Frontline Knowledge is Branding Power


Starving hungry and rushing between meetings, I spotted a McDonald’s and pulled in. Now, I’m not a regular at this fast food icon (true story!), mainly because I find their burgers lacking in the flavour department and a tad rubbery. But hey, what they lack in flavour they make up for in convenience…

So anyway, as I drove in I noticed a huge banner advertising the “NEW McChicken Burger”. How could I resist? Being curious as to what was “new” about it, I asked the young girl serving at the drive-thru. Clearly wanting to give me the answer, she frowned hard as she struggled to recall. Finally, she smiled apologetically and said, “I think it means there’s less sugar in the buns now, and I think less sodium as well… I think.”

My first reaction was mild irritation, because I did actually want to know. And they had gone to the trouble of broadcasting that it was now different in some way. It made me ponder how frequently this happens. All too often I walk into a store and ask for more information about a featured product or sale item – which happens to be plastered all over their walls, or featured in a recent catalogue – but the person serving can’t tell me anything about it. Usually their face lights up with sudden recognition (oddly enough they’ve seen the banners too), but there’s no recall about the product itself, or its special new feature … because nobody has told them. And the reality is that most staff won’t take the initiative to go hunting for the answers before they are asked the question.

And wouldn’t you know it, customers tend to get hot under the collar when they’re trying to get information about a product or service that is clearly being advertised to them, and no-one can give them the answers. At least not quickly. I’ve even had staff have to go and hunt down a manager just so they could sell me the product.

The moral of the story is – don’t be an information miser.

If other people rely on you for information about what’s going on, don’t keep them in the dark. In fact, I could really go off on a tangent here and argue for being transparent about everything in your business. But at the very least, remember to keep people informed about what they need to know to adequately assist your customers.

If you have a business that requires frontline staff, or even contractors, to deal with your customers, it is absolutely essential to keep them informed. Update them regularly and give them detailed info about any current promotions running. Particularly if you have the promo plastered all over your walls, or your website, or whatever the case may be. This may sound like a no-brainer, but it happens often.

A McDonald’s restaurant can get away with the odd info void, but small businesses don’t have that luxury. When potential customers can’t get quick, helpful answers about your products or services (the ones they are willing to give you money for), it seriously annoys them, and leaves them with a negative impression of your brand. * Because you’re making it hard for them *. It may even irritate them enough to blog about it.

Frontline staff who can easily provide info about any given product on offer (and especially those you are trumpeting), are equipped to solve your customer’s problem. And your customer will love you for it. And that’s branding power.

So, make as much noise with the necessary information for frontline staff as you do with those big, bright banners … and feel the love.

(In case the suspense is killing you… the only noticeable difference was a new tang in the mayonnaise – which actually gave the impression of flavour. Remarkable.)


  1. Good point Danielle. Simple, but crucial, especially in complex service industries – not like mcdonalds 🙂

  2. Hey Yaro,

    Yeah, it is crucial for complex service industries, and certainly any business with lots of levels. It’s a common problem in the corporate sector – just ask any frontline employee!

    But what’s alarming is that it happens a lot in small businesses too. Managers or key decision makers often neglect to communicate effectively and regularly with their staff who are actually dealing with the customers. Very often it’s a systems problem – in that there isn’t one, or it’s dysfunctional.

    While it’s frustrating for staff on any level of a business, frontline people wield a lot of power as far as brand perception is concerned, because it’s through them that customers will often judge the business as a whole. These folk are far more powerful than they often realise!

  3. Danielle,

    You’d think it would be a no-brainer – have a sale, let the staff know. It doesn’t get any simpler than that. In a past life I was the advertising art director and you’d be astonished how many times I had to explain that simple concept to retailers who couldn’t understand why their promotions were faltering.

    Another pet peeve I have with retailers, is a short-sighted policy where staff who, while waiting on me will leave me to answer the phone then proceed to help that person on the phone – leaving me standing there waiting for service to resume. I’ve complained about this many times only to have the same answer every time – It is the store policy to do this. I usually complain and leave. My ignored point is that I took the time to get my butt down to their store and actually try to purchase an item. There is no guarantee that, that phone person is even going to show up. You know what they say about a bird in the hand.

    You can imagine my brand relationship with that retailer. I never go back. .

  4. I hear you Ed! “Short-sighted policy” is an excellent description of the ringing phone vs customer-at-counter dilemma. Too often zero thought goes into a strategy for managing this.

    That’s interesting how often you encountered internal info voids. I certainly can’t say I’m surprised. I believe there’s a lot of psychology behind poor internal communications – much of which stems from the manager’s perception of staff on the frontline. Very often they are not regarded within the business as “important”, because they are “just” serving. This line of thinking (which is common) is also very short-sighted.

  5. Danielle,

    The only consistent thing, is that it is always a chain store. The employee usually say they agree with my complaint but have no choice as it is always store policy to pick-up and follow through with phone requests.

    Bone heads on top.