Defending Your Brand Online

It takes years to build a brand. Unfortunately, there aren’t many shortcuts. You build a brand—like a reputation—one impression at a time. Every encounter with a customer results in either a “deposit” or a “withdrawal” in your “brand account.”

Femal Martial Artist Kicking into the Air - Photo courtesy of ©iStockphoto.com/pascalgenest, Image #1023601

Photo courtesy of ©iStockphoto.com/pascalgenest

Twenty years ago, if a customer had a bad experience with your company, it didn’t matter quite as much. Sure they could tell their friends, and if enough people had bad experiences, they could tell their friends. Eventually, it would catch up with you. But it didn’t happen overnight.

But today, things are different. Digital communication has changed everything. If a customer has a bad experience, he can email his friends, Twitter his followers, or blog about his experience. In the blink of an eye, one bad experience can cascade into thousands—and even millions—of impressions. Brands can be damaged in a few days.

For example, David Alston Twittered about his wife’s bad experience with UHaul. He said,

My wife just went through a totally rude customer service experience with our local UHaul rep. Downright rude. Do they want the business?”

Within seconds, he broadcasted this message to the 1,500-plus people who follow him on Twitter. Within an hour two dozen others used Twitter to share their own negative experience with UHaul. Thousands of negative impressions ensued. The conversation snowballed.

David then cancelled his reservation with UHaul and booked a truck with Penske. He Twittered about the excellent customer service they gave him. This, too, snowballed.

In the space of a few hours, UHaul lost thousands of dollars in revenue and Penske likely picked up thousands more. This doesn’t even count the damage to UHaul’s brand. All because UHaul didn’t understand the raw power of today’s consumer.

This kind of experience gets replicated on Twitter hundreds of times a day. It also happens in email messages, blogs, chat rooms, and discussion forums.

I experienced this phenomenon first-hand when I had a bad customer experience recently. I Twittered about the experience and then blogged about it. I was amazed at how people piled on with one bad customer story after another.

This got me to thinking. If you are responsible for building or maintaining a brand—and this includes every CEO, business owner, marketer, publicist, and customer service representative—you need to know how to defend your brand online. The stakes have never been higher.

Here are seven suggestions for defending your brand in the digital age:

  1. Build an online presence. The time to build an audience is before you need it. You need people for whom you add value, a small army of followers, if you will, who can help you when you need it. This is why every CEO, brand manager, and department leader should create a blog, a Facebook page, and get active on Twitter.

    It’s really not that difficult, even for the technically challenged. If you really don’t have a clue, enlist the help of a co-worker—or perhaps even your children!

    If I had to select one place to start, I would pick Twitter. Then I would create a Facebook page. Finally, I would start a blog. I don’t think there’s a less expensive way to create brand equity than by using these three tools.

  2. Monitor the conversation. You must use online tools to monitor what is being said about your company and your brands. I use Google Alerts to monitor news and blogs. I use Summize to monitor Twitter. These tools enable you to engage in the art of “digital listening.”

    As a result, I know within minutes when someone mentions me, my company, or one of my brands. I know precisely what is being said, by whom, and how I can respond if I chose to do so. It’s never been easier to eavesdrop on what your customers are saying. And it doesn’t cost you a dime.

  3. Respond quickly to criticism. Like the old ad says, “speed kills.” If you don’t respond quickly, you lose control of the conversation. It takes on a life of its own. For example, though David Alston has blogged about his bad experience with Uhaul at least twice (see here and here), no one from UHaul has posted a comment in response to either of his posts.

    A friend of mine, Anne Jackson, had a bad experience with American Airlines. She Twittered about it as it happened on April 6, 2008. She then blogged about it a few days latter under the title, “American Airlines is the Devil”. Some 38 people commented on the post, many with their own American horror stories.

    Anne told me that she gets about 3,500 visitors a day to her blog. Another 1,000 or so people heard about her experience via Twitter. If American had been monitoring their brand online, they could have been the first to comment on her post. Instead thousands of people read about her experience, and then they read comments on her blog from other American customers who have had bad experiences.

    For the record, on May 29, American called Anne, apologized for the “mix up” back in April, and gave her 7,500 award miles. Amazingly, it took them almost two months to respond. How many people read about Anne’s experience in the meantime? And, oh, by the way, the original post is still up and American has yet to post a comment.

