Monday, June 23, 2008

When personality driven marketing backfires

I have been reading a terrific book on marketing using personality - Personality Not Included by Rohit Bhargava. The premise is that great brands develop a personality that is about individuals interacting with the customer, not just people in a faceless organization, and is very effective when you have a strong product that your employees and customers get excited about.

Obviously I am interested in this from FirstRain perspective but I have experienced a classic example in the last two weeks of how aggravating it can be when a company purports to been cosy with it's customers, but isn't.

My case study is Pret a Manger. On June 11th I got food poisoning from the local Pret near my NY office - on Madison near 41st. It was 24 hours of hell praying to the porcelain god. So, being a responsible citizen I contacted Pret through their web site to report it - I just wanted to make sure no one else got as sick as I did.

Cute site. Lots of first names, buddy type language. I filed my email complaint and the web site gave me a nice little message

For a start, thank you so much for letting us know there is a problem.
Janet and her team will have received your email and will be giving it top priority. If you've asked for a reply you'll get one. Our offices are manned 9 to 5 (UK time), Monday to Friday.
Whatever you've said will be added to the big weekly report that's passed round the office and the whole company. Clive, Julian and the rest of the directors pore over it every Monday.

Sounds good right? Then I get a form email:

Thank you so much for your email; we will be giving it top priority. Sorry about the horrid automated reply but we wanted to let you know that your email reached us. If you've asked for a response a more personal one will follow. Whatever you've said, it will be added to our weekly report which is passed round the whole company. Clive, Julian, and the rest of the directors pore over it every Monday.
Just to let you know our office are open 9.00-5.30 (UK time), Monday to Friday.
Best wishes,

and so now I am thinking "I like this company, I wonder when they'll contact me and how good their customer response is and who are "Janet" and "Julian" - sounds like they care?"

Here's where the backlash comes in. I have heard nothing. Not a peep. Despite asking for a reply as soon as possible. That really annoys me and is a great example of what not-to-do when building customer loyalty.

Good customer relationships and experiences are all about setting expectations correctly so that you can meet and exceed them. Pret did more damage to their brand in my mind by presenting themselves as so approachable and customer friendly - and then not even contacting me - than if I had had a form response which said my feedback would go into a customer database and be integrated into their service over time.

I've sent in another complaint via their website today. But frankly I don't expect to hear from them - and this reconfirms to me that personality based marketing is powerful only if you follow through on the brand promise - oh, and I won't be eating there again.


felicitous said...

Excellent point made. Never ever set the expectation that can not be met but can be verified.

Rohit said...

Penny - this is a great example of how personality really is a promise to your customers and the real challenge is living up to it! Thanks for your kind words about the book and I'm looking forward to seeing lots more from you as you use personality in your business and set a great example for other less forward thinking CEOs ...

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