“Initial Quality Awards” don’t count as your final grade.

Let’s take a trip shall we? Let’s go back in time. A time when one company dominates the business landscape, and another young upstart comes onto the scene trying to get noticed. Yes, it’s a David and Goliath story (most are!) appearing near futile for the seemingly weaker upstart. The newcomer is seriously out-gunned. It hasn’t the marketing power, nor does it have the economies of scale, let alone anything else that might compete against the behemoth market brand dominator. But it does have one thing, and that’s the once again found commitment to the customer. I did not say the company, I said the customer! Here’s why that is so important……

You hear all the time ” Brand X is committed to company excellence” Countless books are written and dedicated to making companies more efficient and profitable for the sake of the company, not for the sake of the customer. TV ads run with slogans ringing of pride throughout. They flash red white, and blue. They play great background music. They spend millions if not billions trying to make you feel wonderful about the company. Executives beam from ear to ear looking upon the business landscape as mighty victors who have conquered the marketplace, resolute in their opinions of supremacy backed up by data supplied from sales. Then…..It happens……What I see as the ….“Roh Ro”…. moment.

Out of seemingly nowhere a problem arises. It could be anything from a quality defect such as a touch or feel issue ( think paint or button feel) or the issue could be far more serious such as safety. In the case of an electronic device a hardware crash, or any number of  peripheral issues. With that being said it’s not the problem that’s the problem. It’s how the company responds to the problem, and to what lengths will it go to fix it.

Customers have a great sense of value. The old adage of “Build it and They will come” has validity. What companies forget is a customer Pays Upfront for the perceived value in a product. They pay on demand, at the point of sale. They pay for what you said your product is, and does. Congratulations! Your marketing worked, you have a customer. However, what a fancy smansy marketing campaign can never do, is reverse the negative sentiment or impression the customer gets when they feel you no longer have their best interest at heart. True customers understand, you get what you pay for, but if they paid for something that is no longer inherent in the product because of cost cutting, profit maximizing, corporate mismanagement, they’re gone! Quite possibly gone forever. Even if they do return, they will never again give your product or service the benefit of any doubt, whether it be price, quality, or problem resolution, ever!

Remember I asked you to take a trip back at the beginning? Do you remember the Tylenol (R) incident, or you heard of it? It’s pretty much the Holy Grail of how a company should react to a problem. It was masterful and genius both, and was truly the right way to handle such a monumental problem for both customer, and company combined. To this day, I still pay up for the Tylenol (R) brand on the store shelf. Here’s another case in point that I had personally. I purchased my niece an Apple iPod (R) for her birthday a few years back. After over a year of use, it just froze and became unusable. She was heart-broken. With no receipt, she walked into an Apple (R) Store in a mall where she lives. It was not purchased there, nor was it purchased by her. She didn’t lie and tell them she just bought it or anything like that ( also she was only 14 and that usually results in a disregarding tone to be used by corporate decree!). She was only looking to see if someone at the store might know why, or know a trick to unfreeze the device. The clerk took the item into the back and showed it to others, but no one could figure out why it had frozen. Without any crazy stories, or any other song and dance routine, the clerk stated that they needed to send the device back to their labs for testing to find out why. Then, the clerk simply placed a brand new iPod (R) into her hand and said, Sorry for the inconvenience,  but thank you for buying an Apple (R). She left not having to fill out any paperwork, or sign any claim forms, nothing! Just walked out with a brand new one.

How can you tell when a brand has become company focused rather than customer focused? When problems arise the “Company focused” entity runs behind closed doors hoping the problem resolves itself…..The “Customer focused” entity, swings the doors wide open in an effort to resolve the problem for its customer and itself.

On a side note, as I replace my computers and other gadgets, if they weren’t Apple (R) to begin with…They are now. Regardless of the price. Maybe they’re onto something over there that others should take note of.

Mark