  4. Admit your mistakes. Why is this so difficult? When you screw up, the only—and I mean ONLY—acceptable response is to take full ownership. “Sir, I am so sorry that you have had this experience. There is no excuse. We made a terrible mistake, and we’re going to make it right.” If you catch yourself apologizing and then using the word “but,” stop dead in your tracks and back up. That little conjunction should be like a blinking red light, indicating that you are not taking ownership.

    Unfortunately, the use of “but” completely negates the apology. To quote Dr. Phil, “You can either be right or you can be happy.” You can go a long way toward fixing a problem by simply accepting responsibility rather than blaming the customer or some other factor.

    If you are going to apologize—and you should—make it a full apology. Avoid the word “but” like the plague. Take the hit to your pride and own the problem. The customer is always right. Even when he isn’t.

  5. Understand the lifetime value of the customer. I first heard the concept in Carl Sewell’s excellent book Customers for Life [affiliate link]. Sewell was a Cadillac dealer in Dallas, Texas. It didn’t take him long to figure out that his customers were worth more than a single transaction. He calculated that every customer is potentially worth $332,000, if he returns every few years and buys a new car. (The book was written in 1990, so at today’s inflation-adjusted prices, it’s probably worth twice that.)

    Now consider American Airlines. The lifetime value of their business customers are, I’m sure, worth tens of thousands—perhaps hundreds of thousands—of dollars. Fortunately, my experiences with American have been mostly positive. But if I had a bad experience like Anne’s, think of the implications.

    For the fun of it, let’s do the math: Last year, as the CEO of Thomas Nelson, I spent more than $12,000 with American Airlines. Now let’s assume that I travel about the same amount every year, over a 40-year career (from age 25 to 65). Based on this, in simple math, unadjusted for inflation, my lifetime value to American Airlines is $480,000. That’s a big number.

    But this only begins to scratch the surface. That’s what I am worth to American—just me. But what about everyone else in my circle of influence? We probably have 200-plus employees a year traveling on American flights. We have our Women of Faith and Revolve speaker and production teams. I also have those who follow me on Twitter (currently over 33,000) or read my blog (currently over 100,000 a week). The “ripple effect” is significant. Millions of dollars are at stake.

    But I am only using the American as an example. Again, I want to emphasize that my experience with them has generally been good. All things being equal, they are my airline of choice. My point here is more personal: What is the lifetime value of your customers or constituents? Have you ever stopped to calculate it? Not only do you need to understand what is at stake, but so do your people. It is literally the future of your business and your brand.

  6. Empower your employees to solve problems. As a customer, there is nothing worse than having a head-on collision with bureaucracy. We’ve all been there. “I’m sorry, ma’am, but I’ll have to check with my supervisor.” Or worse, “I’d like to help, but we have a policy against that.”Tim Ferriss, author of the bestseller, The 4-Hour Workweek [affiliate link], tells his employees and contractors,

    Keep the customers happy. If it is a problem that takes less than $100 to fix, use your judgment and fix the problem yourself. This is official written permission and a request to fix all problems that cost under $100 without contacting me” (p. 105).

    I think that’s a reasonable approach. In fact, I would raise the ceiling to $200. I also request that employees notify their supervisor after-the-fact, so that if there is a systemic problem that led to the bad customer service, it can be addressed and fixed once-for-all.

    Ferris goes on to note, “Its amazing how someone’s IQ seems to double as soon as you give them responsibility and indicate that you trust them” (p. 106). It amazing how fast you can turn a bad customer experience into a good one when you empower frontline employees to solve problems immediately, without delay. Nothing communicates to your customers that your company values them more than this.

  7. Exceed your customers’ expectations. Every customer problem is an opportunity to create a WOW experience. But it’s not enough to meet their expectations, you have to exceed them. Anything less is merely restitution. It just gets you back to even.

    Recently, I was having some memory problems with my MacBook Pro. I took it to the Apple Retail Store. The “Genius” (that’s literally what they are called) fixed the memory problem quickly, which is what I expected. He then returned my computer to me and said, “Mr. Hyatt, I hope you don’t mind, but while we were checking your computer, we noticed that the battery was not seating correctly, so we went ahead and replaced it with a brand new one.” Wow! Now that’s customer service—and one of the reasons I keep buying Apple products!

