Let 2013 be the year we become world-class

It would be a wonderful thing to be proud of our nation’s biggest brands, knowing that they are leading the world in how they engage with customers and deliver to our needs and desires.

A recent experience with a mid-sized ISP reminded me that customer service must be at the heart of any great brand. Whilst we start off as advocates for the brand, we can quickly turn to terrorists if we are wronged and neglected.

Brands in New Zealand have a great opportunity to go above and beyond due to our smaller size and reduced degrees of separation. We sit as an ideal test case of how brands in an ideal world could communicate adeptly with their audience, quickly solving disputes and generally further than what is expected. We could be a test case for best practice in how brands are becoming more ‘human’, responsive to their audience’s needs and ultimately respectful of us as individuals, rather than as mere numbers.

My experience involved four months of poor service that brought about continued account charges - despite my account cancellation - and impersonal, cold and mechanical dealings from staff that lacked any empowerment. Nothing, including emails to the CEO and GM of call centres, could resolve my dilemma, until it was finally addressed within 10 minutes of posting my complaint to their Facebook page.

My frustration lies not in my own experience, but that our country’s brands generally could and should be doing a lot better than they are, especially in these trying economic times. They should be exceeding our relatively low expectations and creating strong advocates among us that naturally share the joy of dealing with such a brand. This is the role of a brand in our life, fulfilling our deepest and most practical of desires. A great brand needs to be responsive at all points of contact, not just those that are publicly visible.

It starts with brands empowering their front-line people with the ability to make decisions. They should not be employed to just apologise to us ad nauseum – they should be the ones bringing delight into the customer’s experience.

New Zealand brands can and should do better in delivering on what are seen as the basics. If they are basic, then why do so many fall short in achieving them? Instead brands focus on hosting large experiential events and quirky campaigns with cats and other animals, believing that this is how hearts and minds are won. But they are wrong.

Today, we as customers are vocal, sceptical and savvy to what is said and promised in the marketplace. Any brand that becomes obsessed with acquisition costs and forgets that those numbers represent people will find themselves struggling to stay favourable in the public eye. Brands that are open, transparent and actively engaged across all channels will win the hearts and minds of us and thereby command loyalty, trust and a premium over their competitors.

2013 should be the year when this country’s brands rediscover what it means to deliver the basics, to engage in a human way and ultimately become responsive to customer requests and calls for action. Let 2013 be the year that New Zealand brands become truly world-class in customer service.

Tom Warden is a strategy consultant for Interbrand

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