Branding Through Customer Service

Special Note:
Brand Building for Small Business has been identified by Feedspot (www.Feedspot.com) as one of the Top 100 Branding Blogs. Feedspot provides “the most comprehensive list of branding blogs on the Internet” so we are pleased to be part of that group.  To learn more, visit https://blog.feedspot.com/branding_blogs/.

Most business owners appreciate the importance of customer service, but far fewer recognize the connection between the service they provide and the brand they represent.  Your customers’ experience with your business should reflect and reinforce your brand (or the personality of your company). 

Let’s look at two extreme examples. 

Amazon

amazon-vision-statement-mission-statement

Amazon’s customer-centric focus is a part of their mission and vision statements.  They are known for free two-day shipping (now with same-day options sometimes available), one-click purchases, and their virtual assistant (i.e., Alexa; lovingly known as Lexie in our house . . . or dumba@#$!, depending on the day and how well she’s performing her virtual assistance role). 

While having to wait ten minutes to speak to another company’s customer service representative may be annoying, most people probably wouldn’t be surprised.  However, we have different expectations for Amazon.  We expect to communicate with someone right away when we have an issue, and we expect that individual to capably handle the problem . . . and that’s only for those situations in which we can’t fix the issue ourselves (for example, “returning” a product without ever even interacting with customer service).  Quick, tech-savvy, and capable are qualities associated with Amazon’s brand, so we expect their approach to customer service to embody those same characteristics. 

Amazon also uses service interactions as opportunities to reinforce their brand.  They thank you for shopping with Amazon over the phone or via chat.  Afterwards, you’ll receive an email message from customer service, asking for feedback on your experience.  In that email, you’ll see the company logo, an email layout consistent with the company’s style, and a reference to the company building “Earth’s Most Customer-Centric Company.” 

Amazon’s brand is reflected and reinforced throughout the customer service experience.

On the flip side, sometimes customer service that isn’t customer focused or service focused is actually an important part of the brand, too.

Ferrari

This company’s product is associated with luxury, quality, and exclusivity.  For the most elusive Ferraris with very limited production, you don’t simply order one from the new flashy and convenient car vending machines.  You don’t simply order one at all.  You “request” to order one, and those requests are not fulfilled in the traditionally expected “first-come, first-serve” manner.  If you have money, fame, and an existing collection of Ferraris, you will probably make the cut; no guarantees though. 

Robert Herjavec, the businessman turned celebrity on ABC’s Shark Tank, spoke about ordering a Ferrari in Wired magazine, “The funny thing is, you never really know if you’re getting one until you’re actually getting one.”

(Note that most of the cost is required in advance of being guaranteed your requested Ferrari!)

“. . . You wait for a while, then you kind of get a date range, then you get a closer date, then you get the actual date. Then it’s definitely Christmas,” said Herjavec.

If you happen to request a paint color for your new car that Ferrari deems to be in poor taste, you can be denied said paint color. 

So, you make an order (with payment) without guarantee of getting the product, you wait an extraordinarily long time IF you are given the privilege of being promised the product, and customization choices aren’t always yours to make.  All of these customer service attributes reflect the exclusivity that is Ferrari’s brand and actually add to the allure of their products.

While I am not quite Ferrari’s target demographic and haven’t been involved in this process, I would expect that their brand is reinforced at each stage of the way – indirectly and directly portraying the characteristics that define them (luxury, quality, and exclusivity), including visual brand components as well whenever possible (for example, the prancing horse).

Customer Service Characteristics that Represent Your Brand

While the two brand examples highlighted are extreme ones, all aspects of your customer service do communicate qualities about your business.  Below is a list of some different customer service opportunities to consider.  The way your company handles each of these items contributes to a brand experience . . . one that hopefully reflects your perception of your brand. 

-The amount of time taken to answer phone calls/emails

-The way customers and potential customers are addressed in person as well as via phone/email

-The extent of information available to potential customers

-The level of assistance provided to a customer when experiencing an issue

-The way customer input and suggestions are handled

-The background information included with a product or service

-The amount of detail provided with any instructions included with a product or service

-The inclusion of contact information in promotional materials and product documentation

-The extent of customer follow-up provided post-purchase

-The inclusion of your logo and tag line in all possible service interactions (e-mail, letters, etc.) and documents

-The adherence to your company’s style guide in all possible service interactions (e-mail, letters, etc.) and documents (If you haven’t developed a style guide for your business yet, read The Role of a Brand Style Guide.)