One final thought: It’s also a great idea to listen to the conversations about your competitors. For example, if the Marriott had a Google Alert setup for “Sheraton” they could listen online for customers who get frustrated with their Sheraton experience enough to blog about it. When it happens, they could be the first to post a comment:

I’m sorry you had such a bad experience at the Sheraton. I can’t speak for them, but I can tell you that the Marriott has been ranked #1 in the world for customer service by both Expedia and Hotels.com. As an incentive to give us a try, I’d like to extend a 20% discount to you and your readers. When you make your reservations, simply give the operator the following promotional phrase: “Experience the Difference.” You can also use this if you make your reservations online. We look forward to serving you.”

Question: So what are people saying online about your brand? Do you even know? More importantly, what are you doing about it?
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  • http://ripcordentertainment.com john Pisciotta

    Wow Michael, Great thoughts! Its funny how the most important and powerful things are the most neglected. There’s a book here!

    John Pisciotta
    Director of Creative

    Ripcord Entertainment
    a creative catalyst company

    http://ripcordentertainment.com

  • http://waym.wayfm.com Jeff Brown

    Michael,

    Excellent advice. I’ve begun implementing many of the things you list here where I am employed.

    We don’t have “customers” in the traditional sense of the word, but I want to make sure we’re doing everything we can to engage on every imaginable level.

    Your post today reinforces that. Thanks again.

  • http://www.billcarrington.com Bill Carrington

    Michael, your observations are so very true. How much is goodwill worth? And, if you do respond favorable, correct an issue even though it may not be your fault at all, how much more likely is the customer to comment favorable through Twitter, Facebook and blogging? Much higher I think. We recently had our 15+ year old Whirlpool refrigerator die. Needless to say we lost alot of food. I am confident most folks would expect that is a result we expect and not complain. However, after we bought a new Whirlpool refrigerator and it died in less than six days, neither the dealer or Whirpool was willing to step up and replace our food. Even worse, the “Customer Experience Center” folks were downright rude and even hung up on us once. That was an “experience”. We are still fighting that battle. I was so surprised to go to Whirpool’s corporate website and find them bragging about social responsibility and being one of the top ethical companies of 2008. How ironic.

  • http://wordproverb.blogspot.com/ Sheryl Tuttle

    What an excellent post! I love your blog and find the information invaluable. Thank you!

  • http://youthmaster.blogspot.com Marvin Nelson

    WOW! This blog opens a persons mind to the sheer power of technology. As a pastor, I guess my brand is my church. These implications could be even more important to us as Christians and church leaders. Being able to see what they are saying about say the “Church Brand” or the “Jesus Brand”…thanks Michael for this insight…makes you think!

  • http://www.ramonarichards.com Ramona Richards

    Mike, I LOVE this advice, and I always am enthused at how such advice transcends the public service/retail environment. Your brand is your reputation, and to paraphase Mr. Franklin, it is “like fine china; easily broken and never well mended,” especially in a digital environment.

    As an author, I have readers – and I never forget that each person I meet is a potential book buyer. I’m trying to build a brand online, and I want to be GREAT to my readers and potential readers.

    As a mid-level editor, I have folks who work under me to whom I want to hand certain responsibilities – I have seen over the past 30 years how fast they grow when you say, “You need to handle this, and I’ll back you up no matter what happens.” It also works if you see your supervisors as customers.

    This isn’t easy (and I don’t always succeed), but it’s ALL worth the effort. Thanks for the reminder of how important these ideals are in the current environment.

  • http://emuelle1.typepad.com Eric S. Mueller

    I listen to Rabbi Daniel Lapin a lot. He keeps talking about his book “The 10 Commandments of Making Money.” I haven’t read it yet, but I’ve heard him mention many times that one of the commandments he teaches is to become utterly obsessed with meeting people’s needs. I can see the differences between businesses that operate with this philosophy and businesses that don’t. Unfortunately, most businesses that I encounter seem to believe that you should be obsessed with meeting their needs. A lot of businesses seem to think it is your privilege to serve them rather than the other way around. I think that even if they understood how to build and maintain a brand online, without seeing business this way, it would do them little good.

