Lee Polevoi

Customers: Brand Ambassadors or Enemies for Life?

By: Lee Polevoi | July 1, 2013 | 

Customers- Brand Ambassadors or Enemies for Life?There’s a lot of great advice on Spin Sucks about effective marketing and public relations techniques, designed to draw customers into your store or to visit your website.

But getting them there is only part of the battle.

What happens during their initial experience—or with any experience along the path toward purchasing your product or service—makes all the difference between a possible brand ambassador, and a person whose face (and money) you’ll likely never see again.

Given this incontestable law of the jungle, I’m always amazed when I (or many people I know) experience poor customer service.

With all the things a small business owner can’t control— where customers choose to shop, when they feel like doing so, how much money they’re willing to spend—it seems more attention should be paid to those situations and experiences where their employee (or business processes) can set the tone for a happy customer encounter, rather than a maddeningly frustrating one.

Brand Ambassadors or Enemies for Life?

Raise your hands if you’ve experienced any of the following:

  • When asked about a product in a large chain store, an employee shrugs and says, “I don’t work in that area,” or “This is my first week on the job and I’m still learning.”
  • You dial a call-in center and wait as precious minutes of your life pass by in an infinite loop of “Flight of the Bumblebee” interrupted at regular intervals by “We’ll be right with you” voicemail recordings.
  • While you wait to pay for an item, the cashier answers a telephone and begins a 10-minute conversation (personal or work-related, doesn’t matter) with someone other than you, a paying customer.

A 2012 Accenture Global Consumer Survey garnered online responses about customer service from more than 12,000 customers in 32 countries. The results offered further proof of widespread consumer dissatisfaction with providers in ten different industries, including travel and tourism, consumer goods retailers, consumer electronics, cable/satellite companies and wireless phone companies:

  • One out of five consumers switched providers in 2012.
  • Most of the consumers surveyed (85 percent) said they might not have switched if their service provider had done something differently.
  • Among those who say they would have stayed, 67 percent described a customer service issue during their first contact as a deciding factor.

As if that isn’t bad enough from a business perspective, Peter Coffee, a vice president at Salesforce.com featured in Fast Company, points out this little tidbit, “The typical customer tells an average of 16 other people about a poor service experience, but only tells nine about the good ones.”

You Had Me at Hello

Also, it’s estimated the cost of getting new customers is six to seven times as much as keeping the customers you have.

I’m no math whiz, but these are enough statistics to persuade me that many businesses lose a lot of money by failing to recognize one iron-clad rule of customer service: We buy things from businesses that treat us well, and boycott those that don’t.

Here’s an example a friend shared of a favorable experience that’s made him a brand ambassador for his local plumbing service:

The two guys who came to my house did a great job, charged a very fair price, showed up early within the typical three-hour window, and were very polite and professional. I sent the company an email commending them for a good job, which made me feel good. I’d chosen this particular plumbing company because a couple of weeks ago, we experienced a similar plumbing problem just before we were due to leave for the airport. Obviously, it was too late for them to come over and fix the problem. But the owner gave us some very good advice, free of charge, and I said when we returned I’d have them fix the problem, which I did.

Again, Peter Coffee makes a great point, “Incumbent market leaders must therefore get out of their comfort zone, and rise above costly mass-media marketing that maintains brand awareness but does not continually refresh customer delight … When people feel they have less time and money to spare, superior service has an increasing effect on where they spend both.”

So while you’re advising your clients on the latest public relations or social media marketing techniques, remind them from time to time to make sure their front-line staff perform the most critically important PR function of all—giving both new and loyal customers an outstanding experience when they purchase your product or service.

What’s your favorite horror story and/or example of great service?

About Lee Polevoi

When he isn't writing for Arment Dietrich, Lee Polevoi is an award-winning freelance copywriter and editor. He is the former senior writer for Vistage International, a global membership organization of chief executive officers. He writes frequently on issues and challenges faced by U.S. small businesses.

  • I’m a diehard Squarespace fan. I don’t like WordPress. The pros and cons don’t matter to this story though. Last year after Hurricane Sandy hit the northwest US, I got three different emails from Squarespace (representing three different sites I have on their platform) that told me my sites would all go down for an indeterminate period of time due to a power outage. 
    But they never did – and then I read why: http://www.businessinsider.com/squarespace-data-center-hurricane-sandy-2012-10
    I have told far more than 16 people, too. I tell everyone I can about their incredible commitment to customer service. It is not a perfect company, but they care very much about the service they’re providing and that shines through in every exchange I’ve had with them.

  • Oh, SO many stories, good and bad, but let’s go for a good! We have a grocery store chain here in Florida that has now spread throughout the Southeast (Publix). Their tagline used to be “Where shopping is a pleasure” and even though that’s not “official” anymore, it’s still true. My elderly inlaws have a copious amount of prescriptions at the Publix closest to them. Neither of them drive. My father in law had been taken there recently to pick up several prescriptions, but one was not ready. When Publix called my in laws later to tell them it was ready, my mother in law said (paraphrasing) “well that’s nice but I have no transportation to get there.” Lo and behold, a Publix employee DROVE TO THEIR HOUSE AND DELIVERED THE RX. That doesn’t happen anymore, right? Customer for life here. 🙂

    • biggreenpen Publix is one place I will always miss. What a great company.

  • rdopping

    Excellent reminder. It’s so easy to get caught up in the daily grind and self-absorbed priorities. Getting the job done doesn’t cut it anymore, does it? Social media surely has raised the bar in this light. For the better, I think.

  • Thanks, these are great examples of how superior customer service makes us eager to spread the word!

  • This post is spot on….it’s why I get frustrated when people treat customer service as a soft business need.
    Social has revealed something that was always there: you have a relationship with Every. Single. Person. 
    If you don’t understand that, then you are bound to do massive amounts of extra work and possibly drive a business into the ground.

    • JoeCardillo Good point. Exemplary customer service is as essential as any other business process.

  • When I’m a fan of a business (and this happens first b/c of customer service, second b/c of product quality), I very intentionally spread the word. I don’t do this only because I’m satisfied and like to talk but to help promote the business, especially if it’s a small business. Unfortunately, I encounter more bad customer service than good (mainly in large/chain stores). What’s missing? Good customer service training and the understanding of true service. To serve someone. We aren’t, in general, a society that serves others. My most commonly occurring bad experience involves cashiers who complain about fellow employees to nearby co-workers the entire time they are ringing me up. Ugh. Thank you for an excellent article!

    • Word Ninja I think you’re right about the larger connection between customer service and attitudes in society. An improvement in the first area could lead to more empathy and a willingness to think about others in our daily lives.

  • AllisonP

    There is nothing I hate more than waiting to pay for something as the cashier chats away on the phone.  It makes no difference to me if the conversation is personal or work-related.  If it is work related, then there should be someone other than the cashier who can take the call while an actual transaction is about to happen.  I don’t know about any of you, but I have put down my merchandise and walked away in this situation…never to return.  It may seem like a small thing to some business owners, but that one consumer can go to their friends and family and spread their story.  In this age of social digital media, the amplification of that story can be exponential and near-catastrophic for some businesses.  
    Please, just get somebody else to answer the phone.

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