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How to Kill Your Brand in One Easy Step

Most times when a company kills their brand it is through a steady decline. The kind of loyalty to unloyalty that Scott talks about in his excellent post over there.

There are also those occasions where the brand goes from king of the world to “wouldn’t touch that in a hazmat suit” bad overnight, such as BP.

Despite the “overnight OMG” effect, brands are often resiliant things. People are making a big deal about the Apple iPhone 4 Antenna Issue as if this could be their downfall, but in my view Apple loyalty seems solid despite what the media would like us to believe, which shows how years of commitment to quality can be a powerful thing.

The customer nightmares that stick with us though are when we feel a personal impact. It might be an afront, an outrage, upset or just failing to live up to expectations.

I wanted to set up a hosting account for a throwaway project, keeping this new project isolated as much as possible from my other sites. At some point I might want to jettison or offload the whole thing, and I remember how tricky it was to extricate myself from my photography blog when I sold it (people still contact me about it thinking I own it). This needed to be reliable but not spectacular, it was not core to my business like is.

A $10 a month product for something you are not sure you will persue is not one you do much research over, so I went with friends and clients recommendations. It seemed a no-brainer, I had heard so many good things about this particular hosting company that I thought I would give them a try.

After a few attempts (seems Google Chrome is yet to become a browser developers test on) I finally thought I had the account set up.

Then I got an email asking for my passport or drivers license.

They needed me to prove who I was.

For a $10 a month account.

I had the option of calling their USA customer service line to prove my identity also. At the time I was traveling and didn’t think their service was worth making an international call on a hotel or cell phone for.

So I did what many a social media fan would do, I whined and stamped my feet on Twitter, and I got refunded.

Was I unreasonable? Possibly. I might agree if I wasn’t already SUPER happy with my current hosting company who are not only responsive and reliable but have never asked for any goverment issued ID. Their service is worth much more than $10 a month by the way.

Now if anyone asks me what I think about this particular cut-priced hosting company, I will tell them I have heard great things but my personal experience with them sucked and that it felt they treated me like a potential criminal. I would much rather be telling people how wonderful they were.

It makes me wonder what kind of background checks I would have required to endure if I wanted a dedicated server. I’m not sure the national health hospitals have the equipment to provide a full DNA analysis …

What lesson can we learn for our own business?

I think the main takeaways are:

  1. Most people are honest, and your customers should not be treated otherwise unless there is a good reason.
  2. When mitigating risks you should use appropriate, reasonable measures that do not put extra burden on brand new customers. This is a poor first impression.
  3. A potential loss of a missed payment could be better option than a severley disapointed potential advocate telling anyone who will listen their story.

If you are in a commodity business, this kind of minor issue can become a major pain in the bottom … line. Becoming so unique and differentiated that you can not be compared as a commidity is one remedy that I would advise anyway, but do not use that as an excuse to see every transaction as a chance your customer might rip you off, otherwise those customers will find an alternative.

These events are good because it makes me think how I behave in my own business and where I could improve first impressions. We need to continually see things from our customers perspectives and treat them as they would like to be treated.

Have you had a customer experience where experience did not meet expectations? Please share in the comments …

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  1. Good article. I definitely agree with the 'most people are honest' argument.

  2. This is such a great point. It goes both ways. I recently bought an iPhone (3GS in case you are wondering) and therefore had to leave Verizon after many years of happy service. I went to a Verizon store to close my account. Guess what. You can't close an account at a Verizon store. You have to call Customer Service even though there's a big sign that says Customer Service in the store. Not only that, even though there were 5 employees standing around doing nothing I had to “sign in” at a kiosk before anyone would talk to me. I asked why and was told it was for security purposes. Now I could understand this if I were trying to open a bogus account, or if I was trying to close an account in someone else's name, but seriously.

    When I transferred to AT&T (with some trepidation) I wasn't surprised that my first bill was a nightmare of confusion and I had been overcharged by a large amount. But when I called customer service the fellow who helped me straighten it all out was amazing. Most important was his attitude that I was probably right. He never challenged me, just patiently went over the bill inch by inch, straightened it all out and ended up happily crediting me over $70. I actually asked to speak to his supervisor to give him props. Suddenly Verizon, who I had always loved, seems shady. AT&T who I've had a lot of problems with in the past seems much more human and accessible. I was planning to run back to Verizon as soon as Apple makes iPhone available there but now I'm not so sure. It really pays for companies to consider how their policies will impact the psyche of customers and, even more important, to properly train (and pay) the people who are on the front lines interacting with customers.

  3. I don't think Apple is going anywhere but up…yes, the antenna is problematic, but people are addicted to their gadgets and brands.

    Re: customer expectations not being met, unfortunately due to the work I do, there are many who think/hope/believe that psychotherapists have magic wands or fairy dust…and those are the ones I try to screen out so that they don't end up feeling let down by me.

    Couldn't agree more with importance of providing excellent customer service.

    Thanks Chris!

  4. Did the hosting company give an explanation about why they were asking for your ID? Perhaps they have encountered customers who posed some kind of security risk (or commercial risk) in the past – I'm just guessing. However, if they didn't explain why, guessing is the best you can do.

