There are many ways to articulate the definition of “brand.”
Here's a simple, practical one: your brand is your unique identifier. It helps you stand out from competing companies and their products and services.
Your brand helps your customers know who you are. It identifies your company's personality, and most importantly, its values.
That is the simplest and perhaps most powerful definition of brand. And, all other things being equal, your brand is the only reason customers will choose your product and stay loyal to your product. If what you stand for — your values — is also what your customers stand for, they'll gravitate to you and stay with you.
What does your company value? Here is a partial list of values a company can have. Perhaps some of them are your company's values too.
- Hipness / Coolness
- Old guard
- New generation
- Social action
- Tried and true
- Sharply styled
You get the idea. The values your brand endorses and exhibits consistently will attract people with those same values. They can relate to your brand, they can like your brand, and they can even fall in love with your brand.
Harley Davidson motorcycles is a great example of this. A Harley owner is a very specific type of person, with a specific set of values. Harley Davidson understands this, and embodies these values so authentically that it has secured one of the most passionate customer bases in existence. (This article explains how Harley-Davidson does it.)
Customers, and brands, can be distinguished by their unique sets of values. But, there is one value that is pretty much universal to all customers: being treated well. In other words, good customer service.
Ask yourself: do you know anyone who likes getting bad service?
Service: the universal value.
We all like to be treated well. When a company treats us poorly, we are less likely to stay loyal to that brand. Treat us poorly enough, and we'll leave for a competitor.
Fact is, there's too much competition to be able to get away with treating a customer poorly. Unless you have a virtual monopoly (like most cable companies in their service areas, for instance), customers can and will freely go to one of your competitors. What's worse, whenever a company treats a customer poorly, that customer will associate that company's brand with not valuing customers.
Conversely, a company that values its customers will treat them as well as one would a good friend or a family member.
The question is, why would any company NOT treat each of its customers like a good friend or family member?
It doesn't cost any more to smile versus frown, show empathy versus apathy, extend help versus ignore, offer a concession versus saying, “Tough ----!”
In fact, I would argue that it costs companies a whole lot more to treat customers poorly. Not only will those customers leave, but, they'll also tell everyone they know just how poorly they were treated — on Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, Google+, Yelp, TripAdvisor, Medium, Tumblr, YouTube...the list goes on.
On the other hand, give uniquely great service, and you could even charge a premium for what you sell. A fantastic example of this is Nordstrom, whose service is legendary.
So if there is one value that absolutely MUST be baked into your brand, no matter what group of people you sell to, it has got to be great service.
Bad service is not the employee's fault.
- Whenever you walk into a retail store and the staff ignores you, that's not their fault.
- Whenever you try to return something to a company and the service rep refuses to take it back, that's not his fault.
- When the waiter or waitress can't be bothered to get your order right, check up on you at the right times, or comp your meal if it turns out bad, that's not her fault.
- When the car salesperson practically grabs you by the leg so you can't leave the dealership and lays a guilt trip on you if you decide against buying the car after spending four hours with this guy, that's not his fault.
IT'S THE COMPANY'S FAULT.
That's right, the company. Obviously, the company doesn't understand how critical good service is to its brand. So, the company is doing two critical things wrong:
- It doesn't have a company culture that incentivizes and rewards giving customers great service.
- It doesn't know how to hire the kind of employees that naturally want to give customers great service.
In today's hyper-competitive, socially-networked world, companies had better make great customer service their number one priority. In fact, I would say that great service is, far and away, the most important part of your brand. Hence the title of this post: “Service = Brand.” That's no exaggeration.
How to give great service.
This is a meaty topic. But here is a top-line list of pointers that will help:
- Make it a key part of your vision, mission and core values — your culture.
- Create reward structures for employees demonstrating great service.
- Get rid of employees that don't consistently strive to provide great service.
- Hire people who are passionate about service, and who exhibit energy, friendliness and empathy.
- Put a priority on responsiveness. Show customers you care enough about their needs to respond to their requests right away. That includes in person, on the phone, by email and in social media.
- Practice what you preach. Top management must model the behaviors they expect of everyone in the company.
- People are half the equation. Process is the other half. Create processes that make it much easier and faster for employees to help customers, and for customers to help themselves.
- Empower your employees to “make things right” for customers when things go wrong.
- You're not in the (insert your product or service here) business. You're in the HAPPY business. Customers buy from you because they want to be happy (they get happy by successfully fulfilling a need or desire). Customers keep buying from you because you keep them happy long after the purchase. Customers say great things about you to others because you keep them happy long after the purchase.
- Remember: it costs a lot more to acquire a new customer than to keep an existing one. So it makes perfect sense to do whatever it takes to keep existing customers happy. Most companies have this backwards though — they put much more effort into getting the sale than keeping the customer happy. Don't be one of those companies.
A great book to read. The single best book I've read about this topic so far is by Zappos CEO Tony Hsieh: Delivering Happiness. It is fun to read, highly insightful, and highly inspiring. It demonstrates how every company's culture and brand are intertwined, and how baking great service and caring for the customer into your culture will do wonders for your brand. I suggest you get your copy right away — and while you're at it, buy a few more copies for your team.
Want more? Here's another indispensable read: The Customer Service Revolution, by John DiJulius. He tells it like it is, with common sense tips and stories that will make it quite obvious how to treat customers, and how not to. And, at the time of this writing, it cost just 99 cents to read it on your Kindle app or reader. I'd snap it up now.
Ready to deliver great service? Your customers will thank you. So will your brand.