Thank You For Calling, Good Buddy

When I was at Tommy Hilfiger, I was amazed at the depth of the relationship our customers had with the brand. When a customer had a good experience with the brand, it validated the role Tommy played in their life. When a customer had a less than good experience, (for example if
the colors on a shirt ran in the wash) the problem was much more than simply arranging a returned or exchange. For many customers, a product issue was tantamount to a broken promise, a painful rejections by a trusted friend. When the heartbroken customer would contact us after enduring such an ordeal, we first needed to hear their emotions, acknowledge their pain, and tell them we didn’t mean it, if we hoped to heal the relationship.
But those were the customers who contacted us. What of the thousands of customers, for any brand, who don’t bother to call or email when something goes awry? Aren’t we all more likely to complain to our pals when our phone bill is inaccurate, or our flight has been delayed – again?
Truth is that it’s a whole lot easier to complain to your pals about how you hate Company X than to take your issue directly to Company X. It’s a bit of a pain to pick up the phone, dial a number, wait on hold, only to pick a fight with a customer service agent who may or may not give a flying leap about your situation (Air Canada, this means you!). By the same token, taking the time to draft an email outlining a bad experience is perceived as time wasted. It’s thoroughly easier to shut the brand out of our lives, and encourage our friends to do the same.
So, as a customer experience professional, this scares the crap out of me. And it scares the crap out of a lot of other organizations, too, which is why we invest time, energy, and money to find out just what our customers are saying about us, to take the pulse of that covert communication.
Here’s thought: Wouldn’t it be great to make communication with a brand so gosh darned easy that it becomes as easy as chatting with our friends? That’s like suggesting that we, the “brands,” become the pals our customers think of us. That way, when we screw up, we hear about it! Right away! And when we’re thinking about changing something, we can easily find out how it will be accepted (remember New Coke?). This is kind of the Holy Grail of customer experience management. It’s also what brands absolutely need to pursue if they’re to have true “sticking” power with their consumers. Every brand can have consumers as loyal as Tommy Hilfiger’s if they understand, and respect, the very real and personal role they play in their customers’ lives. If they understand that, to many of us, brands are like our pals.
Take a look at this video from that demonstrates how an organization uses Twitter to keep in touch with its customer base, to be that “pal,” and to step in when things seem to have gone awry at some point (can you spot the clue?). Also, notice how the brand carefully manages expectations around availabilty. The best part is that adopting such a strategy costs nothing. It’s free. But it ain’t easy…
Comments welcome, of course!

Customer Service Via Twitter from Tom L on Vimeo.