Instead of pulling a lesson from other businesses, I spent one week as an “alert consumer” to see what could be learned. The following are notes from a single week in my consumer diary.
I order carryout from my favorite local Indian restaurant, Baba, in Oakley. I probably order carryout 40 times a year from Baba. Only once has an order been incorrectly fulfilled, and when it was, it was immediately made right, with an apology. On this trip, everything, as usual, is correct and delicious.
I visit my tailor, Ramundo, in Mt. Lookout Square. I drop off some trousers and am told they will be ready the following Friday. As it turns out, I am back in the area a day early. I call Ramundo, who confirms that the trousers are, in fact, ready. I drop by and am greeted with a pleasant efficiency (not the feigned cheerfulness so prevalent in retail today). Ninety seconds later, I’m on my way. The tailoring, as usual, is perfect.
That night, I have car trouble. I call the Nissan dealership where his car is serviced. It being a weekend night, no one answers, but there is also no way to leave a voice mail. So I visit the dealer’s website and submit a service form that promises a confirmation call or email within 12 hours. No call or email is ever received. Meanwhile, I need wheels.
I arrange to rent a car from a company where I enjoy “gold level” membership. This is meant to include a car that’s waiting under a canopy in a preferred members section, as per their advertisements. But when I arrive, my name is not listed on the electronic board. When I get to the counter and explain what has happened, the young counter agent tells me that this is because “your reservation was for 3:30, and it’s just 3:30 right now.” I suspect this is a lie, and a glance at my watch confirms that it is, in fact, 3:38. The punk at the counter has elected to cover up his company’s mistake by suggesting that I cannot tell time.
I call the dealership to explain the situation with my car. The person on the other end of the line interrupts: “My Nissan guy is busy. Can he call you back?” I leave my phone number, and, again, my call is not returned. This is the fourth local dealer I’ve tried in the 12 years I’ve driven Nissans. They will be my last.
Later that day, I make my bimonthly trip to Shake It Records, one of the 10 best record stores in the country. I enter with a lengthy list of CDs on my wish-list, and even though several would easily be described as “obscure,” most are in stock. At the register, Darren, the co-owner, offers to special-order those that aren’t in the store, and later follows up with a call to let me know they’ve arrived.
I visit a restaurant at Newport on the Levee. My date and I occupy the table for 75 minutes, during which time no one refills our water glasses, checks on our satisfaction with our meal, or takes a second drink order.
I order a few shirts from the Ben Sherman website. They arrive the following Monday, within the promised delivery time and without incident.
So what are the lessons here?
Big brand ideas are important. But so are the details. Get granular with your brand. Identify – and seek to improve – every single touchpoint that creates your brand experience. In several of the above examples, a seemingly small act enabled me to continue a relationship of trust with a brand.
You can learn a lot about your own brand by observing others. Practice “alert consumerism.” What great brand experiences have you experienced first hand? Don’t just focus on the transaction – also look at the what, the how and the why.
The internal and external perceptions of our brands rarely match. In some cases, my experience fell far short of the ideal that management should seek to deliver. Don’t rely on your own beliefs about your brand – believe it or not, you might be biased. Ask your customers. Often.
Make deposits into your brand’s bank account. Remember Stephen Covey’s concept of the “Emotional Bank Account”? Think of your brand in the same way. You get a few points for doing what you’re supposed to do, including implied promises like “professional” and “friendly.” You lose big points for creating a disappointing experience, and you win big for exceeding expectations.
A version of this post appeared in the Cincinnati Business Courier on July 13, 2007 in the column “That Branding Thing.” Originally co-written with D. Wecker.
About Matthew Fenton: Matthew founded Three Deuce Branding in 1997 with a simple mission: “To help good people build great brands.” He’s a former CMO who repeatedly led underdog brands to dramatically outpace the market, and now he does the same for the clients he serves. Businesses with revenues of seven to ten figures trust Matthew to help them achieve “brand clarity” through core brand strategy and positioning. Matthew is also a highly-rated speaker. Contact Matthew here. He’s based in Chicago.
Copyright 2007 – Matthew Fenton. All Rights Reserved. You may reprint this article with the original, unedited text intact, including the About Matthew Fenton section.