Marketing and sales pros know that people don’t really buy features and benefits, they buy feelings and stories. Your brand (hopefully) tells your buying audience a compelling story, one that gets retold each time they interact with your brand, which makes them feel a certain way, under a variety of circumstances. For retailers this means that each time customers shop your store, whether brick and mortar or online, they have certain expectations of that experience, and if you don’t live up to them, you may be doing damage to your brand. This makes customer service a key component to brand loyalty.
I was speaking with a friend of ours the other day and we were comparing the stores where we buy wine. I buy at a small, boutique, one-off adult beverage emporium, one that specializes in having a large selection of micro-brews, and a strong selection of more esoteric Bourbons and Scotches, and a terrific selection of wines from around the world. She shops at a chain store, owned by a major grocery retailer, with a huge inventory of all the top brands, great pricing due to volume buys, and a no-frills approach to store design and displays.
The reason she was asking me where I buy is because she had recently experienced three separate instances of poor customer service by store sales staff. She swore that after three strikes, she would never patronize that store again. Her brand loyalty to that brand, which had been off-the-charts strong before, based on it’s affiliation with the larger grocery chain, had been eroded to zero in just three perceived poor incidences of inattentive, rude, or unpleasant behavior. The selection, pricing, hours, decor and layout hadn’t changed one bit, but her perception of the store and its contents changed dramatically, for the worse.
Now I’m pretty sure the large chain won’t really miss her business, and will likely never make positive changes to the sales staff’s training or behavior guidelines, probably because they will never know they have a problem, and she has no reason to tell them about it. But if you multiply her experience by a hundred, or several hundred, or several thousand chain-wide, you start to see some negative effects on the balance sheet. If you disappoint your target audience badly enough, or often enough, then your brand is no longer what it was.
Ongoing feedback from customers, becoming more customer-centric in your operations as well as your marketing, can help stem this downward spiral and if caught early enough can give you a start on reversing it. Some companies are acutely aware of this, and take great pains to listen carefully to their customers. This customer brand monitoring takes several forms – feedback cards, social media monitoring, ongoing survey research, continual customer service call monitoring and review, and a host of technological solutions that track and measure customer attitude and preferences.
One of the more diligent brands in this regard is Hilton. They religiously guard their premium brand, listening carefully to all customer feedback, and taking swift, effective steps to satisfy customer complaints. They do it so well that most complainers are turned into brand evangelists! They have an overwhelmingly positive customer rating in a variety of categories by organizations like J.D. Power, Zogby Analytics, and media outlet lists like MSN, List25, and Wall St. 24/7. They have realized that their customer interactions are a driving force in their brand loyalty, and take iron-clad, positive steps to protect it and bolster it with each customer experience they deliver.
The real message is that while a single customer may not contribute much to your bottom line on their own, the symptoms and actions that lead to that customer losing their loyalty to the brand need to be addressed before they “go viral” among your customers and degrade the brand. As Barney Fife once said, “we can’t have that kind of behavior, we gotta nip it in the bud” when you fail to deliver the highest level customer experience each and every time.