Learning from the State Department
Ambassadors do two things that are really difficult for most people within organizations:
1. They listen and send the notes up the chain. They're at the front line, and they listen to what's happening and figure out how to get the right people back home to hear what's being said.
2. They apologize. Not for things they did wrong, but for things that others did wrong.
If you work for a company that you don't own, if you interact with customers, you're a brand ambassador. The person who runs the cash register or answers the phone or makes sales calls is a brand ambassador, in the world on behalf of the amorphous brand, whatever that is.
I recently bought a few shirts from a big chain. They left the anti-theft tags on the shirts, which of course meant a drive and a hassle to go back to a different store in the chain to get them taken off.
Challenge number one is that the disrespected, overworked cashier will never be asked about what she learned from her interaction with me. There's nothing in place for information to flow.
And challenge number two is that she steadfastly refused to apologize for the hassle. It wasn't her fault, she knew, so what was there to apologize for?
We invented ambassadors because nothing can replace face to face interaction, particularly when messages travel sometimes quite slowly through complex organizations. Just like now.
This seems obvious, and it is, until you realize that organizations make two huge mistakes:
A. They don't hire brand ambassadors, they hire clerks and bureaucrats, and treat them and pay them accordingly.
B. They don't manage and lead brand ambassadors, don't measure and reward and create a cadre of people who can listen for the brand and speak for the brand.
Would you send the clerk on aisle 7 to speak to a head of state or vital partner on behalf of your company? Because that's what he's doing right now.