Tell Me a Story

I believe that a great brand is a story well told.

You’ve probably noticed that people love to tell stories about brands that have delighted them- and often about brands that let have them down.

But I don’t think that brands often make it easy for their fans to repeat the positive stories because they don’t share them in an accessible way.

Lately it seems like there is a lot of energy spent thinking about the negative potential of all the viral medium and how bad press gets passed along on blogs, FaceBook, Twitter etc.

But are we also doing enough to harness the positive potential of viral word of mouth?

One example of a company that actually has great customer stories to tell AND makes it easy to share is Zappos.

The company website has a robust blog filled with amazing stories like this one about a woman who reached out to Zappos when her friend lost all her belongings in a fire a few days before Christmas. The original request was to send some Ugg’s to the daughter in the effected family in a rush delivery in time for the holiday.

But Zappo’s went above and beyond and actually sent a complete holiday care package including a game of Monopoly, gift certificates, Zappo’s branded t-shirts, water bottles, etc so this family who had lost everything could have a little holiday cheer.

The grateful friend went on to make and post a “thank you” video for helping her friend through a difficult time.

This is a great story. And just one of hundreds like it for this brand. But what’s also great is how Zappos makes it easy for fans of the brand (like me) to have their loyalty reinforced and affirmed by making these kind of stories accessible and easy to share.

Are you celebrating the positive stories in your brand? And importantly are you make it easy for your brand fans to crow on your behalf?

Don’t look at it as self-promotion. Look at it as a way to help your customers celebrate their relationship with you by passing on the good news.

That’s my point of view. What’s your twist?

Do your favorite brands make it easy for you to share good stories?

Do No Harm?

Someone said to me recently (only half jokingly) that the definition of “great service” is when nothing goes wrong.

I chuckled along at the time but then I though…wait a minute…

Have we really reached a point of such low expectations that the absence of a negative experience actually counts as a positive one?

I hope not.

Sure “do no harm” might be OK in certain situations, like surgery, where a good outcome is no complications.

But when it comes to brands I think we need to set the bar a little higher.

It made me think of an experience I had not that long ago with Enterprise
Rent-A-Car – where my very low expectations were unexpectedly and stunningly surpassed.

I was returning my car in Florida near the airport. To save money, I had chosen the cheapest option where you return the car with a full tank.

But I was running late and couldn’t find a gas station en route to the car return. I was worried about missing my plane, so I decided to suck it up and return the car half full and pay the exorbitant car rental gas prices.

During my return processing I complained to the Enterprise employee that all the gas stations seemed to be on the wrong side of a particularly hard to navigate divided highway.

I didn’t really expect him to doing anything. I was just blowing off steam.

After all the contract option I had agreed to was “return full”. It was all there in black and white and I was clearly at fault.

To my surprise he offered to waive the extra gas charge.

Then, without me asking, he gave me an extra discount waiving some other fee and decreasing my bill even further then I expected.

He then made sure I had all my belongings and got me on to the shuttle bus and off to meet my plane on time.

I didn’t know what to say.

I stood there with my jaw dropped and continued with this puzzled expression all the way to the boarding gate.

Not only did he not give me a hard time about the gas, he actually went on to delight me with an added benefit of unanticipated savings.

That definitely wasn’t the absence of a negative, it was a plus side experience. One I remember vividly and repeat often.

When you are evaluating your own customer experiences, take a moment to make sure you are not falling in the mediocrity trap.

Are you counting “nothing going wrong” as successful service?

Or are you actually challenging yourself and your team to go to a plus side model, where the standard is surprise and delight?

Take a moment to brainstorm service elements that would catch your customers off guard…in a positive way.

Perhaps even the opposite of what a customer is expecting walking in to a situation.

You might just find that the extra step is worth miles in terms of good will and creating fans, not just customers, for your brand.

That’s my point of view. What’s your twist?

What brands do you think go the extra mile to surprise and delight?

Breaking Up (Shouldn’t Be) Hard to Do

A friend of mine is trying to get out of a relationship, and it’s proving quite difficult.

In this case the relationship is with her gym, World Gym in Queens.

Even though the gym is down the street from her house they won’t let her stop by and just cancel. They are requiring that she send in a certified letter. This means she has to take time out of her busy schedule, go out of her way to a post office, stand in line, and get the letter certified. To make matters worse when she pressed the gym on why it had to be this way the only response she got was a not very helpful “that’s our policy”.

If brands are relationships…isn’t part of being in a strong, rewarding relationship also being able to get out of it in a respectful way?

With a minimum of drama and with a possibility of friendship in the future.

Because here’s the thing, she’s going to leave any way. She’s made up her mind. The relationship isn’t working for her. She’d rather find a gym that has a location near her home and her office. But now she’s going to leave with a bad taste in her mouth. And chances are she will tell her story to other friends in her neighborhood, thus limiting the gym’s future relationship prospects (e.g. the ability to attract new members).

In contrast, a while ago I called TMobile to break up and it was a whole different experience. I had gotten a new Blackberry at work and with it came a new plan with a new provider. When I spoke to a service rep at TMobile they didn’t push back. They listened to my reasons. Thanked me for my loyal years of service, and were respectful of my decision.

They also mentioned another option. Having completed the requirements of my contract period, they suggested I take advantage or our rich history together and switch to a lower rate plan for another phone. And that’s what I did. I kept the relationship alive in a new context. A cheaper monthly plan, perfect for my tween daughter.

I decided to stay involved with them, albeit in a lower commitment way. But I got the feeling that if I had finally opted just to cut all ties, they would have been OK with that and wished me well. Not made me feel badly for having shifting needs. And that made me feel good about our relationship and willing to recommend them to others.

Parting can be sweet sorrow, but it shouldn’t be unnecessarily difficult. That should also be true for brands. Especially these days when many of us are having to make difficult relationship choices. We need our brands to understand and leave the door open for us to come back.

That’s my point of view. What’s your twist?

What brands have made it easy or hard for you to break up with them?