    It would also be helpful if businesses, when responding to complaints, would find a way to tailor their “make up” offers to the needs of their clients. My wife and I once bought a piece of furniture from Raymore and Flannigan. We had a problem with it and called for service. The tech didn’t show. We scheduled another service call, only to have the tech not show. The service windows were from 8-5 on a Saturday, so we blew almost an entire day twice on a no-show. We kept calling the number over and over again only to be left on a voice mail with no call ever returned. We finally contacted corporate in California and the service call was arranged. By this point, my wife and I decided to NEVER again purchase anything from Raymore and Flannigan. As a “peace offering”, we were invited to some in store shopping event at 10 PM one night. I was working the swing shift, and as I said, we decided never to buy another product from them again. Utterly useless.

    I have to admit, Mike, I’m glad that you understand how to build a brand on the internet. Whenever I see a Thomas Nelson product, I think of your blog and Twitter feed. I realize there is are live people behind the product.

  • http://www.maurilioamorim.com Maurilio amorim

    Mike,
    This is great information. I heard back from Southwest Airlines within hours of posting a tweet about their new seats. Cirque du Soleil also posted a comment on my review of their new show in Vegas, “Love.” These guys get the importance of managing their brand online.

  • http://www.michaelhyatt.com Michael S. Hyatt

    @Eric: Thanks for your kind words!

  • http://www.marydemuth.com Mary E. DeMuth

    Other than twittering, I’m doing all the things you mentioned. (I tried Twitter, but having everyone know what I’m doing all the time tripped me up.) Here’s my conundrum:

    When we lived in France, there was absolutely no such thing as customer service. If you walked into a store, trying to exchange something, you couldn’t. And you were met with an angry look.

    Many times, I’d say something like, “Well, I will never come back to your store then.”

    “Fine. I don’t care,” was often the response.

    So you can imagine my joy when I returned to America, the land of customer service. Suddenly people followed me around in The Gap, asking if I needed anything. Folks bent over backwards to make me happy. And, oddly, it made me feel uncomfortable too.

    I wonder (and maybe this is controversial) whether customer service can be construed as feeding our hedonism? Pushing us to more and more selfishness? Reinforcing a demanding spirit?

    Of course, we should treat others the way we want to be treated. And I certainly didn’t relish being scoffed at in France. But, truly, is it good for me for people to fawn over my needs all the time?

    In France I learned how to weather disappointment better. I learned how to exist in frustration without blowing up. I learned patience. And now that I’m back in the states, I’m finding myself slide back into impatience and anger, giving in to a demanding spirit.

    Sure, I love customer service. Absolutely. And I strive, as an author and book mentor, to serve people well. But I wonder if there’s some sort of hedonistic line we cross when it’s always about making people happy about us and our product. Maybe it’s not a businessy way of thinking. I’m curious what your thoughts are.

  • http://www.colleencoble.com Colleen Coble

    Wow, great post, Mike! I try to keep this in mind when responding to reader letters too since that is one way I maintain my brand. I recently had a reader email me saying she’d enjoyed a book but would have enjoyed it more if I hadn’t hidden my Christian agenda inside a suspense book. I wanted to respond NOT so kindly, but I also knew if I did, I would alienate her even more. So I thought it about it a bit and responded very sweetly to her about how all authors write their particular worldview. What we believe comes through in our books. I think I might offer to send her a free book too.

    I’m not sure of her response yet, but I know I did everything I could to leave a good taste in her mouth when she sees my name next time.

    And I agree with you about Twitter being the first thing to do. It’s amazing how it brings people together and lets you feel like you really know someone. Following you on Twitter has made your integrity and your love for your family even more clear.

  • http://www.michaelhyatt.com Michael S. Hyatt

    @Mary:

    You raise a really interesting point. I’m no historian, but I think that customer service, like chivalry, is rooted in the Gospel of Jesus Christ and the Golden Rule.

    As a Christian, I believe my obligation to provide excellent customer service flows out of the example of Christ, who did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give His life a ransom for many” (Mark 10:45). At Thomas Nelson, serving others is our second core value.

    As a customer, I don’t demand excellent customer service. I simply don’t want to be high maintenance. But I do try to recognize it when I get it and go out of my way to express appreciation.

    And, of course, sometimes people are just having a bad day. I think we have to make allowances for that.

    But at the end of the day, the social fabric is richer and more valuable when everyone assumes the posture of a servant and treats others with respect and kindness.

