Your brand is judged more by how you handle a customer’s problem than by how you provide great products and services. Your handling of their concerns demonstrates your brand’s principles, ethics, and values. Are your customers’ problems treated like a nuisance? Or are they welcomed like a valued customer? Are they put in a queue forever only to find out they are on the wrong limb of the “tree,” or do they get an ombudsman who accompanies them through the process? In other words, do you look at customer service as complaint resolution or as a crucial brand building opportunity?
Customers who complain are already outspoken – that’s why they are calling. This is your opportunity to make them advocates for your brand! Does your company take responsibility or blame others? Do you make restitution promptly or draw it out so long the customer gives up? However you handle it, your outspoken customers will be quick to report their experience to others.
Brand builders put so much emphasis on their logo, packaging, signage, and the product itself, they can often overlook one of the most powerful factors in how brands are judged. And that is their reputation for fixing customers’ problems – quickly, productively and with a genuine, appreciative attitude.
Productive customer service solutions see problems as opportunities to build their brand’s reputation for dependability, reliability, and friendliness. For one thing, when a customer complains, they are not only out the use of your branded product, but they are also out the precious time they took to complain. Some callers are lost because the wait time is so long.
This is not a complaint resolved – this is a missed opportunity.
If you are unable to measure drop offs on your site or phones, you have no idea how many gave up and are now bad mouthing your brand. Figure for every one that got through at least one gave up, and it could be many more!
When your customer service people get a complaining customer on the line, show immediate respect for the time they took to call and the wait they may have endured. Thank them for their efforts and let that gratitude set the tone for the entire conversation. After all, they are a gold mine in brand building, and here are 5 reasons why:
- They will tell their contacts how they were treated and, for good or for bad, they will have more credibility than any ads you may buy.
- They know what’s wrong with your branded product. You can use this feedback to establish a formal feedback loop to your production, R&D, and marketing people to keep your brand relevant.
- They see how your brand was displayed, delivered, and stocked by others in your distribution chain. Your salespeople will benefit greatly from this knowledge.
- Their poor experience may be their last experience with your brand. But you now have an opportunity to change that around by asking them for a chance to prove that your brand can live up to and exceed their expectations. Do this by offering more product or services for free rather than reimbursing them for the purchase price.
- Your demonstration of empathy for their disappointment will itself make them more likely to forgive your company for any negative experiences they had with your brand.
It’s only human nature to make mistakes. And it’s only human nature to watch closely how those problems are handled. Think of customer service as customer intel. It’s not complaint resolution, it’s brand building!
Who Are We.
Having built and sold a bestselling national brand, we appreciate the value of brands and everything it takes to make them successful. Companies are valued by their brand equity. Achieving and maximizing brand equity requires tremendous respect for all your customers, from your wholesaler to your end user.
Starting in our laundry room with no money and no knowledge of the industry, we built the famous Barefoot Wine brand. We learned a lot they don’t teach in school and much of it the hard way. Although our success was in consumer products, our real world experience will be helpful to anyone looking for information and advice about brands.
We have written the New York Times Bestselling Business Book, The Barefoot Spirit: How Hardship, Hustle and Heart Built America’s #1 Wine Brand, which chronicles the history of the famous brand from its inception through its acquisition. Our book is now required reading in schools of entrepreneurship across the country. We hope this book will provide inspiration and encouragement for all those contemplating starting a brand or wanting to improve their existing brand.
Michael Houlihan and Bonnie Harvey
-Barefoot Wine Founders