A brand is only as good as a customer perceives it to be, through his or her experience with the brand at each touch point, a key one of which is with customer service teams. And each interaction matters, to bring the customer closer, or push them away.
Here are 2 extreme interaction examples I had recently. They were both with communication providers, and what makes them even more ironic is that they have the same parent brand. VodafoneZiggo.
First, Ziggo. One of the largest cable operators in Netherlands.
This was my online chat with the customer service (who are available almost 16 hours a day):
Me: "Hello, I am an existing customer. I just moved to a new apartment, and connected my modem, but the internet is not working. And I have to finish an urgent project. So currently am having to use my prepaid phone data to create a hubspot, so I can use the internet on my laptop :(. But my data is running out really fast, and it's expensive. Please help"
Ziggo: "So sorry about that. We will do the following for you.
- We will set up a technician appointment for you as soon as possible.
- Meanwhile, we will send you all the equipment needed to help you try different ways yourself of setting up the modem. But the tools may take 2 days to reach.
- If you can't wait for that, you can also buy the equipment in the store now, and we will reimburse you for it.
- We will also reimburse you for all the mobile prepaid top-ups you have to do meanwhile to continue using your phone as a hotspot".
Then they call often to check if finally the internet is working.
Tops it off with sending me an apology card and a gift box of beauty face masks, to help me stay relaxed during my project deadline time.
Wow! Talk about good service! I think am in love 🙂 Going to stay a loyal customer for a long, long time, and become a strong brand ambassador for them. That is the power of them knowing the needs of their audience, and helping them.
Feeling on top of the world, I decided to choose Ziggo's partner, Vodafone, when I thought of getting a postpaid connection for my mobile. They also had good offers, so it was a perfect fit.
And here's how it went:
Vodafone approves a contract online with me for a postpaid mobile connection, registering my Indian passport number as the ID proof. Says they will send a SIM card to my home address. Have to show my passport to collect it. Very well.
A guy comes to deliver the SIM. But says that because I have an Indian passport, and I am NOT European, they cannot give me a SIM card. Even if I have a Dutch residence permit!!!
So after 2 days of desperately trying to reach Vodafone through email, phone, and social media, when I finally connect to them, this is how my interaction goes:
Me: "Can you please tell me why you won't give a contract to a non-European in Netherlands, even with a Dutch residence permit? You have something against them? And if you won't give them a contract, why do you approve a contract online with them, with their foreign passport number?"
Vodafone: "Yeah, we don't give to non-Europeans. Too bad we gave one to you, was a mistake. Get a prepaid card".
I just sat there in disbelief and dismay for some time, wondering what to do next. Left a bad taste in the mouth.
I told them exactly what I thought of their brand, on Facebook. They didn't reply. End of story. Or so I thought.
Turns out, they CAN give a contract to non-Europeans if they have a Dutch permit. The delivery guy made a mistake, and the delivery company finally sent another person to deliver the SIM card. So basically, the customer service of Vodafone had no idea about the rules of their own company!!
They just had arrogance to show, with no thought to the hassle I went through the last 2 days. Am I going to advocate this brand? Excuse my French, but hell, no! One customer service representative I spoke to on the phone actually apologized nicely, but the negative experiences were so much, that it completely overshadowed the effort of one person. Am not surprised at the research that says it takes 12 positive experiences to make up for one unresolved negative experience
As someone who has worked in brand development, marketing, and strategy teams, designing brand experiences, spending millions of dollars on researching the target customer and how to engage with them, I couldn't help sparing a thought about the poor brand development team of Vodafone, working hard to build a lovable brand and service experience.
They sure didn't design a customer experience like the one I had. But somewhere, as the brand story guidelines were shared from the strategy and corporate team to the customer facing team, through the many layers, the vision probably got diluted.
So you can do a lot of right marketing, have a good strategy, and create the perfect content. You may even have too-good-to-miss promotions. But it is only through the implementation of these plans throughout the customer journey, with each interaction with your target customer, that the brand love stays strong, and gets you customers who will become your strongest assets.
So as a marketeer, when you develop your brand for your business, this is what is important to remember:
Branding is in the details, and mostly in experiences.
I always equate brand experiences to a quote by Maya Angelou:
"People will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel."
It's not always about how many features your brand has, it is about your customers feel when connecting with you and using your products/ services. Even if you make small mistakes, they won't hold a grudge permanently, if you can still be nice to them and try to solve the problem. So as you share the vision, mission, and strategy of your brand to your customer facing teams, try to mostly share the true essence of the brand.
- Doing a presentation on the brand strategy is not enough. Try to have a full brand book if possible, with detailed brand guidelines on how not only to present the brand to customers at each point, but also how to engage with them. e.g. things to say and not.
- Do joint workshops with sales and other customer teams to understand the challenges they face on an everyday basis and try to create material and tools to help them with potential challenges. Something they can easily access, which are simple to use, and yet highlights the core brand personality, tone, and do's and don'ts very clearly.
- Monitor social media and blogs closely to understand people's experiences, frustrations, and try to integrate the solutions within your brand plan, with guidelines on how to implement them. This should be a given in social media strategy, but is very important to remember for the brand team to also remember, not just the content specialists.
Care about your customers, irrespective of your brand size
As I told this story to people, a general perspective was that Ziggo is only in Netherlands, they are small. So they have to try harder and be nicer. But Vodafone has like a zillion customers. They don't care about customer experiences, and if they lose customers.
Let that not be true for your brand, no matter how big it is. Because in the end, your customers can be your biggest ambassadors and have a reach beyond your own scope. And it can also go the opposite way. Here's an infographic on how one unhappy customer can also destroy a brand.
As Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos said:
“If you make customers unhappy in the physical world, they might each tell six friends. If you make customers unhappy on the internet, they can each tell 6,000 friends.”
In fact, Vodafone has so many disgruntled customers, there is even a Facebook group for everyone to share their unfortunate experiences. A nightmare for any brand manager.
Maintain some consistencies in experiences of your brand architecture and/ or brand partnerships.
When you do partnerships with another brand for a product/ event/ services, make sure that their values are not far away from yours. Because even if you draw in one customer through your brand, and try them to sign up for an alliance with your brand partner, if they have a negative experience with the same, it will impact your brand as well.
If you are a major company with many sub brands, try to keep a mega brand experience and vision, which can be shared among your sub brands. For example, with giants like L'Oreal, Unilever, they have high-level mother brand guidelines, and the sub brands must adhere to those guidelines in a certain way, and then add on their individual brand propositions.
The brand experience is such an integral part of the buyer's journey, some companies are focusing big on Customer Experience Management (CEM), instead of simply CRM. Treating the customer as a person, rather than just facts and figures, monitoring the interactions at each consumer touch point. Here are some additional readings about Customer experiences.
These above points stay true even for other kinds of brand experiences , like employer branding. In a traditional hiring process, a potential employee usually meets the HR person first, before meeting the line manager. Have you shared your brand vision and rule with your HR colleagues, who can then help the potential recruit to have the right brand understanding and experience, through phone, email, and the 'fit' interview?
In the end, also remember that engagement with the customer is not a one-time thing.
Customers always have options, even if they have chosen you once. As some airlines acknowledge in their communication: "We know you have a choice of other airlines, so thank you for flying with us". So you have to keep working consistently and continuously on the brand experiences and finding ways to strengthen the relationship with your customers, to retain their loyalty, and ideally, earn their advocacy. Be #PowerfullyYOU.
Have you had any experiences which have made you a fan of a brand or put you off? Would love to hear your comments.
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