Commentary

Brand Manners: How To Grow Up To Be A Good Brand

The world has changed, giving brands unprecedented access to their customers. From personalization to real time feedback to AI, brands and their customers enjoy a closer, and perhaps more human, relationship than ever before. In fact, with the advent of AI-driven digital assistants such as Alexa, Bixby and Google, "brand voice" is the most literal construct it’s ever been.

Of course, the closer you are, the harder you fall. Knowing more about your customers and having a deeper relationship with them comes with added responsibility. 

The battlefield is littered with brands that have failed to understand the scope of this responsibility Who can forget Lululemon's fall from grace as the CEO blamed customers' bodies for what was clearly a product defect? 

Because relationships between brand and customer so resemble human connections, they are governed by another human framework: manners!  

1. Say please. Early and often. So much of the customer experience can feel like an obligation. In fact, at its best, it’s a series of well-aligned trades, in which the customer continually gets benefit in exchange for each request the brand makes of her or him. 

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Casper does a great job of this. You can try its mattress for 100 days and if you don’t like it, the company will pick it up and give you a full refund. 

Talk about not making the customer feel obligated — and in a business that previously sold you a product that you’d be sleeping on every night for probably the next ten years with basically no takebacks.

2. And thank you. Likewise, while some brands have better understood the idea of thanking their customer, this simple act is widely underplayed. 

 Good manners aren’t just for startups. AT&T has created an entire benefits program called AT&T Thanks, focused on appreciating its current customers. 

In a category that typically expends most of its noise on calling new customers into the fray, this attention toward explicitly saying thank you to, and rewarding customers that were loyal to the brand, is not just polite, but a power move.  

3. Ask before taking anything. It used to be that we just asked our customers for their money. Now we ask so much more of them: their opinions, their engagement in social marketing, and of course, their personal data. 

And just as you as a brand are not entitled to their money, you are likewise not entitled to their data. Both must be earned and treated with care.

4. Say you're sorry. If all of the above fails, apologize. In this age of transparency and instantaneous propagation of information, to be anything less than immediately transgressive when you've done something wrong is not just bad manners, but a bad idea. Even a highly unfortunate problem can be well handled with a swift and genuine apology. 

Netflix is sitting pretty now, but do you remember when the company split the DVD and streaming services and made everyone so mad with a confusing and very large price increase? You don't? Probably because CEO Reed Hastings posted a public apology (twice), admitted the error of his ways, and corrected the problem. 

To see the business impact of having great manners over time, take a good look at Southwest. Inarguably, a smart, well-run business has been central to its success, but it’s the company’s heart that has so substantially carried it through the challenges of change. 

As other brands have cost-cut and penny-pinched to the point of forcibly removing customers from the plane (we won’t name names), Southwest is the only major carrier not to charge checked bag fees. Having good manners has always been and will continue to be in Southwest’s DNA and it’s served them through good times and bad, making them the success they are today.

So go. Make friends, be nice to people. Your business will reap the rewards.

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