A company establishes it’s brand by cultivating and managing its image and reputation. It chooses a story or narrative that it believes about itself, and it tells that story to the world. To all possible stakeholders, a company brand is a promise, a belief, and an expectation of what can be provided. It becomes a constellation of mental, emotional and moral associations in the minds of the public- some consciously held, others unconsciously held. You could even say that brand image is a form of identity management.
In the contemporary, crowded marketplace, every care must be taken to have a brand that stands ahead of all others, and at the very least, does not fall behind the general middling mass of brands. It’s common wisdom that first impressions are the most lasting impressions in our personal relations, and we’re more likely to forgive lapses in that image with those whom with personally know. In the competitive world of the marketplace, every interaction between a company and a stakeholder re-establishes the impression of the company. If a customer perceives a single instance abuse, negligence, incompetence, taking advantage, or reneging upon an agreement, the business relationship may be severed forever. If news media outlets or social media platforms amplify a company blunder, a mis-step can grow into a branding debacle, or worse. History is replete with the graves of companies whose value collapsed overnight, due to mass changes in perception of brand quality.
Brand image can be formed by the official presentation of the company through marketing, advertising, promotions, corporate communications, public relations, and media publicity. We’ll call this ‘crafting a story’. Beyond the effort to create narratives, the quality of the product or service being provided, and delivery of said product, contributes to company branding. And most relevant for this article, the actions of corporate staff, employees, and customer service, and all interactions with outside individuals and communities, informs the public image of the company. In short, every action taken by the company creates perceptions, which lead to image or reputation, which become solidified as the brand; every act is one of brand identity management.
A company must become it’s brand. The whole organization must consistently live it’s chosen values and commitments. The entire customer experience should be an interface with these commitments- emotionally connecting, establishing credibility and trust, and creating loyalty.
Transient workforce: a branding vulnerability
Gig companies, and those who employ a large number of subcontractors are fraught with opportunities for reputational loss.
Mistakes and blunders, if committed by a subcontractor or outsourced labor, will instead end up hurting the brand image of the general contractor. Subcontractors may even know that their image is somewhat sheltered by conflation with the parent company- and may commit more behavioral risks as a result.
Gig and alternative workers have even less skin in the game when it comes to brand image. They may consider their employment temporary. They may realize the company suffers a greater loss of image for their mistakes than they do. They may have received a proper background check, due to the fast and flexible staffing standards of gig economy.
How could gig worker malfeasance play out in the real world? Consider the following examples:
- A fixer might be hired to come and install a door, but he’s taken on too many jobs and sends someone else in his stead- and they don’t know what they’re doing.
- An unaffiliated copy editor who falsely claims to have worked for high level firms is supposed to fix up a report for a client, but he drops the ball and the client panicking to finish it right before a deadline.
- A caregiver is commissioned to take care of an elderly person in-home, but the CNA had a criminal record that slipped through the screening process. Only when items end up missing from the house does the patient’s family suspect that there might be a problem.
In each of these theoretical examples, the client who contracted out help through each respective platform may have soured on the company, forever. Contracted workers, acting as brand ambassadors, have tarnished the image of their host’s brand.
Uber is the most prominent example of a company in the gig space that has been dogged by employee controversies. Accusations of verbal abuse, assault and sexual assault committed by drivers have abounded. Care.com was taken to court last year over allegations that their background check system was misleading; it was found that their screenings checked states and counties of caregiver residence, but failed to regularly check district court records.
Some gig companies have employed background checks, work history screenings, and review systems to cut down on their exposure to employee misconduct. No doubt, they are getting out ahead of many of vulnerabilities. But there are still yet exposed areas where employees can cause harm to reputation:
- Background checks that don’t go far enough (criminal or work history)
- Lack of ongoing criminal screening
- Lack of ongoing certification/training screening (compliance management)
- The ability of workers to sub for each other- leading to mismatches in promised quality
- Lack of secure identity verification could lead to scenarios where scammers pose as representatives of the company.
A reputation strategy
In order to remedy the brand image risks posed by transient workers and subcontractors, management and leadership must take a number of proactive approaches.
The first step lies in creating a culture of reputation conscientiousness. Workers are typically the first and only point of company contact with the public, so they essentially act as “brand ambassadors”. Leadership of the company should internalize this lesson, and broadcast it to subcontractors and gig workers in the form of communication, training and incentives. While temporary workers do indeed have “less skin in the game” with regards to company welfare, engineering in the form of incentives should be strongly considered. Algorithms that promote gig workers who represent the company the best- in official stated policy- combined with strong messaging about “our brand” can can create an atmosphere of brand pride and promotion.
Communication channels that relay ethics/quality breaches to senior leadership should be established. If senior leadership remains oblivious to front-line infractions, delayed or nonexistent feedback could permit company wide problems with gig worker behavior to fester or grow. Creating instant feedback with executives allows them to bypass inadequate middle management, and head off company-wide branding failures.
As addressed in the previous post, deep and thorough background checks that address a wide array of screening characteristics can catch workers that would fall through the cracks of less thorough background verification. Ongoing background checks that regularly search records throughout the duration of employment are another way to shore up worker-behavior risks. Both types of background verification can screen out individuals with criminal, fraudulent, or dangerous histories. Linking deeply screened workers to an authoritative employee ID card- combined with an aggressive public awareness campaign about the new safety protocols- can do much to enhance public perceptions of gig company brands.
Compliance management in the form of tracking relevant trainings, certifications and compliance documentation for transient workers is a necessary part of quality control. Certification tracking can screen out individuals who are untrained, unconversant by state standards, or operating their trade illegally. Eliminating unqualified workers is an essential step in rehabilitating brand image for GCs and gig companies with past performance issues. Linking employee ID badges to such certifications is an easy way to manage the data while simultaneously building the authoritative reputation of the company’s frontline workers.
Creating a talent matching system can help assign the best qualified workers to each specific job or task. Designating a fixed, one-to-one employee ID badge to gig workers can ensure that they are not able to substitute in for one another- thus, a contractor cannot send a less competent worker in their stead, and the user is getting the quality work they have come to expect. Both of these workforce management tactics are best facilitated by the use of digital IDs.
Digital ID systems are the most elegant and useful way of combining background checks, compliance management, talent matching and workforce management- while simultaneously creating a secure, unbreakable, authoritative form of identification. They are an ideal solution for GC’s, gig companies, and other types of contracted work that must unite the need for transient workers with the utmost control over the quality of workers- and the brand image they create. While certain gig platforms are utilizing their own form of digital ID, they haven’t unlocked the full potential of the technology. Integrations with existing digital ID systems can benefit companies using their own in house identity management, without having to spend resources on further internal development.
Executive leadership must come to think of brand reputation management in a holistic and company wide manner. While this campaign can be extremely multifaceted, employee conduct is one facet that can sometimes gets overlooked. To anyone operating in an industry that heavily relies on transient workforce, culture shifts, internal communications, and digital ID’s can go a long way towards ensuring quality worker conduct- and a lasting brand image.