Sunday, October 9, 2011

Customer (Dis) Service and Your Brand

Customer (Dis) Service and Your Brand
Your actions speak louder than words

It seems there is a serious disconnect between advertising messages and reality when it comes to the way customers are treated. In their ads, companies love to tout how much they love their customers, implying that they really do care about them. The reality however, is often radically different. Their employees are often not trained in the ever-important art of making customers feel loved.

I was recently in a line of over 20 customers at an airport car rental facility where there were only three agents on duty, and two of them were talking on the telephone. Customers were especially irritated by the fact that there were about twelve computers where no agents were working. Like most travelers, I was in a hurry to get on the road and get to my first meeting of the day. I didn’t appreciate being ignored and neither did the guy behind me. After grumbling to me about the serious lack of service, he shouted, “Does anyone work here?” The other customers were shocked at his brazenness, but a spontaneous round of applause broke out, telling the agents that their customers were not happy. I’m not going to say which rental car company it was but I will say that no one was “trying harder” to make customers happy.

In another recent experience, due to a change in our Customer Service Management (CRM) software, my company was forced to swap out some of our cell phones because they wouldn’t interface with the new software. After a short discussion with a store representative who was not empowered to make customers happy, we ended up on the phone with one of their reps who made it clear that they were not going to waive the rather expensive buyout of our phones….period! We tried to stay with this company and reminded the representative that we had been a loyal customer for more than 23 years and just needed to make a few equipment changes. The answer was unequivocal. No!

From there, we went to one of their competitors and met with Tawana, a wonderful young lady who listened to our needs and meticulously switched over our entire company account and set up each and every phone. It took several hours, but when we left, every new device worked perfectly. Wow, was that refreshing!

In his most recent book, Collapse of Distinction, my good friend, Scott McKain, an outstanding speaker, trainer and author, states, "If you cannot find it within yourself to become emotional, committed, engaged, and yes, fervent about differentiation, then you had better be prepared to take your place among that vast throng of the mediocre who are judged by their customers solely on the basis of price. It is the singularly worst place to be in all of business. If you aren't willing to create distinction for yourself in your profession--and for your organization in the marketplace--then prepare to take your seat in the back, with the substantial swarm of the similar, where tedium reigns supreme." I recently heard Scott speak at the Society for Marketing Professional Services (SMPS) conference and, as usual, he thrilled the audience and left them inspired to be even better than they already are. After several months, I still hear attendees quoting him.

I especially enjoyed a story that Scott shared about an experience that musician Dave Carroll had with United Airlines. In his video, “United Breaks Guitars,” Carroll openly protests the poor customer service experience he and his band had on a United flight. For people who don’t have the ability to create great videos like this, there are company web sites and public sites such as where customers, both happy and unhappy, can voice their opinions.

In the hotel industry, the clear leader in outstanding customer service is The Ritz-Carlton Hotel Company. It is common knowledge throughout the industry that their customer service is stellar and that the reason for their well-deserved reputation is the training of their employees. Their motto, “Ladies and Gentlemen serving Ladies and Gentlemen,” sets the tone for the empowerment given each and every employee, allowing them to do anything required to make customers happy. In his book, “The New Gold Standard,” Joseph A. Michelli describes the leadership principles of this great company. We can all learn from the example set by this market leader.

As a branding, marketing communications and public relations firm, we are often contacted by companies or communities requesting a “new brand.” From experience, we know that what they usually mean is that they want a new logo. In my opinion, your brand and your reputation are one and the same. If you treat customers well, meet or exceed their expectations and show them some appreciation, your brand will be strong. If not, you will have a serious problem that a new logo or slogan cannot change.

I could go on and on, sharing countless customer service experiences, both good and bad, but I’d like to hear from you. Feel free to share your experiences and stories about how you deliver outstanding service, allowing others to learn and improve. Thank you.

Have a great week,

Jim Walton

Brand Acceleration is a full-service marketing communications, brand management and public relations firm operating from Indianapolis, Indiana and Charlotte, North Carolina. The agency’s focus is on economic development, architecture, engineering and construction (AEC).

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