Tag Archive: customer service


Make Sure You’re In Touch with Your Customers!

You may have heard the recent hoopla surrounding The Gap’s brief experiment in changing its classic logo, which has been around since the department store chain opened in 1969, to a newer, more futuristic “2.0”-looking kind of logo.
The Gap thought it was time to update its 1960s relic of a logo with something sleek and contemporary to show it is a retailer of today, not the past.

However, The Gap’s customers thought differently. As soon as The Gap unveiled the new logo on its website, negative feedback poured in from all corners. Overwhelmingly, customers wanted the “blue box” logo they had known and loved for 40-plus years.

Of course, had The Gap asked its customers how they felt about the logo first, all this trouble could have been avoided. At least The Gap was smart enough to preview the new logo online before going ahead and slapping it on storefronts all over the country (I bet Coca-Cola wishes the Internet had been a mainstream phenomenon when it launched “New Coke” in 1985!), but it generated enough ill will to prompt Marka Hansen, president of Gap Brand North America, to issue a public apology.

Before pointing a finger at the Gap for its branding blunder, ask yourself, do you really know what your customers (current employers, clients, colleagues) think about your brand? Do you know what your potential customers (future employers, clients, colleagues) think about your brand? How are you perceived in the market? Does your brand image need to be refreshed and modernized, or do you have a well-respected “classic” brand your clients would hate to see altered?

Don’t follow in The Gap’s footsteps and make a major branding move before obtaining client feedback. Ask trusted current and future clients, as well as friends, relatives, etc., how they perceive your brand. Is everything in order, or are some changes in order to maximize your market potential?

One thing The Gap did correctly, if a bit too late, was use the web to offer a preview and collect feedback. You should have a professional website as well as an active (and professional) presence on major social media platforms such as Facebook and Twitter. Use them to their fullest advantage – you can collect much more information from far more people much faster online than through any other method. Of course, also be aware that online is permanent, sometimes things that sound harmless when spoken aloud can take on unintended connotations in writing, etc.

Don’t let a gap between you and your clients hamper your exponential success. The Gap used to have an advertising tagline, “Fall into the gap,” but you’re better off closing the gap entirely!

Have you ever made a change to your brand or image that proved to be a mistake? How did you rectify it? Share your story!

http://www.themichaeldbrown.com

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While countercultural rock legends The Grateful Dead may not immediately leap to mind when you hear the words “branding expertise,” rest assured the Dead have much to teach about building a long-lasting brand. If you doubt me, just consider that they have not existed as a full-fledged band since 1995, yet you probably know who they are and what their late singer/lead guitarist Jerry Garcia looked like.

Putting aside some of the seamier elements of the Dead’s long, strange history, today I will briefly focus on their brilliant efforts to build and maintain a highly successful brand. And if you think their branding efforts only worked on hippies and burnouts, keep in mind that President Obama, as well as former presidents Clinton and Carter, are all avowed “Deadheads”!
Following are three key pointers someone looking to establish a brand in virtually any industry can take from the Dead’s brand-building experience:

1. Be Yourself. The Grateful Dead have always had a truly unique sound. Even during the heyday of free-form psychedelic music in the late 1960s and early 1970s, the Dead never sounded like anyone but themselves. And as musical tastes changed in the later ’70s and ’80s, the Dead kept their singular sound. This maintained a loyal fan base and established them as a genuine product in a market (popular music) notorious for phonies and “flavors of the month.”
2. Generosity is Returned. Early on, the Grateful Dead established a policy of allowing fans to record shows and then trade the recordings with each other. Even as a lucrative black market sprang up for tapes of classic Dead shows, the band made no effort to restrict taping or otherwise profit from it. They knew that by having easily accessible concert recordings circulating, they would raise public awareness and interest, as well as create significant public goodwill. The free marketing the Dead received from their generosity toward their fans more than compensated them for lost royalties on live recordings.
3. Merchandising is King. Fifteen years after they disbanded (although a number of side projects featuring various surviving members keep trucking on), the Dead live on through T-shirts, posters, bumper stickers, etc. The Dead created a universe of logos, symbols and artwork that continues to captivate fans who pay money to promote their brand through licensed merchandise. Obviously unless you’re an entertainment celebrity there probably isn’t much of a market for T-shirts with your face emblazoned on them, but sharply designed business cards, letterhead, etc. can help spread your brand around.

So there you have it. Whether this entry has inspired you to dig your vintage vinyl pressing of “American Beauty” out of the attic or listening to the Dead makes you loathe life (this could be a fourth lesson: don’t be afraid to have some people hate your brand if it’s true and working for you), your branding efforts could probably benefit from a little “grateful” fine-tuning. Don’t be afraid to take a chance tweaking your branding approach, as the song says, “Sometimes your cards ain’t worth a dime if you don’t lay them down.”

