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Friday, August 10, 2007

Should customer service staff ever take a break from the brand?

In The Presentation of Self in Everyday Life (1959), sociologist Erving Goffman talks about the importance to people of controlling the impression that others have of them. He writes: "When an individual appears before others he will have many motives for trying to control the impression they receive of the situation." He goes on to elaborate that he is "concerned with some of the common techniques that persons employ to sustain such impressions."

Basically, Goffman looks at human behavior as taking place on a figurative stage, where behavior evidenced in front of other people is "frontstage" and private behavior takes place "backstage." "Frontstage" is where people try to manage the impressions that others have of them; "backstage" is where they relax and don't try to make an impression. People use "masks" to control the impression they provide to their "audience."

Branding takes place in interaction with other people. This begs the question of whether people involved in delivering the brand should always be displaying branded behavior, or whether they can and should take a break when they are in private. For example, let's say a certain brand of fast food represents itself as "fun." Its customer service representatives will generally be expected to convey the concept of fun to the customers--and so the employee should act as though he or she were having fun on the job. The question is, when they step away from the counter, is it in the best interest of the brand to allow the customer service representative to drop the mask and act ordinary?

Well, yes and no. From a mental health point of view (and the organization should serve its employees mental health where possible), nobody can be expected to portray "fun" for a full 8 hours a day, 7 days a week. So it is normal for people to relax and go "off-brand" when they're not facing the customer.

On the other hand, from a brand point of view, there are other stakeholders in the organization besides customers -- how about other employees? If people do not act "fun" then the fast food business is not a "fun" place to work and that will inevitably be conveyed to the customers at some point.

I would say that the best course of action is to hire people who are inherently "fun" (or whatever the brand type is), so that when they go off-brand they are actually still in brand mode. This is also the best way for the brand to convey authenticity to the customer -- to make it clear that the brand is real, not just a show. Remember, hire for brand and the brand will inevitably be stronger as a result.