Dr.Janelle Barlow, president of TMI - US, a human resources development company and author of “A Complaint is a Gift” talks of how it is becoming increasingly important for companies to focus on differentiators that set them apart from the competition, especially in the face of a slowing economy. Edited excerpts:
What is branded customer service?
Every business today is attempting to differentiate itself. So many businesses have become commodities to the customer who has great difficulty in differentiating between one business and the other. One thing that organizations can use to differentiate themselves is their staff, which is also one of their biggest cost.
This is especially true of the services sector. I meet so many people who say that they have branded their services culture. And when I probe further, they say “it’s good” but are not able to define it. Just being “good” is not enough anymore. The market place is very demanding and when one business starts to get good in one area, everyone will start to follow. You will then once again have another commodity. However, there are certain things a company can do to take advantage of the uniqueness of their staff, because it’s their biggest cost. One of the differentiations is that it has to be unique.
If you take Coca Cola and Pepsi for instance, the public cannot tell the two apart in a blind test. But some how in their minds, each brand stands for something that is distinct and different. For some organizations it could be a combination of things that make it unique. With the staff you want them to take whatever differentiator you are offering and amplify it. One of the biggest mistakes of branding is to be all things to everybody.
The second thing to be careful about, is to not over promise. For example if a brand has an ad with the most beautiful person beaming a big smile saying “we would like to serve you” and if on using the product, you found that the person to be unattractive, sulking or displaying no interest in helping you, there will be a breach of faith.
It is also very important to communicate any change in branding internally to employees, as they are the ones who will deliver it. Godrej has done this successfully. Unfortunately, there is no one set formula to get the model right. Every brand is different and you have to work your communications strategy to suit that particular brand.
At a time when we are witnessing a slowing economy, how does a brand stand out?
The biggest mistake that people make with brands is that they assume there is one solution: the economy has slowed down, so lets cut prices… maybe this might be the time to increase prices. If you increase, you offer more value. That fundamental understanding of what is it that we stand for in the marketplace has got to drive that organization. When there is a slowdown in the economy there is a tendency for people to cut costs not realizing that they are hurting their image and goodwill.
In the United States, there is an automobile insurance company, which sends their agent to the scene of the accident immediately, so while the client waits for the police to show up, the agent is already there, assessing the situation and filling out the form. All of it is done electronically, which is fed straight into the system in order to save money on paperwork and manpower.
So while the company is seen as providing a valuable service, they are also saving money on preventing fraud. This saving helps them lower their prices. The same company, tried to get into the home insurance market and they failed miserably. There is a whole different approach to handling another brand and product. One approach does not fit all.
Why should companies view complaints as a gift?
This is where branding and compliant handling come together. It’s not a good idea to give consumers everything they want for you don’t want to try and be everything to everybody. If a customer says, “I want this…” you have to decide if this is what your brand delivers. If it’s not then you could send them to someone who does offer that service. Most companies hate doing that… they try and meet every consumer demand since they do not want to send customers away.
Even if it has come as a nasty complaint, it is better to listen. The best example I think is the techology sector where products such as mobile phones, in great part get developed because of the feedback that users give. This is then tested before finding its way into the market.