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People are the face of your business; to win customers, companies need to analyse and devise attributes which differentiate them from competitors. Once customers are attracted to the business, a key strategy is to encourage them to return.

SINGAPORE businesses compete for customers on a daily basis. Competitors can be drawn from local business or other companies attracted to the region. To win customers, companies need to analyse and devise attributes which differentiate them from competitors. Once customers are attracted to the business, a key strategy is to encourage them to return.

Service offers a key point of differentiation for business and is founded on the interaction between the staff delivering the service and the customer. It is essential then that management understand and support their staff to deliver a service in a way that is recognised and attractive to customers.

In recent times, Singaporeans have demonstrated a growing awareness of health and fitness; many new businesses have opened to cater to this demand. As a result, there has been a significant increase of advertisements promoting health and beauty treatments which provides evidence of the competitiveness within this market niche. The advertisements are generated to drive customers to visit salons and try the services. However, for the long-term viability of each salon, it is essential that they engage customers to return for further treatments.

The key to these repeat visits lies within the ability of the therapists to communicate the benefits of further treatments, and most importantly, the differentiating features that represent the brand of their salon. Managers need to engage their staff and to provide information that will enable them to effectively communicate the brand in support of external promotional activities.

In Singapore's marketplace there is a need for salons to generate a loyal customer base and minimise turnovers to competitors. Beauty services provide salons with the ability to market through staff during treatments. Given that the experience of each beauty treatment needs to match the type of advertising, for example as a total relaxation experience, it is through the dealings between staff and customers, those salons are able to deliver this and use the opportunity to increase the customer's understanding of their brand and offerings. The impact in doing so means that the salons are able to create an opportunity for an enhanced brand experience; all communications and actions are aligned. The rewards: a customer pool who return for future exchanges and may possibly purchase more as well as the opportunity to endorse the salon and its reputation.

For management who might have already invested in advertising campaigns and promotions to the brand to create awareness and sales, the ability to utilise the salon's staff as another channel is a way to enhance the brand. A branding strategy requires a planned implementation across all the facets of interaction between the business and its current and potential customers. Given that customers evaluate the offerings every time they visit, salons are assessed on a continual basis. This means that to generate positive market share, salons need to constantly be aware of the messages they send and the need to be consistent across all communications channels, ranging from when an appointment is made, treatment administered, payment made and ideally, follow up visit scheduled.

For any business, the brand represents the comprehensive suite of perceptions about its offerings that it believes establishes its competitive edge in the minds of customers. The beauty treatments differentiate themselves by providing a range from relaxation through to rejuvenation using a variety of techniques such as use of organic or natural ingredients such as sea salt, mud or the latest in advanced technology in their treatments. Based on this approach, the attributes of the brand and its benefits are promoted through various channels such as advertising, promotions, collateral, and merchandising. However, it is the therapists that provide the beauty treatment and the manner in which it is delivered that can lead to further visits or, if a negative experience, a customer leaving.

To leverage from advertising and promotions, management need to educate the entire staff of each salon about the brand values and reinforce the unique selling points of the salon. The challenge then is to integrate internal and external communications throughout the salon chain, and create advocates of all staff.

The beauty therapists will repeat messages externally so it is essential to integrate internal to external messaging. The risk of brand devaluation occurs when values promoted internally do not match external messages or are inconsistently or unenthusiastically relayed. An example is that the advertising shows therapists smiling and providing additional service to customers. If this scenario is not real, that is, the therapists are grumbling or unhappy then customers are not likely to return.

The critical elements to achieve an enhanced brand are:

* Active endorsement by the manager to promote the notion of the brand and the importance in the market place and to customers. This framework can then lead to how all the salon's staff can play a role in supporting the business to achieve these objectives. Leaders play an important role in articulating goals and objectives and actively promoting a culture aimed at meeting customer expectations.

* Identification of staff who can act as champions of the business and are seen as role models in their relationships with customers, commitment to customer care and are able to simultaneously deliver brand messages as well as work.

* Incentives for staff to support the brand and develop the business. These might include rewards or recognition for increased sales, repeat customers or selling additional services or products during the visit.

* A distinct and easily understood brand that is reflected in the values of the salon and linked to behaviour. For some therapists, focused on delivery of beauty treatments, the term 'brand' or 'marketing' can be threatening. Management can assist to define the behaviours that make the customer experience of the visit memorable, staff can understand and implement; those that feel threatened do not need to make major changes to their behaviour and can be eased into marketing, or to the other extreme; those who are likely to create marketing havoc can become part of a co-ordinated approach.

* Finally, in instilling a culture that supports the brand and voicing of the attributes there needs to be communication. This can take the form of recognition to take time out to celebrate success or share experiences and can be done through simple forums such as sharing morning tea breaks or communications on staff notice boards.

For businesses to stand out from their competitors, it is essential that managers instil the meaning of the brand in the salon's staff and monitor the outcomes. Although time consuming, the rewards mean that all salon staff can be advocates in their daily interactions with others whether they are customers, friends or family. An enhanced brand can be delivered if there is effective alignment of communications both internally and externally to harness the staff to be advocates of the salon. Managers need to educate their staff so that they can effectively promote the salon in order to win over and keep customers as part of the general business strategy.

Daryll Cahill is a senior lecturer in the Department of Law and Accounting, Royal Melbourne Institute of Technology, with research interests in measuring intangibles and intellectual capital.

Louise Robinson is a director of business development and marketing with over 10 years of professional services experience in large Australian legal and global accounting organisations.
COPYRIGHT 2007 Singapore Institute of Management
No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright 2007 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

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Author:Cahill, Daryll; Robinson, Louise
Publication:Today's Manager
Geographic Code:9SING
Date:Feb 1, 2007
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