If upon looking at this list, you feel like your customer service experience is fully in synch with your brand, pat yourself on the back!  That is no small feat! 

Want an even stronger evaluation?  Ask a few of your customers to do the same review on your behalf. 

If one or more attributes could use some tweaking to either better represent your company or to better take advantage of the branding opportunities that exist, you’re not alone.  The good news is that you can make important changes over time that can have a big impact on your business and your brand.

WIN-WIN!! Charitable Contributions as an Opportunity for Branding

Special Note:
Brand Building for Small Business has been identified by Feedspot (www.Feedspot.com) as one of the Top 100 Branding Blogs. Feedspot provides “the most comprehensive list of branding blogs on the Internet” so we are pleased to be part of that group.

The requests for donations of time and/or money never stop.  (I know – because the need never stops!) 

Generally speaking, the causes asking for help are very worthwhile, and you’d really like to do your part . . . but didn’t that agency just make the same request last month? 

While this blog can’t suggest ways to cut down the number of times you are approached, we do hope to help you view these solicitations just a bit differently – as chances “to get” as well as “to give.”

Charitable contributions take many forms.  Sometimes, you are asked to sponsor an event.  Maybe someone wants you to take out an ad in a program book – often honoring an individual for community service.  Or, have you been given a chance to underwrite the cost of a little league team (who will wear the name of your business on the backs of two dozen kids several times a week for many months)?  Or, perhaps you’ve been asked to support a high school sport, a public broadcasting station, a local church, etc.

Typically, the cost to participate is low (relative to the cost of advertising in the media) . . . and you choose the amount.  Since many of us will “just say yes” very often due to good intentions/guilt/a sense of moral obligation, we encourage you to recognize the value of such local “advertising.”

Frankly, you are associating your business in a positive way with a good cause and promoting an image (and self-image) of community involvement, which can be very valuable (especially for a local retail operation).

However, you must be sure to take full advantage of the quid quo pro benefit you are provided.

  • Always include your logo.
  • Mention as much of your “boiler plate” description of yourself as possible.
  • If you are given ad space in a program, you certainly congratulate the honoree but be sure to also mention your products and services as well in a manner consistent with your branding (so the message gets repeated the same way every time).
  • If your sponsorship includes a t-shirt (or some other imprintable promotional item) or perhaps even a banner bearing your company’s name, spend time on the artwork to make your branding elements as visible and prominent as possible.
  • If the organization you sponsor does all of the preparation, be sure to provide the quality logo needed to produce the best results and request to see a proof of the complete artwork in advance of printing.
  • If accompanying radio or TV advertising for the event includes mention of you, be very specific about the way your name should be handled.
  • If you are in a growth pattern, use these charitable platforms to let people know you are hiring . . . and provide a link to your web site to learn more about the company, the openings and internships available, and perhaps even apply online.

While proper care will enable you to take good advantage of the benefits provided, your branding opportunity does not have to end with the event.

SOCIAL MEDIA

Use your social media platforms to post news about your involvement in the community-based activities.  For artwork, you can often post the logo of the agency sponsoring the event as well as your own . . . and perhaps a picture of the person being honored.  Typically, those images will generate views/readers.

Social media traffic is one factor that can assist getting your name to turn up in Internet searches . . . so your charitable efforts help you in this way, too.

(Note:  Efforts to get your name to appear in searches is referred to SEO – Search Engine Optimization; future articles are planned that address this subject.)


PRESS RELEASES

Very often, charitable acts can be used to prepare press releases that stand a very good chance of achieving publication.  For example, did your employees volunteer at a soup kitchen, watch over a Salvation Army collection kettle, or perhaps participate in a United Way Day of Caring.  If so, let the world know.  In fact, very often the organization you are helping will have created PR (AND social media postings) of their own so you benefit from their mention without requiring the preparation.  However, be sure to request the right to review prior to submission to make sure your branding elements are included and handled correctly.  (Most organizations are used to getting requests of this kind!)