    Thanks,

    Mike

  • http://www.michaelhyatt.com Michael S. Hyatt

    @Colleen:

    Thanks for your kind words. I have written so many nasty replies in my lifetime. Thankfully, I have deleted most of them before sending them. I can’t think of a single instance when it accomplished what I had hoped it would. Like the Proverb says, “A soft answer turns away wrath” (Proverbs 15:1).

    Best,

    Mike

  • http://www.foreverrichard.com Sue Dent

    Very interesting thoughts and might I add that branding helps readers as well.

    Therefore it’s important not to mis-brand ourselves for the sake of not getting bad reviews or nasty letters from readers who wouldn’t otherwise like the kind of stories one might write–should you be a published author as I am.

    Hmmmmm . . . I may just have to twitter about his. :)

  • http://www.marydemuth.com Mary E. DeMuth

    Mike,

    Servanthood is the key, isn’t it? I like what you said. I didn’t mean to draw conclusions, but simply wrestled with my own need to be treated well and what that meant for my soul.

    Thanks again for an interesting post,
    Mary

  • http://berlysue.blogspot.com Kim

    This is a really thought-provoking entry! I am an avid reader, and I’ve been blogging book reviews for almost a year now. This advice is applicable even to me as I blog. I have to consider the consequences of my words, because others are reading.

    I also work in the sales department of a large corporation and am responsible for handling consumer complaints. This is wise advice in this area as well.

    Thanks for causing me to pause and consider this!

  • http://luke.gedeon.name Luke Gedeon

    Summize was acquired by Twitter and is now at http://search.twitter.com/

    Also your Summize link under point 2 actually points to Google Alerts.

    This message will self-destruct in 5 minutes leaving a corrected link in your post. :)

  • http://www.marydemuth.com Mary E. DeMuth

    Mike, Sorry about that. I meant to post your comments. Thanks for doing that. I’ll post my follow up comment on my blog too.

    Warmly,
    Mary

  • Margaret McSweeney

    Hi, Mike.

    Greetings from St. Paul. You have inspired me to try to twitter from from the floor of the convention this evening if I can figure out how to type and send it from my blackberry. Fortunately, we are surrounded by technology there. You would really enjoy seeing all of that. Yesterday the delegates visited the Fox Experience tent and watched the producers of the shows and everyone as they worked on their computers and the stories. The Illinois delegation is seated right next to Fox News on the floor so it’s been fun to watch the dignitaries walk by to be interviewed. Thanks for making your blog followers aware of twitter. You are always on the cutting edge of technology. God bless!

  • John Young

    Very thorough, fair, and thoughtful Mike. Sadly most company’s only hear from customers who are disappointed and are catching them in that emotional point of exaggeration and threats (“I’ll never shop with you again..”).
    Company’s are getting wise to the guy who complains just to get a free meal. Our world is full of freeloaders and complaining is an art. Companys are at times feeling blackmailed to send somebody with a blog a gift card to keep them from spreading more bad pr. We are reaching a point of not knowing who is genuinely a fan of the brand, not some hustler.

    The staff at Nordstrom are well trained, better than any retailer I know, to know who their customer is and how to handle them. But Nordstrom also calls you after a sale to see if you’re happy. Too many of our customer service dialogue is reactive vs proactive. We need to quit skimping on staff training.

    Who’s loyal? This drives company’s crazy: research will tell us customers love us,they bought our product and intend to be repeat customers.
    Then for unknown reasons the customer confuses us by buying the competitors product.
    Point? Brand loyalty is often overestimated and customers are often on auto pilot for decisions.
    They don’t care what hotel they go to, it’s who has the best rate, many times.

    Mike I am enjoying hearing your stories however. I’m surprised you fly American Airlines so much. In Atlanta 1.8% of daily flights are American. 53% is Delta. .8% is U S Air and Southwest doesn’t even fly here. month. I never think of American and just threw away another credit card offer from them.
    But as a former TNP stockholder, I’m grateful. We all figured you flew private anyway.

  • http://www.michaelhyatt.com Michael S. Hyatt

    @Luke:

    Thanks. Yes, Summize was acquired by Twitter. (There old URL still works.) Also, thanks for the link cortection.

