Brand equity is the measure of trust built up over time through an interconnected series of favorable actions.
This equity, often amounting to billions in additional profit, is what separates a branded product from its generic rival. Unfortunately, what took years to build can be destroyed (or at least severely damaged) in an inglorious burst of branded incompetency.
Recognizing that brands have long sabotaged themselves via a host of slowly eroding sins, I offer this article to spotlight the flash faux pas that instantaneously dissolve loyalty and ignite brand hatred. This hatred, often expressed with the exclamatory #EpicFail on social media, is typically motivated by one of the following sinful ineptitudes. Some might seem laughable—unless, of course, they’ve happened to you.
Sloth: “We care about you—your call will be answered in 600 minutes.”
Ignore me at your own risk. I am not just one customer any more. I am me and my social media-empowered army of friends and associates. Make us wait longer than we think we deserve at your bar, store, or so-called hotline, and our wrath will be heard faster than you can say, “May I help you.” Two-thirds of us will leave and never come back, but that’s just a fraction of your problem. A mighty minority of us will attack you like ninjas on Yelp or TripAdvisor or some other rating service, leaving a lingering trail of forewarning rage. Yes, be afraid of sloth.
Avarice: “What do you mean your service doesn’t work as expected?”
This one is as easy as 1-2-3. One, over-promise; two, under-deliver; and three, duck and cover. Everyone hates feeling as though they’ve been ripped off. This is less about the feeling that you paid too much for something. Sure that hurts, but that’s usually on us for not doing our homework. No, this is paying for what you think is a premium service only to find out it’s unreliable or doesn’t perform as advertised. That tactic will guarantee recognition; however, it will most likely be on the “The Most Hated Companies in America” list.
Wrath: “You’re pissed off? How do you think I feel?”
Chances are I wouldn’t last five minutes on a customer service desk, especially when the fourth boneheaded caller/yeller in a row refuses to realize that his minuscule problem is, in fact, a user error. Be that as it may, shouting back at your disgruntled customers in person, on the phone, or online is a shortcut up the creek without the proverbial paddle. Just ask the folks at Amy’s Baking Company how their epic tirade on Facebook worked out (hint: not so well). Even in the face of “wait until you hear this one” user incompetence, customer service interactions have to start with a bit of empathy and be driven by the sincere goal of turning each and every detractor into a brand promoter.
Gluttony: “We’re so happy you’re our customer. Want fries with that?”
We get it. Just about every business wants to sell more products, usually with a priority to its existing customers. Reaching out to your established customers in person or via email, direct mail, or phone can be beneficial to both parties, especially if the interaction coincides with a need cycle. Often enough is way more than enough. Crossing that line replaces receptivity with fervent animosity, followed by a vitriolic tweet decrying the 13th contact by Brand X that particular week.
Pride: “Honestly, we’re too busy right now to care about your little problem.”
The flip side of overselling is acting disinterested. This is particularly the case in social media when brands have a presence, but consciously or unconsciously ignore relevant conversations. To label this behavior prideful may be a stretch, though it does send a message that the brand simply can’t be bothered to converse with the masses. The big risk is that you could unwittingly ignore a customer with influence—who responds by turning your cold shoulder into a hot topic.
Lust: “Nice to see you again Mr. Jones. You there, get back in line.”
Showing preference for one type of customer over another is tricky business. Airline reward programs come with a sense of fairness: Fly more often, and you’ll enjoy clearly defined perks. But treat one customer better or worse, and you’re begging for animosity. For example, the cable company that breaks protocol to respond faster to an outage at a celebrity’s house will get an earful from the regular (and ignored) guy around the corner. The extreme case here is when Chick-fil-A’s CEO expressed preference for “traditional” families, generating a firestorm of brand hatred.
Envy: “Did I mention we’re just like Apple, only…”
Perhaps this has happened to you: You’re shopping for something and the sales person says, “This is just like the leading brand, only many dollars cheaper.” So you buy it, head home, and open the box only to discover that instead of saving money, you wasted it on an inferior product. Yeah, that ticks me off big time, especially because it’s easily avoidable. It’s OK to make cheaper products (in fact, thanks for giving us choices) as long as you manage our expectations and don’t pretend to be something you aren’t.
Control: “Press 0 as many times as you want. There are no humans here.”
Want to see unadulterated ire? Piece of cake—just make your customers feel helpless. For example, don’t bother telling the passengers in the terminal that their plane is delayed until an hour after it’s too late for them to do anything about it. Or don’t offer a digital support center that empowers your customers to make adjustments to their accounts at any hour of the day from any device. Or, my favorite: Remove the hit “0” option from your customer service phone tree, setting up the opportunity for fruitless loops of avoidable anger.
There is a silver lining within all this talk of hate and “sins.” Customers who express brand hatred are a bit like the friend that tells you about the spinach in your teeth. It’s embarrassing for sure but not as bad as the real enemy here-indifference. Vocally angry customers are creating the opportunity for your brand to address their issues. You just have to be listening and then try to remedy the situation. Indifferent consumers are quietly unsalvageable.
Drew Neisser is founder and CEO of Renegade, a leading-edge marketing agency. A well-regarded expert in non-traditional marketing approaches, you can find Drew’s writings on FastCompany.com, MediaPost.com, SocialMediaToday.com and TheDrewBlog.com. His monthly newsletter, The Cut, is prized among friends and clients. A version of this article first appeared on iMediaConnection.