Brands and Customer Service, and Being Nice is Underrated

What emotion does your brand inspire?
(Photo credit: YDubel)

I’m not sure when it happened, but I started to become really obsessed with brands and customer service. (And I when I say brands, I don’t just mean businesses, but nonprofits and individuals too). I have this inkling it might be because I’m getting older, but I really just don’t want to deal with poor customer service anymore.

I just finished a series on how you, as a representative for your organization, can report and write your story. But in terms of customer service, we can only guide this conversation by providing the best service possible.

I’m a big fan of Bernadette Jiwa and her blog. She sums up what I’m talking about in her post, What If Your Customers Could Talk?  “We still think that marketing is how we talk to people about ourselves. Marketing is giving people something to talk about.” (She also writes a great deal about “customer experience,” “everything that happens when people encounter your brand.” For instance, see The Business Case For Creating Great Customer ExperiencesWhy This And Not That? and Pick One Thing.

I’m also reading The Passion Conversation by Robbin Phillips, Greg Cordell, Geno Church, and John Moore from Brains on Fire. In chapter two, the authors write:

“No passion, no conversation.
No conversation, no word of mouth [marketing].
No word of mouth,
no successful business.”

Wow! That sums it up perfectly too. What goes along with this is providing awesome customer service because that’s a huge part of what people are going to talk about — whether it’s passion from being awesome or passion from being really terrible.

Specifically, the authors say,”there are three motivations that spark conversations about brands and organizations:” Functional, Social, and Emotional. Customer service fits under emotional motivation. “People are more likely to talk about brands and organizations when they evoke strong, polarizing emotions on the edges of love and hate, or shock and awe.”

So I have some short stories for you, and they are about customer service.

Being Nice is Underrated

In July, we ate at a local pizza restaurant. We were walking down the main street in town checking out our options. The weather was beautiful, and we were looking to sit somewhere outside. So how did we get tempted? The owner was outside handing out samples of pizza. They were really good. But that’s not what got us.

What hooked us was his attitude. He wasn’t over-the-top salesy or forceful. He said something along the lines of, “we’re new in the neighborhood and this is the best way to get a feel for our food. Please try some.” And did I mention he always had a huge smile on his face? And it wasn’t a fake, cheesy smile, it was absolutely genuine. He was in his element, loving what he was doing. And it showed.

What’s the point? We sat down and watched him give out free samples for another 30 minutes or more. Most people took a sample, and looked up, searching for the restaurant name. What better advertising can you have? (although I might have suggested he have business cards or menus for people to take with them so they don’t forget). Despite this being such a great way to advertise a new restaurant, this is the first time I’ve seen anyone do this on the main street.

If You Want Fast Food, Don’t Come Back

As I said, I’m a big fan of reading Bernadette Jiwa’s blog. It’s got short posts, it’s beautifully written, and it’s full of advice about how you can tell the story of your brand.

In Ms. Jiwa’s book, Fortune Cookie Principle: The 20 Keys to a Great Brand Story and Why Your Business Needs One, she tells a story about a customer at a restaurant, who had to wait an hour for his party’s food (in the chapter on Customer Experience). The customer later complained to the owner, who said to him that if he had wanted fast food, he should have gone to McDonald’s, and basically, don’t come back.

What’s the point? Ms. Jiwa reports that this restaurant owner also fills his restaurant with people who have bought online discount deals. The point really is that, “You have the opportunity to tell the story of your business to the people who want to hear it…If your story sends the good ones away, you’ll get the customers you deserve.”

Internet Radio Connects With a “Super Fan”

My father-in-law told this story about an Internet radio station. It went something like this:

“Back when the station was young, I was a regular listener. This was before it charged for its service. It was completely free, but I was listening to it a lot, and I wanted to support it. So I sent a letter and some money [let me interject here and acknowledge that this is yes, a bit strange. Sending money for a free service!]. A few weeks later, I received a thank you letter and a T-shirt in response to my support.”

Obviously, this stuck with my father-in-law, and he became a paid subscriber as soon as the option was available. But when I heard that story, I knew immediately that I liked the station very much.

What’s the point? The point is that this response (a personal letter and T-shirt) secured the station a “super fan,” and a whole lot of good word of mouth advertising. I’m sure my father-in-law told many other people.

My Doctor Listened to Me

As I’ve been thinking about what brands I support, I realized my doctor’s office is a brand. It’s a business and it has a reputation to maintain. Although I believe at times they have to turn away new patients (it’s very busy), they still have to make sure they provide the best care possible to their current patients. And that they do!

There have been a couple of times I’ve been really ill and when I call, they always give me an appointment that day or the next day. Unlike other doctor’s offices, they don’t put me on hold, or put me through three different receptionists, who all make you restate in detail what is wrong with you (which is the last thing anyone wants to do when they’re sick).

I arrive, and they know who I am. I then only have to tell one doctor (or to be technical, physician’s assistant) my symptoms. I drive at least 30 minutes extra to get there, and I pay for parking (not something I do lightly).

Last time I was ill, the physician’s assistant unfortunately wasn’t sure what medicine was safe for me because I’m breastfeeding. The thing is that didn’t matter to me. He listened to what I said and repeated it back to me. He gave me some suggestions and said if these don’t work, make sure you call me back. He also gave me a prescription that was safe that I was only to fill if my symptoms got worse.

What’s the point? I was given an appointment right away. I only had to tell one person I was ill (no details required). The physician’s assistant repeated what I said to make sure he understood, and to reaffirm what I was saying so that I knew he was listening to me. What would happen if all businesses treated us as if we mattered this much?

Pizza Chain Fixes Mistake

What if a restaurant makes a mistake? And then when you bring it to their attention, they ignore it. Can this be fixed?

I found chicken in my take-out vegetarian calzone. I emailed the link on the chain’s website for customer service, letting them know. I was polite; I’m always polite. Plus, this is where we go when we get take-out pizza. I wanted some sort of apology because I wanted to be able to go back. Mistakes happen, but I could then let this go.

I waited and waited, but didn’t get a response. Then I got mad. I felt ignored. Probably because I threatened to stop eating there, my husband sent an email saying I had not received a response.

What’s the point? At this point, he received a reply and an apology, as well as a coupon in the mail for what amounted to a free pizza. I probably would have been fine with just an acknowledgement. It was the follow-up that’s important. Everyone wants to know they are being heard.

What did I miss? If you’re out there read­ing, let me know I’m reach­ing you in the com­ments below.

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