Everyday Responses, Not Gaffes or Viral Wins, Define Brands

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We live in an age where a brand’s major failures (and heartwarming wins) are extremely public, mostly thanks to social media. When a misstep occurs, it’s captured, often without context, and reposted en masse. The reality is, though, that anyone paying attention to these trends often feature the same names on both ends of the Great and Awful because, to be honest, there are very few pure Villains and Heroes in the world of business.

Customer service is often the battlegrounds for these debates on brand merit. When a company buys a puppy for a kid who found metal in their cereal, it’s the company “doing the right thing.” When a customer expected a 24′ stuffed dragon for $8 and not a 24″ one (gotta love typos), brands are vilified for failing to reproduce the two foot “promise.” We now live in a world where public reviews are not only willingly absorbed but on demand; salacious headlines win clicks and until customer stories no longer are posted on blogs, this will continue.

Which brings me to two very specific examples of how everyday policies and efforts truly degrade a brand more than a misspelling or insensitive lapse.

The first: United Airlines. While the travel industry has taken its share of lumps, one recent experience a friend had highlighted how the company is still not hitting customer service ‘singles,’ much less home runs. A long story short, said person’s luggage didn’t show up when they did. After calling in to request feedback on its status, the flyer decided to go to the airport a week later to check and found their bag just sitting there. After noting he had filed a complaint about the bag and should have been notified, he was accused of lying. This led to a separate complaint, meaning two issues still pending in the system.

United’s response to his tweet asking for an update on these issues: an apology for an influx of volume and an encouragement to contact customer service.

What does this event highlight? United is not committed to diving into a raised issue on social media and instead uses the platform to route and provide ‘easy information’ (departure times, etc.). Is this a massive issue? No. Does it say a lot about the brand that their in-person and online arms are unwilling to develop comprehensive policies to help? Absolutely.

The second example of failed daily customer service is Uber, and is my own experience. Going to downtown Detroit with a friend, we took an Uber car and immediately noticed their ‘meter’ had not started. By the time we got to our destination, the driver was feigning ignorance and he had no fare to collect (the drive is paid for in advance – without a meter, the driver has no fare to collect via Uber and is instead looking for cash). Through a myriad of misinformation and being told to cancel, my friend ended up paying cash.

So where does the customer service element come in? Uber’s local rep never responded to my tweets (that I sent in real-time during the drive), even to this day, and their only customer service email response to my friend was that he had erred in following the driver’s advice and canceling the reservation in order to pay cash. The email even went so far as to blame him for ‘canceling the reservation,’ the route we had to take per the driver’s advice. This answer not only didn’t address the core issues in the company’s click-and-ride model but also failed to acknowledge the process breakdowns.

These are not major gaffes. Instead, they are lapses in constructing an effective customer service system. If you offer a real-time service, be real-time in your resolutions with a 100% response rate. If you’re a major brand that knows it will receive customer service issues via your handle, don’t redirect – address via the platform received. Again, the instances highlighted above are not tragic, nor criminal. Instead, they merely highlight real gaps in well-established company processes. Audit your own processes to ensure that while you are avoiding the massive error, you’re also not eroding your brand image through consistently ineffective support.

Photo Credit: MattysFlicks


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