Why customer service and branding are the same thing

| by Andrew Sharpe
Why customer service and branding are the same thing

Like me, you’re probably quite intrigued and excited by the technological innovations that you have seen and heard about at the CES and NRF conferences. But, it’s important to understand that creating a better customer experience is not necessarily derived exclusively from the latest technology. Rather, the success of your brand lies in good, old-fashioned customer service — with the emphasis on "good."

In the new retail era, content has been dethroned and consumers are the new king. They have access to more product information, have more choices on where and when to shop than ever before, and have the ability to share their experiences with your brand with the tap of a button. They are also the most time-crunched and probably most impatient group of consumers in history. And, in order to succeed, retailers need to put the needs, expectations and experiences of their customers in the forefront in order to keep them engaged and interacting with your brand. Whether we want to admit it or not, your in-store staff, or those in your call center, are the face of your brand; they are your customers' first point of contact … and sadly, all too often, the last.

Over the past several years, retailers have explored and implemented ways to reduce costs and lower prices to address consumer demand. Unfortunately, to make themselves more cost competitive, many retailers cut back in some critical areas — namely staff training, incentives, and recruitment. Why? Because with consumers, more often than not, opting for the product or service at the lowest price, retailers didn't see the value or importance of this part of the business. But this is a proverbial slippery slope. The results are: 1) Staff who don’t provide value (or inspire confidence) to the customer; and 2) A deterioration of the perception of the brand.

If you aren’t investing in customer service, you’re omitting (possibly) the most influential piece of your brand’s story – because customer service is branding.

A brand isn’t a logo, catch-phrase or a jingle … though they are part of the mix. Rather, a brand, in its simplest definition, is the expectation that a customer has upon hearing your company name or seeing your logo. And expectations are, most often, formed by experiences.

As a retailer, every single interaction you have with your customers is a branding message. The way you greet customers, communicate with them (in person, by phone, email, or even auto-responder), follow-up, encourage repeat business, and promote your products is each an opportunity to brand yourself. Each interaction (good or bad) provides an experience (good or bad) that results in the expectation they have in doing business with you.

If a customer feels as if they know more than the sales associate (and these days often they do — especially with data available at their fingertips) then they will lose confidence in the associate AND the brand as a whole. On the flip-side, an outstanding customer experience provides value and instils confidence. These expectations define your brand. They ARE your brand. They will be shared amongst friends, colleagues and strangers via social media, over a beer, or in the grocery store line-up. Regardless of the message you hope to give to your customers through your marketing message, the customer’s experience trumps every single time. The bottom line is: the latest technology or most sophisticated campaign will be for naught if you don’t deliver an experience at the customer level.

As we move into the new era of retail, we need to return to a mindset and a time when the sales associate was a valued, relevant part of a brand. Without customer service, your brand is relegated to a commodity. Because it’s no longer, simply, about telling people what makes you different. It’s about having people experience your difference for themselves, time and time again.

(Photo by David Prasad.)

Topics: Consumer Behavior, Customer Service, Employee Training, Loyalty Programs

Andrew Sharpe
Andrew Sharpe is the founder and Chief Storytelling Officer for BRANDSPANK Retailer Marketing--an agency that specializes in user-experience & consumer engagement for bricks & mortar retailers. A self-described retail marketing insight-er, he'’s also a highly regarded blogger and presenter. wwwView Andrew Sharpe's profile on LinkedIn

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