    Mike

  • http://www.michaelhyatt.com Michael S. Hyatt

    @John,

    One of the first things I did after becoming CEO was sell the private jet. Seriously. But, unlike Sarah Palin, I didn’t sell it on eBay. ;-)

    Nashville used to be an American hub, so they and Southwest are the dominant carriers here.

    Thanks,

    Mike

  • http://michaeldmiller.wordpress.com mike miller

    Mike Brand equity is the most powerful asset a company possesses!

  • http://profile.typekey.com/1218236009s4731/ Eric S. Mueller

    This is a great discussion. One customer service aspect I don’t like is when a company does do a follow up, but it’s for a service that you had little choice in. The last time I bought a car, the bank called me at 9:30 at night to ask how satisfied I was. They’re the bank the dealer chose; I had no choice in the matter. Citibank is another example. They’ll pester you for hours about how their service is. What other choice do most people have for Student loans?

    I fly out of Philly, so I’m mostly stuck with US Airways. I have no fondness for them, and they didn’t respond to my last negative blog entry, nor do I expect them to.

  • http://onetoughmothertalk.blogspot.com Julie Barnhill

    Dear Mr. Hyatt,

    Whew. Every time I read your blog I have the overwhelming urge to let loose a Carol Burnett worthy Tarzan bellow and step it up yet one more notch when it comes to marketing, business, and service.

    For close to ten years, I’ve incrementally and persistently created the “brand” trajectory of, well, me. Book titles & subject matter–speaking topics–media lands–all those matter.

    BUT, it’s the branding buy-in, if you will, of thousands of readers and conference/venue attendees that provides credible validation as to the success. I can read the good and not-so-much evaluations in my personal email, their blogs, Facebook postings, and Twitter comments.

    I LOVE every part of the publishing/entertainment/ministry world all and continue to take to heart your words and try to implement as many of your sage directives as possible.

    Thanks!

    Julie Barnhill

  • http://onetoughmothertalk.blogspot.com Julie Barnhill

    Dear Mr. Hyatt,

    Whew. Every time I read your blog I have the overwhelming urge to let loose a Carol Burnett worthy Tarzan bellow and step it up yet one more notch when it comes to marketing, business, and service.

    For close to ten years, I’ve incrementally and persistently created the “brand” trajectory of, well, me. Book titles & subject matter–speaking topics–media lands–all those matter.

    BUT, it’s the branding buy-in, if you will, of thousands of readers and conference/venue attendees that provides credible validation as to the success. I can read the good and not-so-much evaluations in my personal email, their blogs, Facebook postings, and Twitter comments.

    I LOVE every part of the publishing/entertainment/ministry world all and continue to take to heart your words and try to implement as many of your sage directives as possible.

    Thanks!

    Julie Barnhill

  • http://flowerdust.net anne jackson

    Google Alerts are the best thing in the world. Thanks for your thoughts on this topic, Mike. Many companies would be so much wiser (and many customers would be so much happier) if they took your advice!

  • http://www.kellykirbyfisher.blogspot.com Kelly

    Great post! I was just talking to a friend of mine about this (and customer service in general).

    In May, I posted a sentence or two about “vegan cupcakes” (http://kellykirbyfisher.blogspot.com/2008/05/pleaseno.html) and not only got some “shocking comments” – but, people began reading my other posts and commenting about how God did not really save my marriage, etc…it was crazy. Not to mention the author of the cookbook (that birthed the idea of the post) put a link to my site on her site…it was crazy. But, it was amazing – because I responded so quickly – I got the opportunity to share my testimony with people who might not have otherwise ever read about the miracle God did in my marriage.

  • http://www.kellykirbyfisher.blogspot.com Kelly

    I accidently posted the link wrong…sorry. Here is the correct link (if you are interested in a dialogue about vegan cupcakes and God)! :)

  • http://www.kylechowning.com Kyle Chowning

    Mike…I’m curious if Hyatt Hotels ever contacted you and if so, what did they say? I saw your Tweet that you had to change your story. It seems to me that a Uhaul story replaced your Hyatt one?

  • http://www.michaelhyatt.com Michael S. Hyatt

    @Kyle: That is exactly what happened. The Hyatt made it right and reduced our bill for the things we didn’t get. We were pleased with the outcome, though I am still surprised they haven’t commented on my original post.

  • http://www.rachelhauck.com Rachel Hauck

    Excellent post, Mike. I was just reading about the founder of Ralston Purina, William Danforth, and how he believed in a “brand” way back in the 1920′s. The check board was birthed from his life philosophy.

