This was too good to pass up on branding and who actually represents the brand - a blog post by marketing guru, Seth Godin. It is a near perfect follow-up to our recent posting on Billy Mays and the brands he represented. In that post, we asked the question as to whether or not the brands he pitched could survive without him since he was arguably, the brand!

In the case of Seth Godin's posting, look at the reverse situation. It's a sad reality that there are employees out there working for supposedly reputable brands, yet taking no responsibility to uphold the integrity of the company, business, product or services because...drum roll...it's just a job...all I do is work here!

Seth nails it: when you are employed by the company, then you represent EVERYTHING about that business and thus, the brand. And, that means the good, the bad and sometimes the ugly (thank you Mr. Eastwood).

Thankfully, there are companies out there who have instilled a culture within their organizations where employees 'get it'. Go to a Chik-fil-A sometime and you'll see it from every single employee. You'll never hear one of them proclaim 'I just work here'.

As if the Super Bowl wasn't enough, Denny's stepped up to the plate and smacked one right out of the park...or was it through the uprights?! Through their :30 second advertising spot during the Super Bowl, Denny's promoted their free Grand Slam breakfast at all US restaurants from 6AM till 2PM on the Tuesday following super Sunday.

Great idea? Youbet. During this economy? Brilliant.

Sure, Super Bowl ads are ultra expensive, but when you consider the nearly immediate call to action that Denny's promoted, the pay-off was sure to follow. And that's what happened. People came, a lot of them waited patiently in long lines, they ate, were satisfied...and then what? Well, the real ROI for Denny's is the bet that these people will come back and become loyal patrons to the restaurant.

That's one of the keys to this campaign. Denny's advertising message was put in front of millions of people - mass communication. But, they hit a hot button with the viewing audience - free. Who can beat that these days? A free meal, sure. More than that, they drew people into their restaurants - perhaps some for the first time. Once they came, Denny's had to deliver. Service had to be spot-on. The food quality had to be tops. The customer experience had to be superb.

Well, based on the reviews, it looks like the free Grand Slam was a winner. When Denny's statistically measures their spike in meals served over the coming weeks, they should see increased revenues. The key will be keeping these customers and converting them into loyal patrons. Otherwise, they risk the short-term enjoyment of a sharp revenue increase that could easily drop back down to previous levels.

Back in August, we posted a story about poor customer service called 'Customer Service - Not This Way'. That was 'the bad and ugly'.

How about the good? In that same post, we mentioned a company located in the Isle of Palms, South Carolina called Island Realty. When my May vacation accommodations didn't quite stack up to normal standards, I let the Island Realty folks know about it in a post-vacation survey. The motivation wasn't to smack them between the eyes; rather, the intention was to give them honest feedback on my experience. And that's what I did. Too many times we're just too nice or want to be gracious in our expressions of poor experiences. In most cases, nothing is said at all. That's actually a disservice to companies who will never know what happened. By telling them about your situation and giving details, there is a much better opportunity for improvement. Sadly, statistics show that a large majority never make a direct complaint or share feedback with the company. Instead, they tell others - - and it snowballs into negative word of mouth.

When my friends at Island Realty received my survey feedback, they took the high road and responded right away. No excuses, no shifting of blame. They didn't even give me the opportunity to start complaining to my network of friends. Instead, they acknowledged the situation, even apologized and offered a free week back at the beach as their way of addressing the issue. I was stunned. This was completely unexpected. Immediately, I took note of this action and told them how much I appreciated what they were doing.

That's a great example of extraordinary customer service. And you know what? That's probably the way it should always be with any business. Of course, I'm not suggesting you have to do what they did, but the point is that they took action and quickly addressed the situation proactively. Isn't this a great step toward building favorable customer relations and loyalty? Absolutely.

When companies invest in marketing to an audience, then they should take great care to ensure the customer's experience is a wonderful one. It isn't that difficult, but it does take some thought, strategy and effort. Getting a sale or a new client is only half the equation. Developing them into loyal patrons is the other half. Then they become your advocates!

By the way, we enjoyed a great stay back at the beach. And, as I absorbed the sun, waves and sand, I couldn't help but think it was only possible because of what Island Realty did. I'm a satisfied customer who is telling others about my experience. Great job guys.

Learning from this experience will perhaps help us all become better marketers. Here's the story:

Went to lunch today to a spot visited perhaps twice a year. My friend and I walked in the door and almost simultaneously started searching for the menu. Nothing. Where the 'specials board' once sat was nothing but an empty floor. Then, we spotted the whiteboard - on the opposite wall. Finally, we found menus at the end of the counter. After about 5 minutes, I realized the name of the joint had changed. Hmmm. What's up with that?

We both placed our orders and I thought mine was a really, really simple one: the All-American cheeseburger. After a few minutes chit-chatting with my friend at our booth, we were interrupted by a guy who turns out to be the restaurant owner. He asked me what seemed like 20 questions about how I wanted my burger. My initial thoughts were "Didn't I already tell the girl who took my order?" Not long after that, our food arrived. It was OK. Nothing special and nothing to tell anyone else about - - at least that's what I thought.

