by Kenneth Rudich
A brand is the sum total of the experiences and exposure people have with it.
It only makes good sense to keep a close rein on the brand development process as it moves along the value chain. Anything less could be a mistake.
Well, maybe not.
Let me relate a recent customer service experience I had. It happened in the deli section of a store belonging to a large supermarket chain.
A small sign posted on the glass case of the deli counter indicated that the chicken wings were going for fifty cents apiece. In a display of modular thinking, it further suggested they were available in plain, barbecue, and apricot glaze. That was all the information it contained. Nothing less, nothing more.
As one who is nearly fanatical in his love for chicken wings, I couldn’t resist the temptation to order a dozen and did.
But as the clerk handed the sealed sack of wings over to me, I noticed the price on the label was grossly inflated. After pointing this out, she informed me I had chosen the more expensive wings as opposed to the ones referred to on the sign. A few more moments passed with her objecting to my insisting they were over priced, which is when I decided it was time to summon a manager.
Upon his arrival, the manager quickly detected the error and instructed her to change the price of my wings. With that, he hastily turned around and left without saying anything more. The clerk meanwhile did as she was told. Only this time, as she extended the sack with the corrected price, her face clearly conveyed a grudging reluctance to have given me any service at all, let alone one that ended like this.
My original intent was to shop a bit more but I immediately decided against it. Feeling frustrated, I paid for the wings and rushed out the door.
Later that evening, the usually enjoyable experience of eating their wings was tarnished by the events of the day. In fact, I didn’t even finish them, and I’m pretty sure that’s never happened before.
a value chain lesson
Two components of the value chain were mishandled in this encounter. They were the communications component and the transactions component.
It started with the conflict between the communication of the price on the sign and the actual price on the transaction label. This lapse would have been easily forgotten if things had been handled even remotely well after that. But they weren’t. Neither the manager nor the clerk seemed to recognize that brand name development is part of their job. As a result, the situation grew worse.
The clerk behind the counter became testy and argumentative rather than gracious and polite. She not only refused to change the price without the intervention of a manager, but I had to make the request for a manager to come. It was obvious she planned to battle it out until I’d surrendered.
Though the manager fixed the price, he failed to remedy the situation. First, there was a glaring absence of any gesture to compensate for my grief – maybe a free side dish or a few extra wings to make it right. Second, he never verbally owned up to the mistake and apologized for it.
Perhaps most remarkable of all, this dispute amounted to less than three dollars worth of business with an otherwise regular customer.
So I think it’s worth repeating: a brand is the sum total of the experiences and exposure people have with it. It is prudent – and only prudent — for a business to defend the brand development process at every single point of the value chain.
By the way, there’s another supermarket just down the street from this one. They have a good brand identity, and I’m left to wonder if they don’t offer a better customer service experience?