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Branding 101: The Tale of Two Contact Centers

For those of you who still don’t think that your customer’s interaction with your contact center is a more important reflection of your brand than everything your marketing department does in a whole year, please read this post. 
I present to you the following tale of two very different experiences with the contact centers of two competitive services which reinforced for me where real brand building occurs in the eyes of our customers. 

The story begins when a certain Internet marketing guy, let’s call him "Ike", wants to ensure that he registers all possible permutations of the URL for a new company that he is starting.  Now Ike has a friend whose company owns a domain registration business, let’s call him "Ben".  Ike wants to support Ben so he uses his company’s service to register his domain. 
Unfortunately while Ike is trying to complete the on line transaction through the website of Ben’s company, he encounters an error related to his credit card. 

Essentially the service won’t accept Ike’s credit card for some reason which makes no sense to Ike as he uses it all the time, but hey, things happen, right?  As a marketer though, Ike realizes the importance of this moment for this particular company.  You see, this is a problem that has occurred at this company’s virtual till, the most important problem for any company to solve.  You have a qualified customer ready and wanting to buy something from you and he can’t for some process reason.  Unfortunately, this opportunity is where this particular company goes off the rails.

The first problem is that the web site error message tells Ike that it is his responsibility to solve this problem as it is likely his card that is the problem.  There is no click-to-chat service or even a visible 1-800 line for Ike to call to speak with someone who can help him through the issue.  This is not good. 

Because of his friend Ben though, Ike is committed and so he searches around the site to find a call center number.  He finds it and calls.  He is immediately placed on hold.  This is also not good.  While he is waiting, he is told about how great it is to solve your problems on line with this company.  So, with the phone still attached to his head, Ike sends an email to the company to explain that there is a problem on their side with his credit card and he could use some assistance. 

Ike is still on hold.  He is never told how long he will be waiting for.  He waits longer. 
After about 10 minutes, Ike, who is not terribly patient at the best of times according to his wife, decides to do a Goggle search on who else offers similar domain registration services, just in case.  In Google, the number one company that comes up not only provides a link to their site but also lists their price, which Ike notices is about 30% less expensive than the company he is currently on hold with.  Ike is still waiting on the call by the time he is at that competitor’s site which is easy to user and has a lot of built-in contextual help when he wants to understand whether he can still use his Canadian credit card on their site (as they are an American site).  He finds out that he can in 2 clicks. 

Ike is still waiting on hold when he decides to proceed directly to the checkout of the other site.  Before he registers the domain, Ike checks his email inbox to see if the first service had written back yet.  Nope.  Ike decides to checkout while still on the call just in case there is actually a problem with his credit card.  He checks out and now owns the domain.  Ike feels a slight pang of guilt which dissipates as the call extends into its 20th minute and Ike hangs up.

There is one more lesson from this story to emphasize which comes from the epilogue. 
That night Ike is at home with his wife having dinner when the phone rings.  "Hello", says Ike.
"Hello Ike, this is that better domain registration service calling from the US.  You registered a web site domain with us today and we wanted to know if you needed any further assistance in getting your site up, like hosted email or web site development?"   
"Oh, thanks, I’m ok." Says Ike.
"No problem, Ike, we will send you an email tonight with some additional services we provide which you may be interested in.  Have a nice evening."
"You too, better domain registration service, you too." Says Ike.

When Ike opens his email the next morning, there is one email.  It is from the better domain registration service, as promised.  He waits another day.   An automated message arrives from the first company saying that someone will get back to him soon.  That was a month ago.
The lesson here should be obvious.  My guess is that the executives of this first company are all sitting around a boardroom table wrestling with how they are going to increase their share of wallet with their customers and how they are going to get new customers in their service.  I bet I don’t even show up as a "use case" in their planning.

The bottom line is that your contact center is your brand, plain and simple.  In fact, I would argue that it is more your brand than what you think your brand is; your logo, your font or anything you say about yourself at your website or in your advertising.  Your brand is how you are, not who you are.  If you want to expand your marketing budget to bring on more revenue, start with a full audit of your contact center procedures and focus on 5 things you can do to be more like "better domain registration company" above and then keep spending until you either run out of money or fix the problem.  It will be the best money you ever spend.