How One Bad Experience Can Tarnish Your Brand

How One Bad Experience Can Tarnish Your Brand

Everyone’s been talking about “experience” lately. Brand experience. Experience design. Designing experiences.

There’s more recognition than ever of the fact that as a company, a provider of a service, you don’t control your “brand” – your customers do, because your brand is their impression of you.

I’m here to tell you that yes, core messaging is incredibly important. (You can easily and clearly state what you do and for whom, right?) Paying attention to the details of design is critical too – both literal graphic design, but also experience design. Look at every interaction you’ll have with your customers and make it better.

But all the thinking in the world, all of the strategic planning, can’t help you if your actual customer experience doesn’t deliver on the promises you have made. In fact, it can undo all of your hard work.

How about an example?

Several months ago, my wife and I were looking for a new car. I did a ton of research online, of course – not just on the specific cars I wanted to see, but the dealers I wanted to contact. And then we visited those dealers (not going to name any names here) during off hours to get a better sense of the cars and generate a final list of questions.

Our first experience at one of the dealers was great: the salesperson was attentive, but not pushy. He showed us the car, let us take a test drive, and competently answered the questions we had. It left a great impression.

Unfortunately, after that first test drive life got in the way. But after a short delay, I reached out to one of the other dealers on our list via email. Minutes later, I received a response from their Internet Sales Manager, and over the next day or so, exchanged several emails about the car. I arranged an appointment for 10 a.m. on Saturday morning. In the meantime, I also received an email from the dealership’s sales manager. Excellent customer service – or, so I thought.

When we arrived at the dealership, promptly at 10 a.m., the Internet Sales Manager did not recognize my name nor recall our conversation. Once we were all caught up, he left to retrieve the car. He pulled it up in front. It was covered in dirt, the upholstery still wrapped in plastic.

And here’s the kicker – he said, “It just came off the truck, so it has less than a gallon of gas. But you should be able to go 10 or so miles. But just in case, here’s my cell phone number. I’m with another customer.”

We should’ve left right then, but we didn’t. Thankfully, the car didn’t run out of gas. But as you can imagine, that initial impression colored every other opinion we had of the car. And, in some ways, the brand: based on our experience I’d think twice about driving another car from this company.

It goes without saying that we went back to the first dealer, and ended up buying a car there. And, perhaps more importantly, we’ve now told the story of the terrible experience (mentioning names, of course) more times than we can count.

To make matters worse, when the salesperson from the offending dealer sent me a follow-up email the following week, I shared my honest thoughts with him. He never responded.

Marketing can’t fix everything.

That same week, I heard a commercial on the radio touting the dealer’s commitment to service and willingness to go “above and beyond” for an “unforgettable experience.” It was unforgettable, all right – but certainly not the kind of experience they were promising.

The point of this story is this (and I do appreciate you sticking with it for this long): None of your efforts – products, services, marketing or support – exist in a vacuum. From the top-line brand to on-the-streets customer service, it’s more important than ever to make sure everything is in line. So as you develop marketing messages, make sure they’re in line with the level of service you’re actually delivering.

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Rich Heend

Rich Heend

Rich Heend is a senior copywriter for Atomicdust, helping us develop engaging websites, print materials and, as you can see, the occasional blog post. Basically, he reads and rights writes for us. (Oh, and he edits too.)

More posts by Rich Heend