    In an age when personal ID details shouldn't be handed over to anyone lightly, it's a basic courtesy (not to mention commonsense) for a company to explain why that information is required from customers.

  5. This is a topic only a non-American could write about. I can't recount the number of times online stores have asked me to trust their ridiculously invasive requests – photo of the front and back of your credit card plus the photo page of your passport – to make a piddling purchase.

    Sure, I get credit card fraud. Really, I do. Sadly for those companies, I also get Amazon.

  6. Yusuf Kirmani says:

    Indeed a good article.

  7. Great artilce … Click my name to see the new range of apple phones…

  8. Hi Chris,
    This is a subject close to my heart and I wrote a couple of things about this sort of thing a little while ago:

    Really frustrating when things go wrong as it, generally, can be made a lot better very easily by just letting the customer know what is going on.


  9. hmmm. I've followed your blog for more than two years, and usually it's brilliant – this one isn't. The 'brand' didn't get killed, your personal opinion of the brand changed. Big difference. You dispute their process, that's one loss; mass exodus because of brand failure, that's a big loss. Yes, of course, a business gains and loses customers one at a time, but that doesn't mean the brand is killed. Secondly, the generalizations at the end of the post are merely reductive reasoning – you're trying to tell us that your personal, singular experience represents some broadly generalized principles. That's rather presumptuous, yes?

  10. websitetraffic says:

    I agree Tracey. Otherwise, such companies haven't communicated transparently with us. Lack of transparency on the web is another thing we should keep away from.

  11. Heather says:

    I recently, 4 months ago, went through a similar albeit different experience with an online course I purchased. The course was supposed to include a CD, mailed to my home, that included a variety of documents, templates, etc. that would assist you in creating a platform to host your own virtual event.

    It's 4 months later, and dispite 4 “helpdesk” tickets, I still don't have the CD. I've been provided with at least 3 different reasons/excuses including her VA quit and I need to be patient, the fufillment company screwed up the CD so I need to be patient, to we mailed them out last month, can't understand why you didn't get yours.

    How does this relate to your post? Well admittedly I wasn't asked for irrelevant personal information, however I was promised something that I paid for and never received. More importantly, every time I contact this company in an attempt to resolve this issue, I am treated as if I did something wrong.

    How you treat your customers is always a defining moment in how your brand is percieved. This individual has killed her brand as far as I am concerned.

  12. says:

    Nice Post! Companies need to understand their customers as human beings and attempt to connect with them on a personal level.

  13. We went to the Apple Store in Tokyo last month. The Japanese staff spoke near perfect English AND had terrific young US workers there to help as well.

    Imagine something similar in the US…

  14. Beckycortino says:

    Thoughtful post, Chris with great takeaway — to look at our business practices, taking steps to make “doing business” with us easier, more customer-friendly. Hope you got everything squared away satisfactorily for your new site…

  15. chrisgarrett says:

    Still working on it. I'd be willing to give them another go if they can just believe that I am not a criminal without me having to jump through these hoops ๐Ÿ™‚

  16. chrisgarrett says:

    I think in this case they realize I am a person and that is what worries them ๐Ÿ˜‰

  17. chrisgarrett says:

    Exactly, that experience is going to have much more resonance with you than anything they or anyone else says

  18. chrisgarrett says:

    My point is there is a gulf between their marketing and the actual experience of being a customer. No amount of advertising or word of mouth is going to help their brand if they do not fix this. Brands are built and destroyed through experience, one customer at a time. They could have gotten an advocate, instead they prevented the potential loss of, what, $10.

  19. chrisgarrett says:

    Thanks ๐Ÿ™‚

  20. chrisgarrett says:

    Yup, Amazon is a great example of putting the customer first.

  21. chrisgarrett says:

    Transparency is indeed important but I think it is a symptom of basic customer care. If personal proof is required I should have been aware BEFORE paying?

  22. chrisgarrett says:

    My experience in the Apple store is usually great, and when I get the rare “staff member on an off day” it is even then better than my usual non-apple store experience. Eg. they know their products rather than just the prices ๐Ÿ˜‰

  23. chrisgarrett says:

    Human and accessible is a much overlooked brand builder ๐Ÿ™‚

  24. chrisgarrett says:

    It is certainly my experience that most people are honest, perhaps a case of selective memory but I don't think so ๐Ÿ™‚

  25. Chris, did you get any call from that company later? Because a company doesn't miss the chance of getting personal if they want the highest quality data about potential customers.

  26. Great article. I had this transaction online way back where I outsource one on my SEO activities and guess what, so much to my dismay I canceled my subscription and for 2 months in a row, they still billed me. I tried and communicate with them but later on I realize that all was automated. I have to replace my card in order to prevent further fees from them. $150 is still $150…and I hate it when they gave them like 5 star review for their service…it's not true at all.

    I have to agree with your post…first impression is really important treat them the way you are expected to treat them…the advent of new technology made jobs easier yes, but then customer service should always be treated on a personal level.

  27. A nice article, you are right chris almost all people are honest, well ALMOST…….