I get a moment of fear at the start of a customer service training session. A moment when I take a deep breath, cross my fingers and hope to hell that what comes out of my mouth will persuade the guys in front of me.

Of course, if I’ve done my job right, there’ll be no problem. If what I’m about to talk about – a new brand personality and tone of voice – comes from some truth deep within the organisation, I know I’m on safe ground.

Throw me to the lions

You see, I’ve found that customer service people tend to be practical and sceptical. They spend their days sorting out the realities of a company’s product or service. They know when it’s working and when it’s not. They’re often at the butt end of problems caused elsewhere in the organisation – things that aren’t their fault but are their job to sort out. And it’s that practical reality that makes them sceptical of the kinds of ideas that sometimes come out of marketing.

Of course it’s marketing or brand’s job to work out the strategy of the brand, often with creative consultancies like us. They’ll look at research to understand their markets and position the company competitively. They’ll try to stand for something different. A difference that customers will value and will pay good money for.

The problem is that this difference can sometimes an idea that doesn’t reflect the reality of the business. If it’s an idea without substance, one that doesn’t reflect the truth of the company as it is today, it won’t wash. And if it doesn’t wash, the guys in customer service won’t be reflecting it to customers.

What I often hear is that once the marketing team have decided the new tone of voice and changed the marketing materials they see their job as done. But it’s just the beginning of the journey for the people working in customer service.

Convincing the troops

Then it’s up to the people on the ground to get it to stick. Usually people with different KPIs and no natural interest in marketing.

Customer service folks need someone at a senior level to help them relate to the brand and tone of voice. After all, these are people who have the dedication to deliver it, but like all of us generally won’t do something just because they’re told to (or at least not as readily as when they really ‘get it’).

Brand (un)reality

If there’s a disconnect between advertising and marketing and what the people talking to customers all day are saying and doing, you haven’t got a brand. After all, your brand isn’t what you say you are – it’s what your customers say you are.

You may have advertising that gets attention and increases sales because it’s novel. But you may also have customers who feel let down by the stark difference between your marketing promise and the reality of dealing with you.

That makes for unhappy customers – ones who’ll leave, taking their money with them. So your brand needs to reflect the truth of the experience. Or your systems, processes and attitudes need to change to bring that experience more in line with your brand.

Brands live or die on the chalk face

Customer service folk are interested in truth, authenticity and things that’ll help them do their jobs. If your brand, and tone of voice, is down-to-earth, practical and has things that’ll help them do their job better, they’ll use it. And if they use it, the distance between hype and reality narrows, and you get happier customers.

And that’s why, when you’re choosing someone to help you develop your brand and tone you need to find out whether they understanding customer service.

Read more: Six objections to a new tone of voice (and how to overcome them)