The Power And Vulnerability Of The Modern Brand

Products and services are becoming more complex, whether you're evaluating a new insurance policy or the latest smart phone. Consumers can spend days reading reviews and comparing features and functionalities. However, there are also those customers who don't have time for this level of research and simply rely on their gut feeling -- which is another way of saying that brand perception carries great influence in today's purchase decisions.

It takes years, a large investment, and a corporate culture backed by business practices built around innovation, quality, customer-centricity, and service excellence to establish a strong brand. The return can be very rewarding especially in today's increasingly complex world. However, in the era of social networking, even strong brands can be undermined. The impact of social media has only proven that perception plays a much larger role in the power and vulnerability of a brand.

Two recent incidents involving influential brands illustrate this vulnerability -- Apple and Toyota.

Lesson #1: One of the most powerful ways to differentiate today is through a strong brand.

Apple experienced an issue with its "Antennagate," which surfaced in result to a few dropped calls, poor reception and frustrated customers. Everyone is well aware that Apple has created an empire with its personal computers and digital music offerings. As a result, this particular episode has had an impact on the company's brand -- and all in a very short time period.

Similarly, Toyota has spent decades building its brand around reliability. When a several incidents of the Prius accelerator malfunction occurred, Toyota was forced to institute a massive service recall and marketing campaign on the brand's safety and commitment to consumers.

All brands are vulnerable -- regardless of how large or small, known or lesser known, the company is.

In today's social web, customers are quick to "tweet," message and interact via online communities and with friends about their experience, perceptions and questions. So, it's not surprising that the Apple and Toyota examples hit the Internet -- and from there to other traditional media in such short order.

Today's organizations need to make sure they have a way of not only knowing about rising customer queries, issues and frustrations, but doing something about them proactively. They need the means to evaluate such criteria, interpreting and responding to "early warning signals."

As has been the case for many years, customer questions, complaints and issues often make their way back to a company via the customer contact center. This part of an organization, in most cases, already leverages some sort of recording or quality monitoring software that allows them to capture and retrieve customer interactions. Taken further, many have even deployed speech analytics to mine the voice of the customer in order to understand the type of calls and issues that customers face, their frequency, and their context.

Using such tools can help identify issues at the onset that may put your brand at risk, and enable you to take rapid action, address and resolve the customer issue, and even make necessary internal adjustments to remedy the problem. For example, when repeat calls start coming in on the same issue, the system can alert the appropriate staff so proactive measures are put in place -- as in the example of Apple's antenna glitch.

Steve Jobs, Apple's CEO, recently acknowledged early on that roughly 0.55% of the iPhone 4 users initially complained about the antenna problem. For the sake of this article, let's assume that each customer called only once. With roughly three million iPhone 4 users, this means Apple would have received more than 15,000 calls on this one issue.

This also applies to the Toyota example, which was initially dismissed as having little impact on its overall brand. Even a few incidents can have a significant impact when your customer base is connected to social networks.

Lesson #2: Proactively protect, safeguard and maintain your brand.

Now, more than ever, it's critical that senior executives pay attention to the early warning signs. The following questions provide a guideline designed to help ensure the broader organization is proactively listening to its customers.

  • What types of common threads and trends exist in your customer calls?
  • Are these calls emotional?
  • How critical is the issue from the customer's perspective?
  • Would they likely share this with their friends?
  • How much would it cost to fix the issue now, and how much would it cost to fix it later if this becomes public?
  • Can we afford not to address the issue?

Much like the saying, "Those who have the most, have the most to lose," brand reputation can be fragile for even the largest, most well-known companies. Today's forward-thinking organizations are putting measures in place to listen to customers more proactively, analyze data for early warning signs, and trigger alerts that will ultimately identify or prevent the next customer "tsunami" (which I've talked about previously).

Is your company putting its ear to the ground and monitoring customer interaction data on a daily basis?

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