WEB SITE CONTENT

News about your charitable involvements can be good web site content that allows you to reveal a different, less formal side of your culture – the kinds of information that can be very helpful in recruiting prospective employees looking to learn more about you and decide whether yours is the kind of company that s/he wants to join.

So . . . the moral of this story is to recognize the potential of charitable contributions to do good for others . . . and you, too!  A WIN-WIN!! situation.

While you may have to get a little more involved than just writing out a check, the time and effort you devote will not be significant, and the benefit to your branding efforts can be great.  You can become better known . . . and known as a good citizen to society, which will encourage people to think positive thoughts when they see your logo.

Where to Begin?

“Cha Ching,” my phone sang.

Was that what I thought it was . . . my first sale?!?  I vividly remember the thrill and excitement I felt that evening.  I basked in hugs from my husband and kids, texted my close friends and family, and uncorked the champagne (well, sparkling Moscato actually; it was only a $12 sale after all). 

Fast forward one year ahead when the profit from my sales was about half my full-time income, and I was equally thrilled and excited at the idea of quitting my day job to pursue my business full time.  I couldn’t wait to be able to choose the way I dedicated my work hours, to have creative freedom, to balance my work schedule with my home life however I saw fit, to be directly responsible for my earnings . . . my list could go on and on.  The entrepreneurial allure was holy grail level for me.

Once I gave my three weeks’ notice (which my former boss and now blog partner masterfully managed to extend into three months’ notice), I was officially on cloud nine.     

Fast forward once again to my first day “unemployed” and me staring at my computer screen.  I had so many new designs I was looking forward to creating and so many ideas for new products.  My mouse and my keyboard and I forged ahead at full speed.

* * *

Up until that point, I had spent the entirety of my career in marketing communications.  I studied organizational communications and marketing for my undergrad and graduate degrees, I taught college public relations courses, and I worked for almost 15 years in the corporate world as an important contributor of a national, billion-dollar brand. 

The first item on my new business to-do list – in bold print – should have been to create a marketing plan. 

In reality, that’s not even close to what happened.  Why?  In writing this all down, I actually needed a couple minutes to decide exactly why, and I think it’s the more immediate sense of urgency you get when your business is responsible for your livelihood.  You want to focus on the areas of your company that are as tangible as your mortgage payments . . . and groceries . . . and kids’ back-to-school clothes.  I effectually went into survival mode.  Efforts producing and sustaining immediate profits were crucial while time for endeavors reaping long-term dividends felt like a luxury.

Don’t get me wrong. I had put in place certain basic brand fundamentals from the beginning.  Long before my first sale, I had decided on a name and colors, secured a web site address, and created a logo.  I even had a pretty clear sense of the qualities that would differentiate my company from others.  However, the idea of taking my brand basics and then creating and executing a blueprint for building a strong and successful brand WHILE running my business was completely and utterly overwhelming to me.

* * *

Well, as they say, the journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step.  Once my survival instinct numbed a bit, I decided to take one single step.  I addressed one new activity per week.  Since I still had very little “free time” in my business AND had no real marketing plan, I didn’t give myself any constraints on the duration or direction of my efforts; just the quantity – I just needed to do one brand building task per week. 

So one week, I created an Instagram account for my business; another, I researched local venues to get my brand name out in my community; still another, I researched blogs that I could partner with to promote my brand, etc., etc., etc.  In essence, I did what I could/when I could, knowing that as long as these activities reflected my brand basics, my business would reap long-term benefits.

Over time, I mastered my one-a-week goal, and I built on that momentum – once a week, I now had to do one maintenance branding task (writing a blog posting, attending a local “expo/show,” posting content on my social media platforms, etc.) in addition to my one brand building task (researching, expanding into new venues/platforms, etc.). 

If this is starting to sound like a lot, take a breath.  There’s no need to get bogged down with specifics at this point.  We’ll cover them all as we go, and we’ll help you get your system into place.  We’ll focus on the areas we think are most beneficial to start with first, and we’ll teach you how to execute those initial steps; then, we’ll focus on building that brand – one task at a time.  Soon, you’ll find that your successes will justify the time you invest, making the process much easier.

* * *

Next up – What’s in a Name? . . . The first in a series focusing on the initial steps in building your brand.