    As for the power of cyber space, a few years ago I ordered my third Dell. When it arrived, things weren’t right. Within 24 hours, I was on the phone with Bangladesh.

    So, I bought a Mac. I blogged about it. Dell emailed me. End result? New computer for my husband, bigger and nicer than the one I bought.

    Now, it wasn’t my intent to get something from Dell, but they realized the importance of customer service. I appreciated their interest in my issues and willingness to work on a return deal.

    Rachel

  • http://www.catherinewestblog.blogspot.com Cathy West

    Very interesting food for thought. In this day and age, if you want people to know who you are, there is no excuse for not creating an online presence. The trouble is, you may have too many people knowing who you are! I’ve always been careful what I blog about. I like networks like Facebook because of the privacy element, I don’t have to have a million friends if I don’t want to. It’s interesting to note that companies are taking notice of complaints that come across over the internet. I have been biting my tongue about a complaint of my own that I just might have to blog about now.
    Have a great weekend!

  • Misty

    Mike, this is a great post. As an editorial assistant, I don’t encounter customers often, but your words remind me that even the smallest and most seemingly insignificant encounters can matter tremendously!

    It does make me wonder – how great would it be if we treated our fellow co-workers the way we should treat our customers! Respect and trust *does* go a very long way.

    Great points. Thanks for sharing. :)

  • http://www.soap-queen.blogspot.com Anne-Marie

    This is a great post. I write a blog as well and we get about 10,000 readers per week. I noticed that when I complained about Dell that they immediately were all over it. United Airlines? Not at all and that was with two very angry posts.

    I read your Hyatt post and I will think twice about booking with a Hyatt after reading it. Your snowball effect is right on – I was mildly put off by the Hyatt after reading just your post but after reading all the comments – I was *majorly* put off.

    Excellent blog post. Thank you for taking the time to write it.

  • http://www.ChurchTechy.com Stuart

    Excellent post and especially the “admit and apologise bit” – trouble is we seem to live in a world that doesn’t know how to take the blame and we are always looking to offload the issue at someone else.

  • Jocelyn Bailey

    Hey Mike -
    Our focus on customer service as of late has really sharpened our vision of what the fiction team ought to be. We want to deliver all of our customers top-notch product, as well as top-notch service… and while we fall short occasionally, I think we’re trying our very best to make things right with our valuable customers.

    Sometimes this is easy; other times, not so much. I was speaking with a friend of mine this weekend who works in a bridal dress shop–a place that seems to be a customer service nightmare. Many of the clients are under very high stress (brides, bridesmaids, and mothers-of-the-bride… VERY high stress!), and often have unreasonable requests. For example… demanding dress alterations to be completed a week ahead of the agreed upon date.

    What advice do you have for us when we encounter our “most unreasonable customer”? Do you have any encouragement or advice to share when it comes to those tough situations–when we’ve already gone above and beyond and don’t know what else to do?

    Thanks, Mike, for leading us to the development of an excellent brand. :)

  • http://www.michaelhyatt.com Michael S. Hyatt

    @Jocelyn:

    I am actually working on a follow-up blog post now. I have tentatively entitled it, “Customers from Hell.” However, my wife, Gail, thinks that’s a little harsh.” ;-)

    It should be up in the next few days.

    Thanks,

    Mike

  • http://www.starliteministries.org Amy Beth Bullard

    I agree with each point, but I think the one I liked the most is #4. I really agree with making a FULL apology as well as avoiding the word “but.” I know you wrote this in relation to business, but I think that these are principles that we can apply in our personal lives, too.

  • http://www.marydemuth.com Mary E. DeMuth

    I’ve been pondering my cynicism to this post, and I must say I’m sorry for my snarky-ness. Someone sent me this story that perfectly illustrates your point in a winsome, inviting way. It makes me want to be like Wally! Here’s the link:

    http://www.simpletruths.com/nws/arc/07/071002-st-service2.htm

    Warmly,
    Mary, the reformed one

  • http://www.ck-blog.com CK

    Just tweeted this piece. Bravo. You get it (and yet isn’t it obvious? Funny how basic courtesy is tough to understand–and not obvious to most, eh?).

    I’ll be speaking on this subject next week and I’ll most definitely cite this piece.

