Wednesday, August 02, 2006

The Picture of Disquietude

Have you ever held someone in high esteem--all the way up until you actually met him or her? It was at the initial meeting that you realized that this previously assumed upstanding Dr. Jekyll was actually the troglodytic Mr. Hyde. Over the course of my internship, this has happened to me not once but twice. The immediate response is disappointment, and the long term response is avoidance.

Transfer this analogy to business. Have you ever made a decision to visit a service firm (including restaurants) based on reputation, word of mouth, and/or an appreciation for the strength of the brand, only to be disappointed by the front-line experience? You suddenly realized that the highly-touted service provider was really no different than any other provider in the same industry. Or perhaps the high price of the service followed by the low quality of the service provided made it painfully clear to you that the company was only in it for the money. You were, in the words of Robert Louis Stevenson, "the picture of disquietude."

This morning's post by John Moore articulated one such Hyde-like quality that has tainted many a strongly branded service--and its employees (enter Jerry Maguire): "You play with your head-not with your heart."

Now, my idealism and naivete are not so blinding that I don't realize that there is really only one purpose in going into business (enter Jim Cramer): to make money. However, to keep from repulsing those first-time visitors who revere you simply because of your brand reputation, your brand must permeate your service, top down. To wit: no doubt, someday I will join my near 6 month old daughter on her first trip to McDonald's. And I can tell you without a doubt that if any aspect of the service provided to my sweet, wonderful, beautiful, perfect, litttle baby girl who is now and always has been cute (yes, even from Day One) contains "Satan's signature" (back to Jekyll/Hyde), not only will we discontinue our visits at that point, but I will become the biggest brand whatever-is-the-opposite-of-evangelist you have ever seen. I know Ronald McDonald just wants my sweet, precious baby girl's paltry allowance, but if that becomes clear to me, I will be introducing her to the Whopper on our next dad-daughter date. The careful avoidance of such a traitorous transgression should be adhered to not only by the company as a whole, but also by the service providers whom the Company has made the conscious decision to hire. Are they working from paycheck to paycheck? Neither I nor my very intelligent and cute baby girl should be able to sense that.

I'm not simply speaking of the provision of good customer service here. I'm speaking of maintaining brand consistency throughout the service organization. I don't want just any old restaurant for my perfect little angel, I want the McDonald's brand. I don't want to take my baby girl to just any old fun amusement park, I want for her to be immersed in the Disney experience that comes with a brand that permeates the firm, all the way down to the people who sweep up the mouse-covered candy wrappers strewn all over the park.

Fall short in providing the service expected from and consistent with your strong brand and you may very well become the rarely frequented, much avoided "Blackmail House."


Chris Posey

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