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Customer Service Can Make or Break Your Brand: Eight Steps for Success

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In this article, you'll learn...

  • How to protect your brand's reputation
  • Post-sales steps to enhance your brand and boost the customer experience

The company clearly understood the market. Early reviewers praised the product's performance. The product included all the right features and benefits.

It was obvious that the company had made a significant investment in branding its flagship solution. The name was short, crisp, and evocative. The logo was memorable. The promotion was compelling, frequent, and consistent.

At the heart of the company's pitch was the implication of a threat to my business if I continued to operate without its product. So I made a special trip to the store to purchase it right away.

Broken Promises Damage Brands

The problem was I couldn't install the product. What's more, it took 24 hours to locate someone who could.

After several hours on hold and several managers' promises to escalate the issue, I finally reached someone at the company's headquarters who succeeded in connecting me with a service person authorized to resolve the problem. She entered a functioning code, and the installation began in a matter of minutes.

The trouble was that in the intervening 24 hours, the company's failure to deliver on its promise had tarnished its reputation. Due to a series of post-sales mishaps, the company had counteracted months of well-executed marketing investments. What a shame.

Eight Steps You Can Take to Protect Your Brand

I learned a lot from that experience. Here are eight steps companies can take to protect their brands.

1. Recognize that a product is only as good as the customer experience

First impressions count. To identify all the elements that contribute to a good customer experience, include production and customer-facing personnel in your product-development process. Then, take steps to ensure that everything is in place.

2. Attempt to anticipate and address potential problems

Before going to market, test all aspects of the product's delivery. Defects tarnish the company's brand, and service calls erode profit margins.

3. Provide customers with recourse in the event of a product failure

Mistakes happen. So, always provide customers access to someone who can take corrective action—ideally by phone, with 24/7 availability. Many customers will forgive product failures if they can reach an empathetic support person who remedies the situation.

It's insufficient to refer customers to prepared "frequently asked questions." First, company personnel often miss questions that real customers have. Second, customers regard answers that don't squarely address their questions as defects, rather than signs of their own inadequacy.

4. Treat customers with respect

Avoid keeping customers "on hold." Staff support lines with sufficient personnel. Many people find it particularly galling to sit on hold while they wait for someone to fix a product they bought to improve their productivity.

When call volumes are especially high, give customers the option of receiving a call back. Also, consider releasing them (and their phone lines) while researching problems or documenting cases that don't require customer input.

5. Empower employees to take corrective action

My problem was easy to address. The issue was a mismatch between a code included with the product and the company's database of authorized product keys. The frontline support person could have done exactly what his superior did—resolve the problem right away.

6. Set expectations

This company had sold "fear" of operating without its product, thereby contributing to an expectation that the company would resolve problems quickly. By taking 24 hours to connect customers with support personnel, the company sent a very different message.

Rather than leaving expectations to chance, let customers know how long it will take to get an initial callback. Then, tell them when they can expect a resolution to their problem.

7. Attend to your social media outposts

In the past, dissatisfied customers told 10 people about their bad experience. Today, they can inform thousands with just a few keystrokes.

When they don't get satisfaction via normal channels, unhappy customers may turn to social media to share their disappointment. Nevertheless, companies that monitor their brands on social media can often turn a bad situation around, before it gets out of hand, if they respond quickly and offer to address the problem.

8. Follow up for continual improvement

Follow up, learn, and improve. Step one is to have a process for capturing and eliminating errors. Step two is to fix the process to avoid future problems.

One company I know classifies a shipment as "dead on arrival" if anything it's done, or has failed to do, interferes with the customer's experience. That organization convenes for cross-functional meetings weekly to review DOAs, delve into the root cause of the problem, and develop a course of action to ensure that the problem does not recur.


Those eight steps are not novel. In fact, many businesses get them right. Ensure your company is one of them. Have other steps to add? Let us know.

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Barbara Bix is managing principal of BB Marketing Plus, where she helps companies enhance their brands by capturing and enhancing the customer experience.

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  • by Autumn Edmiston Mon Aug 22, 2011 via web

    The key to this article is customer service! With all the e-newsletters, social media, white papers - there's so much focus on promoting the message that we sometimes lose focus on the customer and taking care of them! Remember the customer keeps your lights on!

  • by Michele Hockwalt Tue Aug 23, 2011 via web

    Customers have clear expectations of products and services. Your marketing makes promises that lead to those expectations. A business ends up with a "customer service issue" when those expectations are not met. Make sure you are promising only what you can deliver consistently if you want to nurture your brand. I think of McDonald's, who very clearly promises fast, consistent, affordable meals. Few customers get angry when they don't get excellent customer service with a friendly smile at McDonald's, but they do get riled up if the restaurant is slow or if their food is cold or incorrect.

  • by Jeffrey Sears Wed Aug 24, 2011 via web

    This article is really a "no duh" statement. Not very an epiphany I would say. But I cant tell you how many companies fall on their face when it comes to customer service. It's why I will never buy an HP product only Apple, or why I will never fly Delta but United, never shop at WalMart but love Target. It's all about the customer experience. The Social Enterprise gets this. Check out how the frequently publicly dissed TicketMaster is now winning fans by integrating Facebook so your can see what seats your friends are sitting at a concert before you buy. Very customer centric and creating value through Social Meia. Read my blog on this and more. Jeffreysearsblog dot com

  • by Marilyn Edelson Thu Aug 25, 2011 via web

    Great article, Barbara. . . as always! Self-evident but rarely articulated. I've had so much bad service lately and so little accountability. These would be great if turned into a Customer Bill of Rights! -Marilyn

  • by Barbara Bix Thu Aug 25, 2011 via web

    Thanks for all your comments! Clearly, this article strikes a chord--as you all seem to share similar thoughts. Yet, as Jeffrey notes, service continues to be an issue. Know anyone that has used Marilyn's "Customer Bill of Rights" idea to elevate their brand above the competition? Did it make a difference? For what products and services is service truly a differentiator--and when will people buy despite unsatisfactory service?

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