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"Your Call is Important to Us…" (or, How to Ruin Brand Experience)

"Your Call is Important to Us…" (or, How to Ruin Brand Experience)


I'd like to see a show of hands: how many of you have enjoyed the experience of calling into an automated phone system?

Anyone? Anyone? Bueller?

The truth is, we all hate these systems. The interminable systems of Muzak, pressing numbers, and confirming your account ID drives even the most patient person crazy. These Byzantine phone systems were invented – supposedly - with the goal of reducing cost and simplifying the customer experience. Instead, corporations have created a customer experience that nearly always frustrates their customers, erodes their brand, and reduces long-term profitability.

Why businesses should care if I'm on hold

"Back in the day" (meaning pre-internet) it was commonly assumed that a satisfied customer might share her positive brand experience with a few people. An unhappy customer? It’s a wholly different picture. Here are some frightening, pre-internet statistics from the 1980’s (source: White House Office of Consumer Affairs/TARP report):

  • On average, twice as many people tell about bad experiences vs. good ones
  • The more expensive the purchase, the greater number of people will be told of both good and bad experiences. These numbers were quite often in the double-digits for high-ticket items like car purchases.
  • About 13% of dissatisfied customers tell more than 20 people

In an era of Twitter, Facebook, and blogging, these numbers are exponential. Take Kinesis, for example: Between partners and staff, we have thousands of friends and followers on various social media platforms. Our website receives over 3000 unique visitors per month and includes other bloggers, marketers, and PR professionals. These friends and followers act as an amplifying force, tweeting, re-tweeting, and “liking” the experiences we share (both good and bad).

The simple truth is that in the amount of power and influence a single customer can wield is beyond the comprehension of most corporations. (If you still don’t believe me, do a quick Google search on “Kevin Smith, Southwest Airlines.”)

They’re Killing Your Brand (and you don’t even know it)

Recently, I had a less-than-stellar brand experience with an automotive company. Normally known for a great brand experience, this corporation dropped the ball. So, what happened?

In a nutshell, I was put on hold. For a long time. A very long time. And, when I finally got through, no one within the company was willing to really help. Here are just a few highlights:

  • False Promises: No matter how many times the recording says, “Your call is important to us” it will never ring true - especially when you've been on hold for 20 minutes. After all, if the call was important, the company would put real human beings on the line.
  • Hide and Seek: After growing frustrated with the automated phone system, I went looking for an easy way to email the company. Strike 2 – no email address, no contact form, no satisfaction.
  • All I Need is a Hero: After finally getting through, I expressed my challenge. While customer service reps made a token effort at resolving my problem, no one was willing to be my “champion” and take the extra effort to help me out. Sadly, this experience was repeated when I tried other departments within the company

Ironically, the car referenced in this tale performed well. I liked the dealer, and generally had a positive experience with the brand. Unfortunately, this car company chose to outsource a core piece of their customer experience (leasing), and my brand experience was nothing short of miserable.

Getting the Right Brand Experience (and profiting for it)

At Kinesis, we spend a lot of time coaching our clients on the value of “brand experience.” This is the term we use to describe the TOTAL feeling a customer has for your goods and services – everything from the customer’s experience on the phone to the feeling they have when they buy your products or services. And, smart companies “get it” – they reap tremendous rewards from this understanding.

Zappos, for example, creates a powerful, customer-centric brand experience every day – it’s even reflected in their tagline: “Powered by Service.” They understand that taking care of the customer is the right thing to do, and that it’s a fast-track to huge financial returns. Still doubtful? How about these revenue numbers (from Zappos’ site):

  • 1999: Almost nothing
  • 2000: $ 1.6 mm
  • 2001: $ 8.6 mm
  • 2002: $ 32 mm
  • 2003: $ 70 mm
  • 2004: $184 mm
  • 2005: $370 mm
  • 2006: $597 mm
  • 2007: $840 mm
  • 2008: Over $1 billion

Make Service Real in Your Business

One of the best ways to improve customer experience is to intertwine it with your core company values. If you live by a set of values that align with the customer (true win-wins) then customer service becomes a core part of your day-to-day operations. A great example of this in action can be seen at Ruby Receptionists – the lovely team that answers phones on behalf of small businesses across the country.

I’ve known and used Ruby’s virtual receptionist services for several years, and I can tell you – hands down – these are the best “receptionists” out there. Why? Well, part of the reason is that one of their core values is to practice “WOWism.” WOWism is an expression they use to describe that extra effort that we all want to see in our day-to-day interactions. Here’s how Ruby, Kendra Neal, describes it:

We’re not just about answering phones. We’re about making your day. We don’t do fine — we hit it out of the park. We’re about finding that special something that will knock your socks off, and giving it to you before you even know you want it. Nothing gives us a bigger kick than impressing our clients and team members. More than impressing, really — surprising, delighting, WOWing. Simply doing a good job isn’t enough for us. We make our mark by practicing WOWism.

That’s a powerful commitment, and explains why Ruby Receptionists is listed both as one of Oregon’s fastest growing AND Best Companies to work for. They don’t just give lip-service to customer care, they BELIEVE it.


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