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Support Is Where Brands Are Won and Lost

by Gerry McGovern
Author, New Thinking


If brand loyalty is best measured by gut feeling then there are few better ways to test its strength than when a customer requires support, because that's when feelings are high.

Today, most organizations pretty much wash their hands of the customer after they've sold them the product. This is a short-sighted strategy.

You are supposed to outsource and offshore the non-essential functions, so that you can focus on what really matters, and on what you do really well. If this is the case, then support must be one of the most minor functions within the modern organization. The customer gets their questions answered by a third party contractor who has a couple of weeks training and reads from a script.

One of the few brands I care for is Amazon.com, because I feel that they care for me. Any time I have ever had a problem with Amazon.com, they have been amazingly helpful. I bought a video from them a couple of years ago which didn't work. When I emailed them, they immediately sent me a new one, telling me not to bother to send them the broken one as that would cost me money in postage.

A couple of months ago I bought a batch of CDs from Amazon.com, and one of them was faulty. Again, I had the same experience, the same fast, pleasant response. How can Amazon.com treat their customers so well, while most other organizations treat their customers so awfully?

In my experience, and in the experience of thousands of people I talk to every year, Amazon.com is the exception. Recently, I talked to a woman at a workshop who told me that she had given up using email in the contact section of websites, because she hardly ever got a reply. That opened the floodgates for people to tell their own stories of dire service and support.

Many organizations are digging a deep grave for themselves. They think that they can basically wash their hands of the customer after they have sold them the product. That may boost short-term profits but will create an increasingly disloyal customer base.

Customer loyalty has become much more a factor of habit than of love. Most customers are staying with products not because they care about them, but because it's too much hassle to change, and because they feel the competition is probably just as bad.

Jeff Bezos, founder of Amazon.com, said that "branding is what people say about you when you leave the room." I am a loyal, dedicated customer of Amazon.com. The thing that makes me so happy with Amazon.com is not so much its prices, its product range, or its website design, but its support.

I believe that increasingly the real work of branding will occur at the support level. The real test of a relationship is what happens when something goes wrong, that's where brands of the future will get built and destroyed. Forget the TV ads that tell us imaginative lies, the rubber hits the road at support.

Products are becoming more and more the same, made from the same parts, doing the same things. What will give organizations of the future a competitive advantage is the set of relationships they have established. Organizations that outsource their support are outsourcing their customer relationships and outsourcing their brands.

Gerry McGovern, New Thinking 2004. All rights reserved.



Gerry McGovern is the author of New Thinking, a weekly column which has received numerous accolades and a book, THE CARING ECONOMY

The Caring Economy
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The Caring Economy, by Gerry McGovern, is published by Blackhall Publishing of 26 Eustace Street, Dublin 2, Ireland. ISBN 1-901657-61-2 Price _27.50 or US$35.95
Email: [email protected]

It is also available in the United States from Irish Books & Media, 1433 East Franklin Avenue, MN, USA 55404-2135. Call toll-free: 1-800-229-3505.

Email Gerry McGovern at [email protected]
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