Sunday, November 19, 2006

Customer Service: What it Says About Your Brand

Now that the zen kitchen is starting to see an increase in clients, the issue of client management has been on my mind a lot. I like to think that I treat my clients well, and while sometimes it's hard to keep in touch with everyone I've worked with on a consistent basis (outside of my monthly newsletter), I'm always looking for ways to improve the experience my clients have with my studio. Today, I had two separate customer service experiences that I felt really exemplified the reasons why customer service is such a vital piece to any brand, and I wanted to take a moment to share them.

This week, I decided to devote my Sunday (since my weekdays of late have been filled with billable work and I'm still getting over the guilt I feel being "non-billable" during normal work hours) to some studio marketing and general life maintenance. On the to-do list: Get the newsletter ready, update some case studies and recipes on the zen kitchen website, get files and prints ready for a call for entries, and top off the fluids in my car.

After a nice breakfast with a friend at the Neighborhood Cafe in Union Square (coconut French toast: yum!), I headed over to the Advance Auto Parts at 196 Somerville Avenue in Somerville to get the fluids. Being very much A Girl, I knew I needed power steering fluid and oil, but I had no idea what kind was best for my car. A man named John was happy to help, gave me honest feedback on the types of products they carry, and pointed me to the product that was best for my car without trying to con me into getting the most expensive thing. When I went out to the parking lot to top off the fluids, I was having trouble figuring out where to put the power steering fluid, and I was able to stop John on his way back into the store from helping a fellow customer put on her new windshield wiper to ask where it went, and he was more than happy to help me.

This is the way that I should feel when I walk into a business; like the people who work there value their jobs, and value their ability to help me meet the needs I came into their business to fill. It's important when I work with someone that they understand that whatever I've come in there to take care of might not be in my area of expertise, and they're willing to help me without insulting my intelligence or making me feel like a burden. Back when I was living in Cranston RI, I had a similar experience at the Advance at 1280 Warwick Avenue in Warwick, which tells me a lot about the Advance Auto Parts brand. They hire good people who care about their job and who care about their customers, and for that reason I'll happily reccomend them to anyone who needs auto parts.

On the other hand, another one of today's errands put me in the unfortunate position of having to visit the FedExKinkos in Harvard Square to make some copies and use the self-service color laser printer. Mind you, I got my professional start at Kinko's in Providence, teaching myself design on their computer stations and jump-starting my design career as head of the computer services department in the East Side branch; however, I have ALWAYS had issues with the stores in Providence, from the way I was treated as an employee to the way I was treated later as a customer. Back in Providence, I don't think I was able to bring a single job there without something disastrous happening (including destroyed originals, lost jobs and all sorts of other nonsense), and the self-service stations were almost always in a sense of disarray with too little staff available to take care of them. As a result, I've never had the best association with the brand; however, I was willing to give it a shot, hoping that things were different here in Massachusetts.

When I arrived at the FedExKinkos location, I went straight up to the second floor to use the self-service area, and was greeted by one of the people who was working there, who told me where I could find the design station and then disappeared for the rest of the time I was there. Upon signing into the Mac rental station, I immediately realized that the station, was running versions of all the Adobe software that were at least three years old (I'm talking Illustrator 10 and InDesign 2, meaning I couldn't open the CS2 .eps files I had brought to print and had to import them into InDesign to get them to print), the custom paper tower in the self-service copy area was incompletely stocked and messy, and the self-service kiosk was out of service, which required me to go downstairs and see an employee in order to get a receipt for the services I purchased. Fortunately, the person I dealt with at the front counter was very helpful, if a bit slower than I'd normally like, but still - it's hard for me to believe the lofty promises that FedExKinkos makes when this is the experience I consistently have with them - messy, understocked and understaffed self-service areas, and computers that don't seem to have been updated since 2003.

Sometimes I worry with larger companies that in the fight for more market share, better "brand recognition" and greater profits, they overlook the cornerstone of any successful brand - building a positive experience with your business with your customers. A great logo and consistent brand communication is only part of the package; if your customers are getting inferior products or service, the greatest logo in the world isn't going to help you. Start by hiring good people, training them well and giving them fair compensation and benefits; add a strong logo and consistent brand presence; stir well and continually re-evaluate. This is how you create an experience for your customers that keep them coming back to you.

1 comment:

David said...

Exactly, why is this so difficult? Maybe lack of training, low pay, not enough staff, etc. Whatever the reason everyone should be like the guy that not only educated you but helped you, instead of just sending you on your way.