Are there any unique or counterintuitive steps you have taken to help build long-lasting brand loyalty? Let us know!

http://www.themichaeldbrown.com

Only the Toughest Brands Thrive in the Toughest Times

According to the pundits, the recession is officially over. As I look at my own situation and the situation of every single person I know, I can only think of two possible explanations for this pronouncement. One, the pundits live in a secret part of America none of the rest of us knows anything about. Two, the pundits are full of hot air.

Either way, the odds are pretty high that “end” of the recession notwithstanding, you are still not in an optimal place as far as your career, brand and life are concerned. When the economy gets as bad as it has been for the past year or so, everybody and everything suffers.

And I hate to be the bearer of more bad news, but the most recent unemployment figures show that 10.2% of Americans are unemployed. This is the highest rate in more than 25 years. Keep in mind that official unemployment figures only count people who have actively looked for work in the past four weeks, and also do not take into account people who are forced to settle for temporary, part-time, or underpaying jobs just to make ends meet.

What does this mean for you? It means that unless you have the secret password to enter the magical realm of the pundits where there is no more recession, you must double your branding efforts. Not to double your results, but to keep them from completely disappearing.

Demand for the vast majority of products and services is down. No matter what line of work you are in, and whether you work for yourself or someone else, most likely there is less need for what you have to offer and more competition to provide it. Being good is simply not enough to achieve success in times like these. You must be exceptional, and not be shy about proving it through your actions and words.

Now more than ever, you brand must be a well-oiled, highly functioning machine. When you are given a job to do, finish it early and provide more value than you are paid for or is expected. When you meet a potential client, customer, contact or job lead, have a 30-second “elevator pitch” explaining why you can provide them unparalleled value ready to deliver. Get off the couch, TiVo that favorite show of yours, and get out to a class, networking event, or other activity that can help you build your brand.

Some people look at times like the ones we are currently enduring, shrug their shoulders, and figure there’s no point in making extra effort since there is so little obvious reward for doing so. Trust me; these people don’t experience maximum personal and professional success when times are good, either. So roll up your sleeves and start doubling your branding efforts today. There are no direct flights to “Pundit-Land” that I’m aware of!

http://www.themichaeldbrown.com

What extra steps are you taking to promote your brand in these tough times? Take a minute and share them!

Delivering the Goods is Half the Battle

Building a premium brand should be the goal of every business and every person. When most people think of a “premium brand,” they think of a product, service or individual that delivers exceptionally high quality at a good value. All too many people think building a premium brand stops there. But that’s not all there is to it.

To illustrate exactly what I mean, let me use the recent experience a colleague had with his premium brand flat screen LCD TV as an example of how the brand image of even the highest quality product can be damaged by inferior follow-up.

My colleague paid a large sum of money to purchase an LCD TV from one of the most well-known and respected manufacturers in the marketplace at the beginning of this year. He even had several relatives give him gift cards to a leading consumer electronics retail chain for Christmas in order to help defray the cost. The TV worked perfectly for about eight months, until one day it mysteriously went on the fritz. After carefully checking the cable connection, electrical outlet, remote control, etc. for problems and finding none, he called the manufacturer’s help line, as the TV was still under one-year factory warranty.

Following a rather lengthy wait on hold, my colleague finally spoke with a customer service representative, who efficiently if dispassionately ran him through a series of remote diagnostic tests that neither discovered nor solved the root of the problem. After being put on hold for another several minutes, my colleague was informed that because his TV was smaller than 42 inches, he would be ineligible for a home visit from a technician and instead would have to schlep the TV to the nearest approved warranty repair center. This happened to be a mom-and-pop TV repair shop located about 40 minutes from his house. To add insult to injury, mom and pop did not offer weekend or evening hours, meaning he would have to take time off work to both bring the TV in for repairs and then pick it up!

Apparently the TV gods were playing some sort of cosmic joke on my colleague, because after being left unplugged overnight, his TV mysteriously started working again. But the damage to this premium brand had already been done. Not because the TV broke down, which unfortunately can happen at any time with even the best electronic devices. But because once the goods were delivered, the manufacturer essentially wrote him off.

To truly build a premium brand, you need to offer premium follow-up. Customer service does not end after the customer pays the bill! Even if a customer or client has an issue months or years later, you need to offer fast, courteous service and make every effort to resolve the issue at your own inconvenience, not the customer’s. This type of follow-up shows you truly stand by your brand and distinguishes the merely good brands from the great ones.

In addition to offering high-quality goods, premium retail brands like Nordstrom and L.L. Bean further justify the admittedly high prices they charge with extremely generous and convenient return policies. Use them as your guidepost for your customer follow-up policies, not manufacturers of expensive TVs who provide a quality brand experience until something breaks down.

