percent of their franchisees started at Domino’s as a driver, or as a store employee making pizzas. A good training program and a strong set of values have enabled Domino’s to turn staff into future franchisees. So if you are a franchise, increases the likelihood of success for the new franchisee as they are well versed in the product and offering, ensure brand consistency across all locales. Plus it’s a pretty neat franchisee recruitment tactic!
The above tips will help you ensure that your staff offers a consistent and similar experience to consumers. The good thing is that to implement efficient and fast communication you no longer need to make a great investment; with communication tools like Ryver or Moxtra, or if you want to focus more on the formation of franchises, GoConqr is ideal. With GoConqr you have the tools to generate content detailing the values and the essence of the brand and distribute them in an efficient and instantaneous way amongst your team.
If you have any questions about how to ensure brand consistency in retail business or are interested in some of the tools we have mentioned, do not hesitate to contact our team.