Marketing Profs, August 22, 2011

Your customers' experience can make or break your brand: 8 steps for success
By Barbara Bix

In this article, you'll learn about:

  • The importance of consistent messaging
  • Steps you can take, post-sales, to enhance your brand

The company clearly understood the market. Early reviewers praised the product's performance. The product included all the right features and benefits.

It was obvious that the company had made a significant investment in branding its flagship solution. The name was short, crisp, and evocative. The logo was memorable. The promotion was compelling, frequent, and consistent.

At the heart of the company's pitch, was an implied threat about the consequences of continuing to operate without their product. So, I made a special trip to the store to purchase it right away.

Broken promises damage brands

The problem was I couldn't install it. What's more, it took twenty-four hours to locate someone who could.

After several hours on hold, and several managers' promises to escalate the issue, I finally reached someone at the company's headquarters who succeeded in connecting me with a service person authorized to resolve the problem. She entered a functioning code and the installation began in a matter of minutes.

The trouble was that in the intervening twenty-four hours, the company's failure to deliver on its promise tarnished its reputation. Due to a series of post-sales mishaps, the company had counteracted months of well-executed marketing investments. What a shame.

8 steps you can take to protect your brand

I learned a lot from the experience. Here are 8 steps others can take to protect their brands.

1. Recognize that a product is only as good as the customer experience.

First impressions count. To identify all the elements that contribute to a good customer experience, include production and customer-facing personnel in your product development process. Then, take steps to ensure that everything is in place.

2. Attempt to anticipate and address potential problems

Before going to market, test all aspects of the product's delivery. Defects tarnish the company's brand and service calls erode profit margins.

3. Provide customers with recourse in the event of a product failure.

Mistakes happen. So, always provide access to someone who can take corrective action--ideally by phone and available 24 x 7. Most customers will forgive product failures if they can reach an empathic support person who remedies the situation.

It's insufficient to refer customers to prepared "frequently asked questions". For one, company personnel often miss questions real customers have. For another, customers regard answers that don't squarely address their questions as defects, rather than signs of their own inadequacy.

4. Treat customers with respect.

Avoid keeping customers "on hold". Staff support lines with sufficient personnel. Many people find it particularly galling to sit on hold while they're waiting for someone to fix a product they bought to improve their productivity.

When call volumes are especially high, give customers the option of receiving a call back. Also, consider releasing them, and their phone lines, while researching problems or documenting cases that don't require customer input.

5. Empower employees to take corrective action.

This problem was easy to address. The issue was a mismatch between a code included with the product and the company's database of authorized product keys. The frontline support person could have done exactly what his superior did--and resolved the problem right away.

6. Set expectations

This company had sold "fear" of operating without its product, thereby contributing to an expectation that the company would resolve problems quickly. Taking 24 hours to connect customers with support personnel sent a very different message.

Rather than leaving expectations to chance, let customers know how long it will take to get an initial call back. Then, tell them when they can expect a resolution to the problem.

7. Attend to your social media outposts

In the past, dissatisfied customers told ten people. Today, they can inform thousands with just a few keystrokes.

When they don't get satisfaction going through the normal channels, unhappy customers may turn to social media to share their disappointment. Nevertheless, companies that monitor their brands on social media can often turn situations around, before they get out of hand, if they respond quickly and offer to address the problem.

8. Follow up for continuous improvement

Follow up, learn and improve. Step one is having a process for capturing and eliminating errors. Step two is fixing the process to avoid future problems.

One company I know classifies a shipment as "dead on arrival" if anything it's done, or failed to do, interferes with the customer's experience. This organization convenes cross-functional meetings weekly to review DOAs, delve into the root cause of the problem, and develop a course of action to ensure that the problem does not recur.

These steps are not novel. In fact, most businesses get it right. Ensure your company is one of them by following these eight easy steps. Have others to add? Let us know.

Barbara Bix, Managing Principal of BB Marketing Plus (www.bbmarketingplus.com), helps companies enhance their brands by capturing and enhancing the customer experience.

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