If ever I thought that I was wasting my time banging on about the the essential role of internal marketing in great customer service, I could count on a bike business to restore my faith. Yet again, a bike company (Specialized to be precise) has demonstrated how the kind of stakeholder commitment that can only be the result of great internal marketing, delivers customer service that fortunes are built on!

If you have been reading my blog for a while you’ll know that I have reported a few times on the great customer service I have received from bike businesses like RockShox (Now part of Sram), WTB and Bradburn. What is it about these businesses that make their customer service so much better than most other businesses I encounter?

OK, so I probably have more contact with bike companies than a lot of people because I ride a lot, have bikes and break components from time to time (although I am usually pretty good with my stuff), but biking isn’t my life and there are a whole lot of other businesses that supply me with products and services that relate to other things that I do, so its not that my experience is narrow.

It’s not that they are particularly small businesses either. Specialized is a major global concern so they face the same internal communications issues as any other global and they are not alone among bike businesses in this – biking is big business! So it can’t be that they are compact enough for the brand message to be easily communicated to the people on the front line. It has to be something to do with the potency of the message itself, the passion and commitment that it raises in stakeholders and/or the way it is communicated.

I guess there are few people working in bike businesses who aren’t themselves bikers, so maybe they are just more committed to the ideals of the business. Bikers are a community and within that big community there are very powerful individual brands, each representing a community of its own (those I have mentioned included). A Specialized bike is probably something rather too commonplace for a Yeti rider for example, while if you are a Specialised convert you’ll appreciate their build-quality, innovation and engineering and maybe view Trek as cheap and mass-produced – that’s “positioning” at work. (Sorry but I’m not privy to the Brand Models so I’m not sure which boxes they are each trying to tick, but then again, if they were all perfect I would know wouldn’t I!).

So, a bike manufacturer, because its stakeholders mostly comprise bikers, is working with pretty fertile ground. There’s also already a propensity for bikers to sign up to brand communities, but you still have to have a peg to hang your hat on – that big idea – and the internal marketing communications, so the fact that they are doing so well with their customer service means that these guys clearly know their stuff. (Although I do think that the press advertising that’s part of most bike companies’ external marketing generally sucks. But that’s another post).

There is room for improvement though. For example, one of the biggest challenges for any manufacturer is to get their Brand Promise represented consistently at the point of sale and Specialized, like all businesses struggle there sometimes. I have come across many instances where a manufacturer’s Brand Promise isn’t evident at the local bike shop, the UK’s most dominant wholesaler/distributor for instance, appears to be universally despised by retailers, which can’t be good for anyone’s business, but Specialised do better than most with their customer service even at the sharp end of their sales chain and this has to be down to sound internal marketing. So, if anybody at Specialised is listening, I’d be interested to hear what you do and even more interested to help you reign in those local bike shop owners and staff a bit tighter.

Oh, and thanks to Duncan Cruxton at Specialized for sorting my cycle computer problem!

Michael Weaver
June 5, 2008

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