at the intersection of brands, media and culture

A Complaint About Service Brands

In Branding, Brands, communications, Consumers, marketing, strategy on January 14, 2008 at 9:39 am

not in service
Originally uploaded by pfeel

Let’s start with some basics. Most brands are in the service business whether they want to be or not. Starbucks is as much a service brand as it is a retail brand; Nordstrom, Apple, Toyota, Target, Best Buy– all are service brands. Simply opening up your doors and selling well-made products isn’t enough– customer service and support make a big impact on a customer’s likelihood to purchase your products again and whether or not they’ll become an advocate for your brand.

Service is an unavoidable differentiator regardless of the business that you are in. I’ve been preaching this mantra to my clients for years. Usually it comes out sounding something like, “You can’t treat your customers like crap and expect them to keep coming back. That’s an abuser-victim relationship, not a customer-provider relationship.”

Unfortunately, I think that some brands are missing the point. They’ve put all of their focus and resources into customer service because they misread somewhere that it is the only thing that matters. I’ve seen it with hotels and this morning I saw it with my rental car company of choice. Service is a key differentiator, but not the only one.

Enterprise Rent-a-Car, I appreciate the fact that your lines are reasonably short and that your waiting room is bright and comfortable (…for a rental car office). I appreciate that you engage me in pleasant banter as we walk out to the car and check for damage. And let’s face it, you went above and beyond by calling me later that day to check in and make sure that I was having a good experience with my rental car. Great customer service…or was it?

The key to great customer service is that it builds on the existing product to create a positive experience and a lasting impression. It rarely makes up for sub-par products and services. For instance, when I rent a car I expect a few basic things:

1) That the car will be ready when promised.

2) That it will be the same car that I was promised with any services that were requested (GPS, Satellite Radio).

3) That it will be clean.

4) That it will have a full tank of gas.

5) That you will get me on my way as quickly as possible.

In fact, I think the above should serve as a customer Bill of Rights. And this is my point: these are the basics that you have to get RIGHT. Once you master these basics, please go on and tackle incredible customer service. Go above and beyond, blow me away.

But Enterprise, when I rent my car from you and find that it only has a quarter tank of gas, that’s not great customer service. That means I have to stop a lot sooner than I would have otherwise. And when you tell me that I can bring it back with a quarter tank, that requires more math than I have competency for: estimating the distance I have yet to travel by what I think the gas mileage is. All nebulous estimates that will likely result in me overfilling the tank and donating a couple of extra dollars to the Enterprise fund.

And when I’m digging around for the map that I lost and find a half bag of beef jerky? Not great customer service. Fresh baked cookies at check-in, awesome. Half-eaten bag of beef jerky under the seat, not awesome. So please fix the basics so I can start really appreciating hearing Peter’s friendly voice 2 hours after I drove off the lot.

Note: the above is not exclusive to rental car companies; it also goes for that 4-star hotel with Pillow Concierge that delivered my room service cold and forgot about my wake up call.

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