Innovation: Customer Service is the CONDUIT Through Which Direct Brand Conversations Happen

Customer service and brand marketing are rapidly converging. With the help of social media and courtesy of greater competitive forces, most companies are now finding that the experience of their brand is one of if not the differentiator for their brand. But wait, the experience does not have to be passive on the company side – the story the company reinforces in the minds of its customers counts.

This is valid especially with mature brands where predictability can become a double edged sword. Was Starbucks too much of a good thing?I asked a short two months ago. There is a conversation going on right now on several blogs about how the company could take its brand to the next level.

Although the company may call this a “brand conversation”, our customers just think of it as a cup of coffee and a chat worth going to that specific store and paying for. The brand is a by-product of that experience – no more and no less. Let’s not over-think it.

John Moore of Brand Autopsy, author of Tribal Knowledge, sums up this lesson for any business nicely in his book:

  1. Be passionate about your business
  2. Educate customers on how and why they should appreciate what you offer
  3. Create a welcoming place, an experience easy to remember

Every word counts, every action counts, attitude counts. This is where I see plenty of opportunity for businesses to move back into customer service. The whole business, not just a lucky few on the front lines.

Recently Starbucks closed 7,000 of its U.S. locations for three hours so it could provide espresso excellence training to employees. Was that valuable to us?

I believe we become repeat purchasers of those products and services that have a good ratio between price and value. Yet, the most valuable of all brand experiences happen through direct conversations. These are the “in the moment” instances in which a company has the opportunity to either make or break your day, to choose whether it will be difficult and sloppy, or if it will make its actions count. Actions matter.

“Companies that focus on delivering remarkable products and services attract significant attention from customers conditioned to a retail world in which the necessities are bought and sold without fuss or feeling.”(Page xiii)

“Companies that put their money behind their brand and not their business fail to realize that the business is the brand.”(Page 6)

“Starbucks learned the most effective way to spend its marketing dollars is not on making funnier television commercials but rather on making better customer experiences.”(Page 10)

“…lasting brand loyalty is built on making the common uncommon…”(Page 11)

“Measuring the reputation of a brand can and should be as simple as measuring the reputation of a company – something that is earned through purposeful execution and not merely fabricated to exploit a worthwhile business opportunity.”(Page 24)

“The challenge for a company that chooses to open its doors – and grow its business – based on quality products and services and quality customer experiences is that it has only one shot to make a meaningful customer connection. Customers will overcome their aversion to higher prices if the product or service they are buying is well worth it.”(Page 32)

“Businesses can simplify sales strategies by focusing on acquiring new customers; getting current customers to buy more, more often; and/or raising prices. It really is that simple.”(Page 40)

“Growth was and is encouraged, and made possible, by wanting to meet the desires of customers more than wanting to meet sales or profit projections…Starbucks’ steadfast drive to become the best coffee retailer has resulted in its being the biggest coffee retailer. It can often work out that way…but it never seems to work in the reverse.”(Page 51)

“What is the benefit of the benefit of your best-selling product or service? Think about its most important feature and make it more personal, until you’ve reached the ultimate experience your customers derive from it.”(Page 59)

“Needs are basic. Needs are rational. Needs are boring. Needs have been commoditized. Every unremarkable business seems to be in the needs-fulfilling business. Wants are emotional. Wants are aspirational. Wants are thrilling. Wants are where the profits are. Only truly remarkable businesses are in the business of satisfying customer wants by helping customers actualize their aspirations.”(Page 96)

“Delivering on promises is not enough today. Businesses, big or small, must find ways to over-deliver on their promises, implied and expressly stated, to customers…The most important part of over-delivering on promises to customers is having conscientious employees who make over-delivering a part of their everyday on-the-job way of life.”(Pages 103-104)

“…experiences provide customers with rich and compelling stories to share with others, while products typically satiate immediate, basic needs.”(Page 136)

“The best internal culture a company could hope for is one where the employees are so loyal they spread word of the company and its product with fierce passion, a culture where employees go way beyond being minions to being missionaries.”(Page 157)

“Brands are made possible by people because, unlike products and services, competitors cannot replicate a brand’s promise, or their passion.”(Page 189)

“Starbucks doesn’t view profit and the maximizing of profits as business strategy. The company views profit as an outcome. The mindset at Starbucks is, profit happens as a direct result of doing everything else right.”(Page 225)