If I were to give you a tip on the most powerful tool any company has at their disposal to positively impact their brand, would you act on it? When companies talk about branding, they often turn to the standard creative elements. They conduct focus groups and prepare branding briefs before the first pixel is pushed into place on the logo. If you're really serious you have a whole identity package. But that's not branding, that's just a logo right? From there they create the marketing campaign. Print ads are created to build emotional connections with people, TV spots reinforce the company image and convey the same emotions. Hundreds of hours are spent planning the website, the information architecture, the experience design, the content. When it's all said and done you have one damn fine looking marketing campaign.
Most companies know that part (very few do it right). The part they don't get is the tool that I am talking about. Customer service. Customer service is so powerful that it can make up for bad products, downtime and inconvenience. Conversely, poor customer service can kill even the most well thought out, killer product or service.
A brand is the sum of the interactions with an entity over time. Still, the last interaction with a product or service usually sticks with us. How many times have you felt your opinion of a company turn sour when somebody in the store isn't helpful? How many times have you sat on hold waiting in line only to not really get the answer you're looking for?
The last interaction is the only one that matters.
So why is customer service so often overlooked as a branding tool? It's hard to get right. Here are some of the challenges:
- It takes time. Lots of time. Customer service takes training, dedication and people who are aligned with the company's goals. Time is money after all and most companies look at the short term outlay instead of the long term benefit of building customer loyalty and creating a great total brand experience.
- High turnover. Typically customer service is made up of entry level folks packed into small offices strapped to a phone 8 hours a day. Why not really turn to results-based incentives here? Why not dress up their work area so they have a great attitude and convey to your customers?
- Everyone is in customer service. This means the CEO, the VPs, the account people, the programmers, the designers, the administrative staff, everyone. This is a key shift in thinking that needs to take place. One off day for one person will have an impact on your brand image. The last interaction is the only one that matters. You may not get another chance.
- Not just for consumer packages goods. Customer service happens in every industry whether you label it customer service or not. Law firms, ad agencies, PR firms and accountants all are in customer service. The problem is that it's not ingrained in their corporate philosophy, they think it beneath them. That's the
- Too easy to rely on technology. No message board or crowd sourced solution can replace human interaction. Technology is a great way to give people access to basic, commonly asked questions. However, when a person's questions are not answered by those solutions they can be left frustrated. Have you ever tried to reach Flickr, Technorati or Feedburner to get a prompt answer to a question? They make it 100% impossible to talk to a human. Don't be like those guys.
I think David Armano summed it up well in his reply when I posted this on Twitter a couple of days ago.
How do you integrate this common sense into what you do? How can you improve your support system? What will you do NOW to take action to create a customer service culture?
What do you do to make sure every personal interaction is the best it can be?