Most businesses these days understand that they are driven by Brandships.  Many appreciate that Brandships are built on trust and few would fail to recognise that if their words and deeds are in any way inconsistent, either with each other or with their Brand Promise, they stand little chance of establishing the level of trust that success is built on.  So where is it going wrong?

Having acquired this wisdom, organisations around the world now devote a great deal of time and invest heavily in initiatives designed to represent their brand values consistently at every touch-point.  Getting every communication to say the same thing is the essence of integrated communications.

Because customer acquisition for all the reasons I’ve explored here in the past, is getting horribly expensive, Brandships are more valuable than ever, which is why businesses are increasingly seeking to improve their customer support,  a factor that is accentuated by the growth in e-tailing where the incidence of customer complaint is, as I mentioned last month, a bit of an issue.

I’m encouraged by the increase in the number of businesses who, instead of trying to make customers with a complaint feel like Oliver Twist asking for “more gruel”, have adopted a no-quibble replacement or compensation policy.  It seems that,  at last, the penny has dropped on this one (Although you’ll note from my earlier post on this subject that Halfords still don’t get it!).  However, you can have the best complaint resolution policy in the business, but it ‘aint worth a hill of beans if your customers have to navigate a maze of on-line and telephone obstacles to get to it!  There’s no more telling evidence of a genuine commitment to Brandships than an organisation’s on-line or call-centre process and it’s certainly taken by customers as a pretty good guide to brand values.  So why do so many businesses get it wrong?

My guess is that they simply don’t recognse what’s happening.  I’ve been advising senior execs lately to call up their own customer support line from time to time, rather than rely on the KPIs they get every month.  Whether your process is automated or not, the way you handle after sales contact with customers can be pivotal to the success in Brandships.  This isn’t just about damage limitation (because nearly all the calls you receive are going to be potentially damaging), many businesses have demonstrated that you can actually reverse the momentum, turning a potentially damaging situation into one that strengthens Brandships, if you handle them correctly.  For most this is nothing more than aligning the process to the brand model, which, sadly, few businesses do well.

In recent weeks I’ve experienced both the best and the worst in customer call handling.  The worst being the episode with Halfords that I reported on here last week and a more recent still, an encounter with HP’s customer dis-service process that starts with their un-navigable web site, designed to send you round in circles until you screw yourself!  Yes HP seem intent not to engage with you unless they absolutely have to, which is a pity, because if you can get around the system and actually manage to speak to the person you need, the response (in my case anyway) was exemplary.

I was also disappointed when re-visiting a brand that I have been happy to deal with for years.  I have never before had cause to complain about Polar UK, The local distributor for Polar, who manufacture heart-rate monitors for athletes, but I’ve called and spoken directly to their service people in the UK a number of times.  Such an old-fashioned process may have been a little at odds with their global positioning, but it was very reassuring and, overall, it worked.  Sadly, they have succumbed to pressure to automate their calls handling, but in their case the band-waggon has a wheel missing.  In fact, its possibly the most bumbling and poorly conceived process I have come across for a good while and the antithesis of everything that I have come to expect of the Polar brand.  This takes me right back to the principles of Full Effect Marketing – individual marketing elements, which because they are neglected, neutralise some of the brand building benefits of higher-profile elements that the business is investing in.  In other words … waste!

The up-side of my engaging with customer service processes has been a discovery I made of a business that specialises in designing models that actually contribute to brand development.  Brand Audio in Edgware, North London, will study your brand (even work with you to help you profile it if you haven’t already) and then bring it to life in navigation, messages and music.  Just what every business needs in fact.  This isn’t about hardware or programming (although I’m told they can provide that too), its pure brand development and while I am sure they are not alone in this space, it made me feel good to know that there is someone my clients can turn to for this kind of specialist help.  Brand Audio work with a host of leading brands who recognise the need to prioritise their customer handling processes.  At least, one route to great Brandships (and therefore a healthy business) is in the way you interact with customers on-line and on-phone and I recommend to every business to address this area of their marketing before its too late.

Footnote: Brandships, as it suggests, is the name I use to describe the relationships we have with brands.  Enter the world of Brandships at www.thefullblog.com or follow me on Twitter @thefulltweet.

Michael Weaver
March 30, 2011

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