Tuesday, June 2, 2009

A sweet brand experience

This is a story of how a store manager and cashier saved a young girl’s birthday party and, in the process, protected the store’s brand.

My mom, who is an exceptionally gifted crafter of birthday cakes – she’s done everything from Smurfs to Scooby-Doo – was in a bind recently. She was pressed for time and needed a cake for my niece’s 11th birthday party. So she went to a grocery store to order a special confection for the big event – one that would be adorned with edible pictures from High School Musical. She chose the store because it was only one in her neighbourhood that could handle such an order. She dropped off two 4”x 6” photos – the only size the store could use – and left her name and phone number.

On the big day, my mom went to pick up the cake and discovered that the photos she provided were replicated in wallet-size. Apparently, there had been a problem with the machine that prints the edible photos, but no one had called my mother to let her know. Needless to say, she was disappointed. The store manager and cashier were apologetic, and mom received a refund, but such concessions weren’t going to provide much comfort to an 11-year old girl. But an amazing thing happened. The manager asked my mother for details about the party – where and when it was being held. Forty-five minutes after the party started, the cashier arrived at my niece’s party with a new cake and a movie gift certificate, too.

The story could have had a different ending if the manager and staff had balked at offering a refund or had made no effort to accommodate my mom in a time of need. You could say it’s an example of excellent customer service, but I see it more as an instance when a company turned a potentially negative brand experience into a positive one.

Think about it: how many businesses have you boycotted because they delivered a product, service or experience decidedly inferior to the one they promised? Consider how many people you shared your unsatisfactory experiences with, and how much detail you provided. Did you tell only your closest friends and family, or did you blog and tweet about it? How many people indicated that they, too, would not be giving their business to a company based on how it treated you? Now, flip that and think about the damage one or two unhappy people can do to your organization.

Clearly, this is a manager that understands the power of bad word of mouth to impair his business. He recognizes that customers have the potential to shape public opinion about his brand based on the experiences they have. He knows that their word has more integrity, resonance or value among their friends and family than any marketing or communication effort he might muster. And he realizes that their perceptions can spread far and fast, gaining enough traction to supplant or negate his branding efforts. In short, this manager understands that his customers exert considerable control over his brand.

So he and his staff did the smart thing under the circumstances. They made the extra effort and saved the day, because they know one dissatisfied customer can translate into several lost customers. They protected their reputation or brand from unnecessary criticism.

By the way, my mom went back to the store that same day and thanked the manager for making a little girl’s day. He informed her that he put in an order for a new cake-decorating machine. Mom has been sharing her experience with friends and family, making her an invaluable brand ambassador for the store in her circle of influence. Best of all, my niece got to have her cake and eat it too.

Share your brand experiences, sweet and sour, with me at mark@wordsworthinc.com.

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