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When it comes to brand building, customer service is often the last and most-ignored piece of the puzzle. This is a big mistake--and big missed opportunity. Aligning customer service and your brand is an essential but under-used way to attract and retain customers, differentiate the business, and boost brand loyalty. Done right, it can create a truly sustainable competitive advantage. Here are six ways we've seen to use customer service to reinforce brand identity. These methods can be used to align customer service with established brands or to build a brand through customer service. 1. Establish and execute to a brand-aligned customer service intent
Successful companies formulate astrategic intentand execute to that intent for market success; savvy organizations map that strategic intent to a brand intent. While businesses often capture brand intent in their advertising, they ignore it in delivering customer service, whether it is through their websites, contact centers, stores, or branches. This could result in damage to the brand. It is therefore important for C-level executives to launch a brand-aligned customer service initiative to make sure it is implemented across customer-facing and back-office operations.
2. Design brand-aligned processes
Customer service processes often involve multiple steps, tasks, people, and organizations. For instance, contact center customer service includes call routing, interactions, resolution, and fulfillment, and could also include proactive outbound communications, based on pre-determined business rules. High-touch brands should design processes that emphasize human-assisted customer service over self-service, whether it is in a brick-and-mortar environment or in a contact center setting (e.g., phone and web chat). It is also important to ensure that promised service levels are met through robust customer service process management tools. Non-intrusive brands should refrain from aggressive in-person or live chat customer service.
3. Provide brand-aligned human-assisted service
Human-assisted service is here to stay- complex customer service requests and certain transactions require human involvement. Moreover, some customer segments prefer the human touch. As such, it is important for companies to hire and retain brand-aligned people for customer service. HR organizations could match the personality of the brand to the desired personality of frontline reps to ensure brand-aligned agent recruitment and retention.
The knowledge and conversational styles of "role model" (i.e., the most brand-aligned) call center agents can be captured in customer service management systems in the form of knowledge base content and interactive guidance to agents at the point of customer interaction, and even in customer self-service systems. Forward-looking retail and financial services companies are extending such systems to brick-and-mortar stores and branches to improve the effectiveness and brand alignment of in-person customer service.
4. Provide brand-aligned self-service
Self-service provides a great opportunity to further build the brand. For example, sophisticated guided-help knowledge base systems and online chatbots modeled after the company's multimedia advertising spokespersons can orchestrate brand-aligned self-service interactions with customers. A hypothetical example would be chatbots modeled after the gecko or the "cavemen" for GEICO and William Shatner for priceline.com. In fact, a leading financial services company in Japan has used a chatbot, modeled after an actor featured in its television commercials.
5. Use brand-aligned metrics
A critical misstep in customer service management is the misalignment of brand strategy and service metrics. For instance, force-fitting Wal-Mart metrics to a Nordstrom brand intent is not a good strategy. High-touch brands should not emphasize throughput metrics such as average call handle times.
Most businesses still have interaction, data, and knowledge silos in phone call centers, online service centers, and self-service systems, where the left hand does not know what the right hand is doing. Of late, many companies have started unifying customer interactions and knowledge bases into common platforms as the first step to unify customer experience across channels and service agents. However, most companies have yet to brand-align customer service across communication channels. A unified platform approach to cross-channel customer service and brand alignment can help them get there quickly, and their customers won't have to face Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde as they go from one communication channel to another, or from one agent to another.