  • http://www.atlanticcity.com. archie

    Your post provided a good read Michael.It looks so impossible that people would miss on these basics but they do.

  • http://www.billwhitt.com/blog Bill Whitt

    I love the idea that your apologies should never include "BUT." It's like saying, "Forget everything I just said. Let me tell you what I really mean now." Good point!

    I realize the new power of the consumer in the Internet Age. I documented a horrible encounter I had with Musician's Friend in a post I called "Musician's Enemy," and it definitely helped advance my case and get past the levels of bureaucracy to a supervisor who could (and eventually did) make the decision to give me a refund (after weeks of daily struggle against the corporation).

    • http://www.billwhitt.com/blog Bill Whitt

      By the way, I should add that when I do get a bad apology from a person or a corporation, it often makes me even more mad than the original offense. Apologizing correctly is soooo important. And these won't cut it:

      "I'm sorry you took it that way."
      "I'm sorry you misunderstood what I really meant."
      "I'm sorry I was rude, but I was stressed out."
      "I'm sorry I hurt you, but I wish you'd grow up."

      (Actual "apologies" other brothers and sisters in Christ have given me.)

  • Juan

    Hi Mike – Great Post ! going back to the airline industry – it seems they were also looking for a goverment bailout— they do not realize that the core of their cash flow problems is themselves with generally the worst customer service at among any other industry. Another set of companies that do not listen their customers are the carriers — like FedEx and UPS; they do not really care about their customers; you call a 800 number where you cannot never find a human to talk to address your problems. Another industry headed south are companies like AT&T, they believe they are so BIG that my business will not make dent; AT&T just lost a $1,500 a year customer due to BAD and CARELESS SERVICE.

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  • http://intensedebate.com/profiles/nobleexpressions nobleexpressions

    Thanks for the excellent article. Terrific points, many of which I follow. So many companies dismiss social media as irrelevant. A huge mistake, in my opinion…they do so at their own risk. As they say, "Customer Service. It's the new marketing."

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  • Nancy Davis

    What a great post. Terrific points too. I once had a situation years ago where a Dairy Queen employee was YELLING at my father. That’s right, he was yelling at an elderly man with heart problems. The employee was insisting my father did not pay for my birthday cake. He did. The worker never apologized either. The next day, I called Dairy Queen’s corporate number and got in touch with the store owner concerned. Not only was the cost of the cake refunded, the employee in questions was fired

  • http://www.forward-living.com W. Mark Thompson

    STRONG post. Great thoughts on branding, customer service, and building a presence. Awareness of long-term brand building with the potential of instant destruction is definitely a reality these days. Should make companies, as well as individuals, be quicker on the response for any concerns.
     
    Cyberspace free market. Love it!

  • http://www.meaningfultraveler.com/ Steve Brock

    Great post. I spend most of my social media time reading and writing on meaningful travel, but my day job is running a branding agency so I was particularly intrigued by this post. You hit all the right points here. One bit of research to further your argument:

    These days, the vast majority of us form our impression of a brand not from their advertising, from social media or even from our history with it, though all of those influence us to one degree or another. And, to be fair, the history piece can, if you’ve had a long positive experience, build up enough good will to sustain you through a bad experience with a brand. 

    But the number one influence on brand perception is the most recent interface you’ve had with the brand. All the messaging in the world comes down to a person’s last contact with the brand, in person, online, etc.

    This means that a single employee (perhaps the case in your UHaul example) having a single bad day could completely undermine any past good will and, as you note, cause a spread of negativity far beyond that one episode. The irony is that we all form expectations so that, for example, if I ever walked in to a Nordstroms and was treated rudely, it would create an even greater negative experience for me because it goes counter to my expectations of the brand.

    As we say in branding, “everything matters.” Too often, however, companies (or individuals) don’t realize just how true that is. Thanks for the good reminders!

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  • lynn @ Maven of Savin

    This makes a HUGE difference. One time someone had tweeted that their internet was slow that day and tagged verizon. I replied to their tweet that mine was as well. WITHIN MINUTES @VerizonSupport responded to resolve the problem and even set up a time for them to CALL ME and fix the issue. IT WAS CRAZY how immediate the response was. So even though I sometimes have issues with Verizon and think about switching companies, I ALWAYS remember that!