Have you ever experienced poor customer service follow-up that damaged your perception of a brand? Share your story!

http://www.themichaeldbrown.com

How Flexible is Your Brand?

Adaptability is Key to Surviving and Thriving When Times Are Tough

Some people pride themselves on having always provided the same services and/or products the same way, at the same price, for years on end. They think this inflexibility in how they serve their customers, bosses and clients is a sign of brand strength, proof that they can provide something constant in a chaotic and ever-changing world.

Hooey. The people you provide products and services to, the connoisseurs of your brand, if you will, are not looking for a constant. They’re looking for the best deal or best advantage they can get today. What works best today may not be what worked best yesterday and probably won’t be what works best tomorrow. In this difficult environment when nobody wants to spend a penny they don’t have to, the only unchanging constant associated with your brand should be that you provide a top quality brand experience. Everything else should be open for negotiation.

Let me give you an example from my own brand-building experience to illustrate exactly what I mean. When I first left my career as a top executive at a Fortune 5 company to become a full-time motivational speaker, career coach and business author, I was surprised by the need to quickly and effectively change my operating model in a seamless manner.

I mean the whole enchilda: marketing, branding, client support and customer services. I no longer had the resources of a global organization to fall back upon; I had me: Michael D. Brown. If Michael D. Brown did not complete a task, no matter how small or menial, there were no support staffers to complete it for me.

On top of this drastic change in resources and responsibilities, the economy decided to start tanking right around the time I made my career switch. As the economy proves it can change drastically without warning, you need to have robust contingency plans in place that allow you to quickly reduce your operating cost while increasing the level of service and value you provide to your customers.

When the economy struggles, consumers start to look for low-cost, quality solutions and will pay little attention to a business that isn’t adjusting their pricing without sacrificing quality. This meant I had to be willing to accept less for doing the same or even more work. After all, collecting 50% of my previous fee is a lot better than collecting 0%!

By being flexible, by being willing to alter every aspect of my brand proposition except for the top-level products and services I provide, I have been able to survive and yes, even thrive as I grow my young business during one of the worst recessions in living memory. I may not be making quite as much as I would have had I stayed in my executive position, but the freedom of being my own boss and satisfaction of helping others to earn my living more than make up for any lost pay. At the end of the day, flexibility can help you obtain the most valuable brand asset of all: peace of mind.

Have you found yourself taking a more flexible approach to building your brand, either by choice or necessity, during this recession? Let me know your story!

http://www.themichaeldbrown.com

Use Negative Lessons to Build a Positive Brand Foundation

While I didn’t realize it at the time, I started building my personal brand in the fourth grade when I took a job working as a handyman and house-cleaner for a lady from a wealthy neighborhood on the other side of the tracks, who I will call Norma. My employee-boss relationship with Norma was by no means an easy one. This crotchety, high-society, Miss Havisham-esque woman was extremely demanding and could become physically violent if her every whim was not fulfilled.

It seemed the harder I worked, the more she demanded. Leaving was not an option—I enjoyed and needed this job’s financial compensation. I was one of 10 siblings being raised by my widowed mother, and we were living in Holmes County, Mississippi, the fourth poorest county in the country. But after two years of slaving away for Norma, I finally found another job so I could finally leave her.

As brutal as the experience with Norma had been, it was not without its lessons. I learned that using fear isn’t an ideal way to treat employees; instead, strict authority is damaging to their morale, self-esteem, and self-confidence. I also learned that setting clear expectations, providing feedback (be it good or bad), a simple “thank you,” and respect must be the foundation of an employee-employer relationship.

In addition, working for Norma taught me to never give up on satisfying the customer. I needed to deliver a service to her, and when she told me it wasn’t right, it affected me. I began doubting myself.

But now I realize that sometimes, like with Norma, it will never be right. You have to understand people and what makes them happy. You need to realize that sometimes the problem is just a result of a customer’s personality, but still continue to try hard to satisfy them and take their feedback. Throughout all my jobs, I’ve excelled at meeting and surpassing customer service standards.

I also learned to work with the employee to create the customer experience. I’ve never forgotten what it’s like to be the low man on the totem pole. I know that people do not embrace fear, they run from it. By working with and through people, rather than trying to work around them or even worse, using harsh, dictatorial methods of “motivation,” I have produced impressive results with every staff I have ever managed.

Customer satisfaction and high employee productivity and morale are the cornerstones upon which I have built my successful brand as a manager, motivator, coach and speaker. It all started more than a quarter-century ago with Norma. Who knows, if she had been a sweet, kindly old lady, my future brand may have suffered!

http://www.themichaeldbrown.com

Reader Poll: Have you ever had a negative work experience that proved beneficial later in your career? Post your replies (and your stories) today!

Life’s Biggest Journeys Start with a Single Step!

