.comment-link {margin-left:.6em;} Making Sense: e-Digest of Brand Thinking

Thursday, October 19, 2006

Jimi Hendricks on branding: “Are you experienced?”

In his e-seminar, "Experiential Branding," Professor Bernd H. Schmitt of Columbia University argues that it's not enough for marketers to promote the features and benefits of their brands. “With so many products of similar purpose and quality on the market,” he says, “managers need to provide customers with desirable (brand) experiences.”

That’s only partly right. He should have said “customer experiences.” Because experiential branding is never about what you think—it’s about what your audience thinks. You can serve up as many brand experiences as you want. It’s still up to the customer to buy in or not.

Dell Computer is a good example. Somewhere along the way, Dell’s messaging changed. It focused more on supply chain efficiency and low prices than on the advantages of getting a custom-built Dell computer. The result: Dell’s brand personality, the “magic,” slowly began to slip away.

Things got worse. According to a piece in the
September 18, 2006, issue of FORTUNE, Dell shifted a large portion of its after-sale service call centers to India, the Philippines, and elsewhere, and began using scads of temporary workers—further eroding the customer experience.

"The team was managing cost instead of managing service and quality," Michael Dell confesses. Managers were evaluating call-center employees primarily on how long they stayed on each customer call. That guaranteed customers would be unhappy and, with their problems unresolved, would call again, angrier still. The question is, why would a company that’s known for having good service deliberately shoot itself in the foot? Don’t answer that.

The same FORTUNE article says the company has hired thousands of people, most of them in North America this time, and has dramatically reduced the use of temporary employees. This year, instead of costs, the call centers started measuring how well the problem is solved the first time. Even better, if customers call with a Microsoft Office problem, they are no longer blown off and told to call Microsoft. Hallelujah.

More good reading:
For an excellent article on how to build a lasting customer experience (it’s a quick read: only one page), check out “Basic Training—There are no shortcuts on the road to a great experience” by David Lidsky in the
September2006 issue of Fast Company.

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