Making the headlines for the right reasons is often more about your people than your products

Customer expectations are more important than ever. Half of customers say that customer experience is more important to them now compared to a year ago. And it’s not because of their products or services. 

Negative interactions with staff is the top cause of bad brand experience, followed by a lack of understanding of consumer needs and not being properly helped during visits. And with more scrutinizing eyes from the public keeping up with your business’ performance than ever before, it’s easy for seemingly small mistakes made by your frontline employees to land you in the headlines for all the wrong reasons. 

Customers are looking for consistently awesome experiences from the brands they support. So what’s the secret to delivering, no matter which location they visit or employee they interact with? It starts with training that focuses on the right topics, coupled with reinforcement to make sure your people don’t forget the behaviors that matter most to your brand.

Take a look at your employee training strategy

Training and development doesn’t have to stop at teaching job skills. You can also serve up frontline training content to support your brand values, while building providing the all-important standout customer experience into a habit.

Ask yourself: how often are you training your people and on what topics? Does training begin and end at onboarding or are you continually updating your content to highlight timely topics? Do you only focus on checking boxes for compliance or are you training on larger issues, like diversity, equity and inclusion? Then make sure your employee training strategy aligns with how you’d like your frontline to perform.

By training your frontline frequently (think: a few minutes every shift), on the right things to do on the job AND in front of customers, you’re also making sure they get regular reminders so the lessons stick. Boosting retention, along with giving your people permission to get a little creative with surprising and delighting customers, goes a long way towards building a positive brand reputation!

Reinforce positive on-the-job behaviors to make a great impression

You might be investing a lot in training, but without the right reinforcement strategy some of it will go in one ear and out the other on your frontline. 

Knowledge gaps and misplaced confidence can hurt your customer satisfaction and, ultimately, your bottom line. That’s why it’s important to help your frontline employees retain information better: so they can easily remember what to do in the moments that matter most to your business.

Build a confident, newsworthy frontline team with continuous learning that sticks.

Not sure where to start? Here are two companies doing things right to inspire you.

1. Southwest Airlines encourages their frontline to find their ‘superpowers’

Photo credit – Southwest Airlines

The leaders at Southwest Airlines know that organizations that will thrive in the future are the ones who differentiate on experience. Their team of 150 people responsible for building and sustaining their legendary culture and communications enterprise have been hard at work over the years.

Here are some key insights into their philosophy to inspire you:

  • Build up employee confidence to turn unplanned situations around by giving your frontline permission to go beyond checklists and strict frameworks to make these situations right.
  • Some employees have superpowers of humor, and some are great at interacting with people. Drill down on your particular organizational values and make sure that new hires fit in with your overall goals.
  • Set your frontline up for success with right-fit training and communications to give them the knowledge and skills they need to do their jobs. It shows them your respect and gives them the confidence to create great customer experiences — even when things go wrong.

The effort has definitely paid off! Southwest brought a smile to my face last year with their story of a little boy and his lost teddy bear. Although they weren’t able to track down Grayson Mulligan’s original bear when the story went viral, they made the effort to connect with his family and gave him a replacement. Why? Because it’s ingrained in their culture to connect people to what’s important in their lives, and to encourage their employees to “put their servant’s heart on display to help make a passenger’s day”.

2. Starbucks equips their people to enable accessibility

Photo credit – @dallinsmuin / TikTok

Starbucks has a multi-year accessibility plan that states they’re “committed to meeting the needs of people with disabilities in a timely manner, and will do so by preventing and removing barriers to accessibility and meeting accessibility requirements”. And they’ve backed up that statement with their culture of encouraging partners and individual stores to go beyond the checklist when enabling accessibility.

Just take the story of how they took customer service to the next level when a barista in Rochester, New York went viral after using American Sign Language to communicate with a deaf customer at the store’s drive-thru, for example. 

When Dallin Smuin shared that he was having difficulty understanding Starbucks employee Brianna Roth over the drive-thru speaker, she turned the display board into a video display, allowing the two to see each other and communicate through sign language instead.

The simple gesture of inclusion not only racked up millions of views on TikTok (great for reaching prospective customers), but also landed them a new “forever customer”.

Not all frontline “oopsies” can be avoided, but piece by piece with the right training strategy (and some room for creativity) your frontline can be the key to building up your reputation as a brand of choice that cares about the people they’re serving. And as an added bonus, you might just reach millions of new customers in the process!

Carol isn’t your typical leader. She’s driving a revolutionary approach to employee knowledge, but she’s also a doors-open, come-see-me-anytime kind of executive. Carol doesn’t just talk the talk—she definitely walks the walk. You can read more from her on Training Industry Magazine, ATD, CLO and as a regular contributor for Fortune.

Let’s work together to drive frontline performance in all the right ways.