I spend a lot of time on this blog exhorting my readers to build, nourish and expand their personal brand. But it has occurred to me that not everyone may know exactly what I mean by “personal brand,” or how to initiate the process of building one.

There is nothing to be ashamed or embarrassed about if this describes you; most people already have a personal brand whether they realize it or not. The key is building and shaping that personal brand in such a way that it maximizes your potential for success in business and in life.

Put briefly, your personal brand is that solid and consistent impression that comes to mind when people think of you. The first step in creating a personal brand is identifying your target audience/market. Is it a company who can award you a job with six-figure potential, or is it a future employer who will appoint you to your dream role? Whatever the case, figure out who you are targeting.

Now find out what this person or organization’s needs and wants are and then quickly realize if you can meet the needs or wants that they have. After which, you will need to create reasons why people should believe you will deliver the results that your brand promises. Is it your trustworthiness? Work ethic? Professional training and/or experience? Do you have reliable references who can attest to your excellent work and dedication to complete customer satisfaction?

In short, figure out the pain (needs/wants) that exists with the person or organization and then show how you can solve their pain via the brand that you possess. Now here is the competitive part- figure out what makes you different from your competitors.

Especially in the current tight market for jobs and customers, you have to assume that many other people are attempting to solve the same pain of the same people and organizations you are targeting. When you create this personal brand identity, you will be sought after as the person who can meet the particular needs of a company.

Remember, YOU HAVE TO STAND OUT IN A POSITIVE AND MEMORABLE WAY. Otherwise, you will become the opposite of a personal brand – “generic.” And nobody goes out of their way to pay top dollar for a generic brand.

So now that you know what it means to build a personal brand, the time has come to step away from the computer and get to work. Trust me, your competitors aren’t waiting, and neither should you!

http://www.themichaeldbrown.com

According to the Associated Press:

Starbucks Corp. announced Tuesday it will close 600 company-operated stores in the next year as the faltering U.S. economy hastened the pain caused by the company’s own rapid expansion.

About 12,000 workers, or 7 percent of Starbucks’ global work force, will be affected by the closings, which are expected to take place between late July and the middle of 2009, spokeswoman Valerie O’Neil said.

The company had previously planned to shut 100 stores. The 500 more that will be closed had been on an internal watch list for some time. They were not profitable, not expected to be profitable in the foreseeable future, and the “vast majority” had been opened near an existing company-operated Starbucks.

Do you think these closures will increase the wait time at the nearby stores and cause people to walk away?

http://www.FreshCustomerService.com

A Bronx, NY bride was left at the altar, but it wasn’t the groom who stood her up – it was the court clerk, who refused to marry the couple because she claimed to be tired and hungry.
“[The clerk’s] upset with the staffing. She refuses to do any more [ceremonies],” the bride said, choking back tears.

Her groom, Harold Poueriet, 22, all decked out in a white Armani shirt with gray pinstripes, said, “[The clerk] says she’s tired and she’s hungry.”

But Ortiz’s wedding day was saved when a lawyer, court officers and a judge stepped in for the weak and weary clerk and performed the ceremony Friday.

Appalled at seeing the crying, four-months-pregnant bride, lawyer Maxine Susseles, Maj. Raymond Diaz, Sgt. Tamara Glover and others came to the rescue. The newlyweds said they had a big reception planned for Saturday in The Bronx and are now on their honeymoon in Atlantic City.

Edwina Townes, in charge of the bureau in the absence of head clerk Carmen Baez, had no comment.

Should the employee be reprimanded?

Yes or No

http://www.FreshCustomerService.com

An experienced cruise couple (Brenda and Gerald Moran) from Cleveland are/”was” huge fans of Royal Caribbean. For the past few years that went on about two cruises a year and sunk their money into Royal Caribbean stock.

The couple experienced a plethora of problems over the last three years: the toilet overflowed and left an unpleasant odor in the room (according to them the cruise ship refused to assign them another room-though they did clean up the mess), birthday greeting being delivered to the wrong stateroom, they were locked out of their cabin for a few hours. They sent a “lovely” correspondence to the cruise line. Royal Caribbean extended an olive branch and tried to solve the problems and extended discounts and onboard credits.

Royal Caribbean came to the conclusion that they couldn’t satisfy this couple and they were not happy about the couple blogging about their bad experiences and the compensation that they received. So last November, Royal Caribbean notified the couple that they were no longer welcome (and never to come back) on any Royal Caribbean International ship, including the company’s subsidiaries Celebrity and Azamara.

Apparently Royal Caribbean was feed up with the complaining and figured the best way to solve the problem was to throw them off all of their ships forever. Needless to say the couple was shocked and amazed.

Do you think Royal Caribbean made the right decision?

http://www.FreshCustomerService.com