Posted by David Polakoff on October 26, 2009
The Windmills of My Immediate Mind
Media Business Strategies – David Polakoff
Brandishing the Brand
The following is from Kevin Smith’s (1994) Clerks:
Randal Graves: You know who I can do without? I can do without the people in the video store.
Whether you sell goods or services, whether you operate in brick and mortar or virtually, number one is your product; number two is your customer service. It is amazing to me that in tough economic times, under the mantra of cost-cutting, or to boost profits, companies sacrifice their brand by diluting customer service. When you throw gumballs, tacks, banana peels, speedbumps, and foxholes in the path of making it easy for your customer to consume your product/service, you dilute your brand’s status; a status which has taken years and dollars to achieve, and which will be even harder to reclaim.
Back in my high school and college salad days, I earned some early stripes selling men’s clothing in a small, family started and managed set of stores (it was not a chain), then owned by Hart Shaffner, & Marx. At the time, the family’s second generation ran the five stores of conservative clothing, where a premium was charged on the goods, which brought the customer attentive, smart, and courteous service (with tailoring included!). The staff went to extraordinary lengths to be sure we were knowledgeable and that the customer was welcomed, served, satisfied, and would thus return, and they did. It is from this cloth (sorry from the pun) where my standards of service were benchmarked. As a post-script, when the family’s second generation leader left the company, Hart Shaffner, & Marx drove the company into the ground, largely from charging more, but providing less.
I love it, in brick and mortar stores, when the check-out line starts to build, and the store team automatically opens more registers. I love it when I appear “dazed and confused” and I’m non-aggressively approached by sales staff with, “May I help you?” I love it when I ask a store member to locate a product, and I’m escorted to the location; not just pointed there. I love it when I return with a purchased product issue and I’m not looked at nor treated differently from when I first purchased the product. These service examples are as much a part of a company brand as are the products/services sold and the company’s community outreach.
I’ve previously written in this space about making user interfaces easily navigable and intuitive. Along with easy access to your quality product/service, there must be customer service – when, how, and where a customer wants it. As a media consultant who offers financial, operational, and strategic expertise, I implore my clients to offer customer support via US mail, telephone, quickly turned-around Email, and instant messaging; by any means a customer would seek support. That service must then be engaging, efficient, and satisfactory to a customer. Extensive “fishing” through websites or navigating automated telephone support “trees” adversely impacts the brand. When I’m talking to or typing with a customer service representative, I need quick, effective, and human understanding; not a script reader and process follower. Excessive automation and international outsourcing of customer service has gone too far to save money, and not far enough in assuring a customer will return and recommend.
Especially with the internet, consumers have choices. A bad customer experience means that they will, next time, choose your competitor’s product, service, or store. Once gone, only a competitor’s worse customer service can possibly bring them back.
Future sales are a key element in business valuations. Projected sales growth assumes newly acquired business along with repeat business. In this era of user generated feedback and community, where customer experience “sagas” are easily, readily, and rapidly spread through the virtual community, a company cannot afford to tarnish its brand and jeopardize future sales growth, with poor customer treatment. A company should become innovative, including the use of technology, in providing service for sales and customer support; but not to the point of choosing cost savings and hellish technology over readily serving customer’s needs and expectations. Don’t tarnish the brand.
The “as seen on tv” product, Tarn-X, appears to rapidly rid silver, platinum, gold, and copper items of tarnish; if only it was that easy to fix tarnished brands.
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