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October 27, 2009
The Fastest Way to Kill Good Advertising is With Bad Service

It’s now an advertising genre. A flustered customer calls up the company and gets a cool salesperson on the phone. Despite the customer’s negative attitude, the sales rep answers the hard questions with confidence and clarity and quickly transforms the doubting Tom into a brand evangelist. On radio, it takes all of 60 seconds. On TV, just thirty.

Let's call this the "CMO answers your questions” approach. My favorite example right now is the Progressive Car Insurance campaign. If you watch what I watch, you know the one: in this version the salesman is a saleswoman sporting bright red lipstick and a 60’s throwback headband. She’s got a “nerdy-flirty” style that combines boy-craziness with an all-knowing sales pitch. The action takes place in a surreal world of insurance plans packaged in metaphorical boxes lining the shelves of a shiny white surreal store environment. She smiles and jokes and closes one deal after another.

I think this is an insurance executive’s idea of heaven.

In any case, the problem with this kind of advertising isn't the advertising; it's the gap between what they portray and what the real customer experiences are really like. Most salespeople don't have the benefit of strategists, copywriters designers and hair & make departments orchestrating their interaction with customers. As a result, they're seldom as good as the actors who play them on TV.

The question then is this… just how important is customer experience to the overall success of a brand? Based on a recent study, the answer is that it’s incredibly important. The study was done by a client of mine, Strativity Group with Customer Service Experts, Inc.—a leading customer experience firm. They used an online questionnaire and fielded just shy of 2000 responses. The results are illuminating:

  • More than 70% of consumers surveyed indicate that they are willing to spend 10% or more with businesses if those businesses exceed their expectations.
  • Loyal customers are almost three times as likely to expect to continue doing business with companies for another ten years or more than dissatisfied customers.
  • 40% of loyal customers said that they are willing to pay 10% or more to continue purchasing from companies delivering great experiences, in contrast with 9% of dissatisfied customers.

According to Strativity CEO Lior Arussy: “Consumers are very clear about what they are seeking from the experiences companies deliver:”

  • Quick and effective issue resolution.
  • Common Sense and Discretion.
  • Employees who Exceed Expectations.
  • Ease and simplicity.

To download the study, go here: http://bit.ly/3ZNtLV.

So what’s the takeaway from this? I think it’s clear… managing the customer experience may be the single most important task in an enterprise's marketing toolbox. And the brands who get it right are the ones who consistently come out on top.

As an example, It's easy to blame Wal-Mart’s success on their low pricing, but if you look closer, what you'll see are smiling and helpful sales associates, improved check out lines and newly designed stores that are all about pleasing customers. As retail analyst Patty Edwards said, "Wal-Mart has gotten both the art & science right at same time".

It’s just as true further up the value chain. P&G sales people are considered among the very best at selling in, and look at the original "house of brands" continued success.

In the financial services sector, the reason Bank Of America was ultimately interested in Merrill Lynch was their sticky customers, a product of what many say are the best-trained brokers in the industry. For all the controversy, most of BOA’s profits right now are coming from their Merrill clients.

I think the big question is, who in the enterprise is ultimately responsible? Should it just be the domain of the EVP of Sales? I don't think so. Every interaction between brand and consumer is ultimately about marketing. Which means that it should be the joint responsibility of the sales and the marketing teams.

The goal should be to turn every person on the sales side of your business into a walking/talking/interactive advertising campaign. They need to be fired up, empathetic, knowledgeable, and loyal—not just to the company, but also to the customer. They need to be generous. Throw these kinds of sales people at problems and they'll come back with more (and higher) sales.

I learned a long time ago that "the fastest way to kill a bad product is with good advertising". I would amend it now and say that the fastest way to kill good advertising is with bad service.

So here’s a way to look at it… conceive, design and articulate the perfect sales experience. But instead of paying actors to do it for the camera, get the sales force to do it for their customers.

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Gregory Pruitt is president of Pruitt+Partners, a U.S.-based business development consulting practice. Pruitt previously served as VP/Director of Business Development at Cliff Freeman & Partners -- where during his tenure, the agency more than doubled its size and billings. Before that, he held senior business development positions at DeVito/Verdi and Ogilvy/141 Worldwide.

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