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Is your employee ‘brand compliant’?

Source | : By Delshad Irani

India’s national carrier, Air India will be 70 years old next week, and the wrinkles are showing. The brand is in shambles. A glance at mentions of the airline in media, social and the traditional kind, leaves a rather unflattering picture – from seemingly unending delays, poor in-flight service and rodents for co-passengers to the more recent travesty – vegetarian-only flights for economy class. But with the right crew even the ailing Maharaja can find a moment of respite.

Last week, photographer and film producer, Atul Kasbekar received a personal note from the crew of the Air India flight he boarded. In the note, the crew thanked him for producing ‘Neerja’, a film based on the true story of an Air India flight attendant who lost her life during a hostage crisis. A “deeply touched n grateful” Kasbekar tweeted a picture of the note, naturally. Thus instantly raking up positive mentions for the airline amidst a sea of criticism.

Now compare this to the United Airlines incident from earlier this year. The American carrier was hit hard when overzealous crew members manhandled an Asian passenger. Every view of the video of the bloodied passenger being yanked off the flight by UA employees, chipped away at its brand equity.

The two instances highlight the influence employees wield in shaping a company brand, for better or worse. Employees can be effective brand ambassadors and they can be deadly weapons of brand destruction (WBDs).

2017 is littered with cases of employees, across levels – from founders to interns, drastically altering reputations of large and small, old and new brands. Most prominent is Uber and its founder Travis Kalanick’s dramatic fall after several employees were accused of fostering and contributing to a toxic work culture. It all began with a powerful essay by Susan Fowler, a former employee.

In March, Indian content company, The Viral Fever came under heavy fire after several women accused its founder of sexual harassment and senior management of being indifferent. In the same month, Café Coffee Day got a good pummeling when a customer who complained about cockroaches in the pantry was slapped by a staffer. And not two weeks ago, Tech Mahindra (TechM) was in trouble when an audio clip of an employee’s ruthless sacking by an HR rep surfaced on SoundCloud.

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