Brand and the customer experience

Brand is holistic. Much more than a name, logo, or tagline, brand involves people’s every experience and perception.

While brand is a business’s most important asset, your brand is for your audiences first. Ultimately, it lives (or dies) based on how those audiences feel.

So the customer experience today is vital to brand promotion and protection. Perhaps more so than ever before.

Stanford researchers recently confirmed empirically that social content which embodies and conveys “brand personality” (like humour and emotion) leads to higher engagement than content that is purely informative. (Given the shift of advertising resources from traditional media to social, the findings are reinforcement gold for marketers who have to fight for promotion dollars.)

But when it comes to customer experience writ large, putting all your customer experience eggs in the social basket can leave your customers feeling scrambled, and fry your brand protection efforts.

Recently, I have had two experiences as a customer that have driven this point home.

After an atrocious ordering experience to get the computer I am using to type this post, my two-week old hard drive decided to simply stop working.

After more than two hours of trans-oceanic telephonic ‘technical support,’ I was still no closer to a resolution. Out of pure frustration, I posted to Twitter:

A near-instant reply was followed by a flurry of direct messages from a Twitter handle called @DellCares. After a couple of minutes of private exchanges, a new hard drive was being overnight couriered with a promise it would be installed by midday the following day.

Props to the issues managers @DellCares. Their handling of my Tweet was textbook quality resolution.

But if my initial order and subsequent technical issue had been better handled along the way, there wouldn’t have been a social issue (or public hit to the Dell brand) to resolve.

If anything, the company’s apparent willingness to move heaven and earth the moment a customer complains on a social platform may be counterproductive. It may in fact encourage public brand bloodletting. (I certainly wouldn’t have wasted more than two billable hours of my workday on the phone had I known that I could get action with a well-worded, 140-character complaint.)

Now contrast that example with another company’s approach.

ReTrak makes portable tech accessories; I recently bought one of their selfie-sticks to make it easier to shoot videos. When I got it home and unpackaged, however, I found it was defective. I sent an email to an email address that I found in the instructions asking what could be done (selfishly to avoid a return trip to a big box store on a Saturday). Within a couple of hours, I received an email that apologized for my inconvenience, and an offer to ship me a replacement, no questions asked.

Okay, granted, we’re talking about a 25-dollar stick, not a 2500-dollar machine. But the approaches could not have been more different.

Quick, seamless and courteous resolution in private vs. a maddening, inefficient, and ineffective customer Hell-loop.

One of the Dell people I spoke to suggested at one point that his company treated technical support as separate and apart from customer service. They’re different departments, he told me. I reminded him that to customers every interaction with a company ought to be considered customer service.

In my case was a brand hit avoidable? Absolutely. Who knows how many others have had similar experiences to mine? Does Dell capture that data and/or measure brand impacts?

Clearly, Dell has chosen to devote resources to rapidly address complaints on social. The company can, and ultimately did, offer good service. Arguably, though, it was too little, too late.

It may be more cost-effective in the short term for Dell to organize itself as it has, but I am left wondering how brand effective that approach is long term. (Several people I’ve told this story to have wondered why I didn’t just go with an Apple laptop. I certainly wondered that myself at certain points.)

And that’s the bigger point: what is the price of undermining one’s brand by failing to keep the customer experience in mind at every step of a company’s process and during every interaction? That may sound easier said than done, and it is. Yet plenty of organizations manage to get it right. (We all have stories of our own, no?)

I will assuredly buy another ReTrak product given their swift, effective action. But I will seriously consider purchasing another brand of laptop next time.

These two experiences have certainly made me think about my own customer experience practices, and how I will organize Winston Wilmont to assess, meet, and surpass my customers’ needs. I will strive to make every customer experience a positive one, and to add real value at every interaction. That’s why clients opt for boutique consultancies, after all. (Early feedback has been positive on both fronts, thankfully.)

The intersection of brand and customer experience is fascinating to me. I genuinely believe that getting ‘CX’ right every time will ensure long-term success, and reduce brand promotion and protection costs long term, regardless of your organization’s size or sector. So…

How is your organization doing in serving your clients? Do you have a brand promise? If not, why not? If so, what are you doing to live it daily?

Feel free to get in touch to discuss further.

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