Branding Support

By “branding support” I am not suggesting that one apply a red-hot iron with rancher’s logo to the flesh of a technical support representative.  However, having worked ranch when I was a kid, and having recently experienced tech support, the thought has a certain appeal.

Your brand is created with every buyer interaction.  Some interactions occur in advertising. Others occur between buyers and cut you out of the interaction loop. The rest occur whenever your buyers visits your company, be it your web site, your sales office, or your support department.

The letter can destroy you.

Not long ago, Dell was flagging. Part of this was a change in the market which they failed to anticipate and were also slow in responding. Yet a good part of their fall from prominence was due to ill-advised shifting of technical support (something that had been a glowing aspect of Dell’s brand) to under-trained staff in India. Many formerly loyal Dell customers became openly antagonistic, and this negative brand image was communicated from customer to customer.

Support as a brand touch point came sharply into focus for me last week as I encountered two completely opposite examples of customer service, or lack thereof. In the case of Comcast, they tarnished an already inferior brand through indifferent and idiotic “support.” Amazon, on the other hand was so superb in execution that their already strong brand became more so.

Comcast — casting doubts about their sanity

For someone in the high tech business, I’m a technology laggard. There is not a single HD-TV in my home. Needing to replace a failing low def tube, and deciding I might as well start down the HD highway, I emailed Comcast support with a simple question: since I have to use one of your set top boxes to get HD, tell me which box(es) will you provide in my area so I can buy the best TV to use with it.

Eleven emails later …

The sundry exchanges could be considered comical were they not aggravating. The first response said “I understand that you would want to know more about HD” and then provided a URL to Comcast advertising. Sorry Kandarpa, not even close. Interestingly, a different support agent who had the entire preceding email thread and saw my reaction to this odd substitute for “support”, gave exactly the same answer.

One fellow bordered on helpful, sending a list of links to their many different set top boxes, but did not identify the one used in my area (they are different in different areas because Comcast is rolling out different services on different schedules to different regions). The rest of the emails resulted in a continuing lack of enlightenment until I said that I would document the email exchange for Comcast’s VP of marketing. That threat (yes, threatening Comcast is about the only alternative) got a senior support slacker with two of more functioning dendra to clearly state that Comcast technical support had no way to know what set top boxes were issued by any office. Period.

I worry about company that provides data services but cannot make data available to their own support teams.

One can (and I would) argue that such sloppy support can only come from a monopoly, which describes any municipal franchise. Amazon, always mindful that they have no such government protection, goes further to protect their brand and service their customers.

Amazon — amazing affection

In the same week that Comcast was cascading down the canyon of doom (AT&T and possibly Google will soon run fiber to the premises here), I ordered a new cell phone from Amazon. This surprised everyone given that I have been hauling the same smart phone the nearly a decade. Being the frugal descendants of Scotts, I naturally opted for the cheapest shipping option available (free), but was surprised the next day when Amazon said the in-stock handset wouldn’t even leave their warehouse for five days. I popped them an email and noted that out of simple curiosity I wonder why the delay.

Amazon sent a single, coherent, informative email about the mechanics of their order fulfillment system, apologized for my confusion, and upgraded me at no cost for two-day shipment to make sure I remained satisfied with Amazon.

Contrast the two — Comcast and Amazon. The former clearly didn’t care enough to even try to answer a simple inquiry. The later, having a more complex question to answer did so and then, at their expense, did something unexpected and downright endearing. Comcast diluted their brand by forcing a soon former customer to battle their ineptitude. Amazon hugged me into submission.

The marketing message is that you brand is impacted at every interaction. Giving people reasons to dislike doing business with you is the pump primer for churn. Hurry up AT&T and Google … you have a paying customer waiting on you.

Now, if Amazon started providing internet services to the home …


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