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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’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.
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.
If you’d like to read more about this concept, check out “Sticky Branding” by Jeremy Miller; Principle 5: Total Customer Experience at Strategies with a Kick.”