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Consumers view service as factor in brand loyalty

When I was growing up in the l940s and ’50s, brand loyalty stood for something.
My dad always drove a Ford. My mother shopped at the same store every week, and bought Ovaltine and Wheaties, which I ate every morning for breakfast.
Tom Peters in his book, “The Circle of Innovation,” asks the question: “Who’s loyal now?” His answer: “Almost nobody.”
The reason is simple and understandable. When I grew up, we didn’t have a lot of choices, and those choices were communicated to us through the mass media, which, at that time, were magazines and radio (“Jack Armstrong, the All-American Boy”).
Regis McKenna in his book, “Real Time,” explains it this way: A brand used to be simply about product differentiation. Successful brand names commanded unquestioned loyalty because they were created by one-way messages that were absorbed by consumers who took them to be virtual instructions on what to buy and where to buy them. Which is to say that brands, in my day, had the effect of reducing or eliminating the need to find out about a product before you bought it.
McKenna goes on to say that, today, product or service branding of a new and entirely different kind is being born: The new branding is an encapsulation of actual experience value. The nature of that experience, he says, is increasingly determined through customer preferences, expressed in dialogue with producers or service providers–an exchange made possible by technology, and one in which the consumer has the upper hand.
Choice and technology (the computer and the Internet) have given the customer enormous power. And an empowered customer becomes a loyal customer, by virtue of being offered products and services that meet his or her needs.
This new customer power has led to what McKenna calls the never-satisfied customer, a customer who when asked what products she wants will say: “Right here. Right now. Tailored for me. Served up the way I like it.”
The new marketing model designed to build a relationship with the new consumer reflects a shift from a monologue to a dialogue in dealing with customers. The result is a reversal of traditional consumer and producer roles, with the consumer dictating exactly how he or she would like to be served.
New consumers expect to be asked about their individual preferences and treated as though these preferences are being respected.
And the deciding factor will be service.
This is not to say that a quality product is not important. It still is. It just is not enough. The line separating quality products from services is rapidly disappearing.
Marketers who build sturdy and enduring relationships with consumers act on the understanding that integral to successful product marketing is the establishment of an information-rich customer environment. This environment is characterized by exceptional attentiveness, convenience, assurance and comfort–in other words, service.
Nowhere is this more evident than in the automotive industry. The Saturn Corp. is a prime example. Saturn is a quality car. But quality is not what makes it stand out.
Saturn is an attractive car. But appearance is not what separates it from the estimated 125 models sold in the United States. Saturn’s ranked the second-most-valuable–behind Lexus–because of its “buying and after-purchase experience,” which translates as customer service.
Southwest Airlines Co. is another example. Southwest has the best baggage-handling record around. The best safety record. The best on-time record. The fewest customer complaints. Southwest also knows its market and its customers. They are not interested in American Airlines Inc.’s or United Air Lines Inc.’s business travelers or first-class customers. They simply want to provide the best airline service at the best value (low price).
How do they do it? Colleen Barrett, executive vice president for customers, replies: “We look for listening-, caring-, smiling-, saying-thank-you-and being-warm-type people.”
There is a story told at Southwest about a pilot-applicant. Upon walking into the Dallas headquarters, he was not as friendly as he might have been to the receptionist. The company did not offer him a job.
CEO Herb Kelleher commented on this story: “There are a lot of people who can fly airplanes, not so many with great attitudes.”
Southwest leads the airline industry because it knows who its customers are, out-trains its competition and provides its customers with outstanding service.
Tom Peters believes it is the little things you do not expect that make for superior service. While staying at the Ritz-Carlton in Atlanta, he encountered in a one-day stay some 25 hotel employees–some were housekeepers, some were waiters, some were maintenance people.
Every one of them performed what he called “the Ritz Pause.” That is, they took a couple of seconds, stopped, looked him in the eye and asked: “How’s everything going? Is there anything I can do for you?”
This is a signature of the Ritz-Carlton Hotel Co. When was the last time it happened to you, in whatever hotel you stayed?
The Walt Disney Co. understands the value of service.
If you stay in one of their rooms at Walt Disney World, and mention to them beforehand that you will be giving a presentation in the hotel, expect a projector in your room to preview your 35mm slides. They also provide an instruction sheet for using the projector that is easy to understand. Also, the projector cord will most likely be taped down, so you will not trip over it.
Just another little thing? I do not think so.
Outstanding service is a series of little things that make a big difference to the never-satisfied customer. Try it. Your customers just might like it–a lot!
(Jack Kraushaar was a BBDO senior vice president in New York City and, from 1983 to 1991, was chairman of Blair/BBDO in Rochester. He now is president of the consulting firm JFK Communications.)


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