Your Customers and Employees are Brand Experiences Too

Applebee’s is the latest casualty of the social media brandscape and its power. It doesn’t matter (in terms of branding) who was in the wrong. The waitress who was fired and the pastor who behaved in such an un-Christian manner are irrelevant. The incident has created a wave of negative publicity from internet to TV to print, which includes a plethora of anonymous Applebee’s insiders posting negatively about their workplace and the food they prepare. In the chart below, notice the media feeding frenzy as the blue line (Applebee’s) went exponential last week.

While Taco Bell and Domino’s are relieved that it’s not them this time, Applebee’s is most likely dumping it in the lap of its PR people and going back to business as usual — in other words, missing the point completely.

Now that gossip and pseudo-scandal can become part of any brand’s story at the speed of light, brands are more vulnerable than ever. Insiders, outsiders, bystanders and anyone else can now catch a brand with its pants down, then publicize it widely. It’s time to think more rigorously about how to respond. High-touch businesses now need to step up their attention to all details of customer experience on the front line.

Here are just a few questions they need to examine. How are they training their on-site managers? What about the waitstaff? What are they doing to insure a positive internal culture in their restaurants?

This is not easy work, but the social media revolution now makes it necessary. It begins at the core — the brand’s raison d’etre. What experiences and relationships will the brand create with all its constituencies? This core vision must be evangelized from the top and manifested in organization’s structure and operations, comp plans, and yes, all the way down to how waitstaff is hired, trained, and compensated.

What should matter most to Applebee’s now is that when the occasional rude customer comes along, which will continue to happen everyday, all team members know exactly what to do.

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