Minding our own business and chomping down our lunch, we were once again interrupted by Mr. Restaurant Owner. This time, he was in a full-throttle sales mode. Without hardly taking a breath, he proceeded to tell us why we should order lunches for our businesses through him and why his food was so good because it is fresh daily, etc. OK, I understand. A fairly new business and he's a bit excited to tell us about his business. But what was wrong with this tactic?

1 - He interrupted us without permission assuming we wanted to hear his sales pitch while we were attempting to eat our lunch

2 - He constantly repeated himself and over-emphasized what may otherwise have been decent selling points

3 - He contradicted himself - - in one breath he told us the food was prepared fresh daily and in the next breath promoted his pastries which he receives frozen, then pops them in the oven!

4 - He broke a major sales law by explaining that his prices were going up due to someone else's problem (the gas prices)

Numbers 3 and 4 are worth exploring a bit. I can't think of a worse example than for a restaurant owner to brag about fresh food and in the next sentence tell me some of it is frozen and simply 'heated up' in the oven. What's your answer, sir? Do you offer fresh or frozen food? It doesn't take a rocket scientist to see the conflict.

In number 4, he was attempting to point out menu items (again, while we were trying to eat) that he thought would interest us, but then said a new menu was coming out within a week. Keep in mind, this place just opened less than 2 months ago. Here's the kicker: he said their prices were going to be higher because of "you know, gas and other stuff like that". Ouch.

Lessons learned:

Create a brand that means something. I left that place with more brand conflict than anything else. What about an outstanding lunch experience that I would want to tell all my friends about? How about emphasizing true freshness in all menu items? Our brand experience was negative. The restaurant brand doesn't exist - in name, atmosphere or experience (well, it does in a negative way).

Ask permission to interrupt patrons or customers. That's a fundamental law of marketing. We're all interrupted dozens of times a day with commercials, emails, etc. Be strategic and tactful when you want to express a message. How about offering an incentive to come back to this restaurant as first time diners? How about coupons to pass along to our friends and colleagues? The list goes on.

Seth Godin says to create 'remarkable' experiences. He's right. Delight the customer instead of irritating him. Be known for something great, unique, special, beneficial, outstanding, etc. Eliminate contradictions in your business. Be consistent and let your brand grow your business.

Recent experiences have motivated me to address customer service over a few posts. It never ceases to amaze me how companies will claim that customers are the most important aspect of their business and that they'll do anything to ensure their satisfaction. Some actually do this while most do not.

For example, take Deltacom - a large provider of communication and technology solutions. On the Deltacom web site, they state "Deltacom has earned a strong reputation built on customer satisfaction." That's nice, but there isn't any proof. In fact, my experience and that of several others I know is the exact opposite.

About a year ago, some slick sales guys came by the business claiming Deltacom was THE answer to our telecom issues. No more high prices, low services and poor quality for us. And, no need to worry about customer service issues. No, sir, Deltacom takes care of their customers.

Um. No. The short part of the story is that customer service appears to be the biggest gap in their company. Countless times we've experienced downtime due to disconnections, service drops, etc. When it happens, we go through the same routine - call them, give them our account number and then listen as a customer service rep reads off the party line statement about services being restored as soon as possible, you may hear from us, etc. That's it.

Guess what happens? Nothing. Sometimes service is immediately restored while most of the time it seems to take forever. We never hear from them on status, updates, when it is actually back up and running, etc. Never. Never. Never.

They are the absolute worst customer service organization I've ever encountered (with Charter a close second). And, it's pointless. How hard is it to ensure you have satisfied customers and those that sing your praises? It isn't - hear me loud and clear Deltacom - "It's not that hard!"

Obviously I'll never recommend them; instead, I'm doing the opposite. Oh, the power of word of mouth. And, the power of negative PR. Shame on Deltacom. Bad Deltacom.

Stay tuned for better customer service news - - an experience of how it should be courtesy of my friends at Island Realty on the Isle of Palms in South Carolina. They get it and they definitely understand the power that well-serviced customers can be for their business.

Like many of you, I've been amazed to watch customer service drop to all time low levels over the past 20 years. Back in the day when I was bagging groceries to cover my expenses, we were taught that the customer is always right. Always? Yep. Don't question it. Try that today. In fact, it's nearly the opposite where businesses somehow think they are right - no matter what.

Have businesses forgotten where their revenues come from? Here's a hint: the customer. OK, that was a big hint. But, walk into a retail establishment and it seems half the time one is left feeling they were a bother to the employees of the business. How dare a willing spender of cash think for a second that they are to be dealt with in a respectful, friendly and courteous manner!

And it isn't limited to the consumer market. Nope. Many corporations struggle with delivering meaningful exchanges with clients - that is, paying clients. It is amazing that one has to really dig around and look under a few layers before finding a business that really seems to care about their customers.

Could this be why so many businesses fail? Is the customer, in fact, always right? They may not be, but ignoring or mistreating them will surely cost you. Simply making them feel like they are always right will score points for your business.


Patty Seybold does a masterful job addressing this very issue in her book The Customer Revolution. Visit her blog for discussion points around creating great customer experiences, measure customer value and more.

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