Brand Experience and a Tale of Two Startups

As if there isn’t already enough happening in the world right now, I’ve been taking on one of the most stressful endeavors at regular times, amplified during COVID: a move! Not just any move — a cross-country move. The thought of being by myself all summer long in this strange pandemic version of New York was making me feel a little unhinged, so I departed for sunny California.

Selling my NYC condo is about as much real estate woe as I can handle, so I turned to specialty startups to help soften my landing in CA. It was like living through one of my very own presentations about brand experience do’s and don’ts.

It all boils down to what I tell my clients all the time:

Customer Service Is the Original Creative Branding Solution — Don’t Overlook It.

Brands are increasingly relying on tech like slick websites and flash apps to appeal to customers. Those things are great, but they only go so far. Great tech is worth nothing if the brand is not thinking about the end-to-end customer experience and all the different touch points that can affect a customer’s perception. Big-picture customer service just isn’t being talked about anymore.

Case in point — the startup I worked with to set up my new place. They specialize in doing all the boring, time-consuming condo tasks, and marketed themselves as having beautifully furnished corporate apartments so that I could “simply show up and start living.” The opportunity to test out an interesting building before I choose exactly where to settle sounded perfect. But what would happen after the marketing has done its job and it’s time to follow through? Nothing good, it turns out.

Just to get the contract signed I was passed around from person to person. It didn’t bode well for the rest of my experience. I’ll spare you the full horror story that awaited me when it was time to check in to my new place. Let’s just say there wasn’t even a bed ready to sleep in. I had to use all my negotiating experience to back out of the agreement, and didn’t receive so much as an apology.

I seek out a great customer experience wherever I go, and this particular experience was a powerful reminder that too many brands are putting the cart before the horse when it comes to marketing and customer service.

Reach out to me if you want to know the company I am talking about so you can avoid the same headache.

Problems Are Universal. Problem Solving Is What Sets You Apart.

Enter the next startup, Feather. I moved to a different unit in the same building, and picked a different startup to work with on furnishing. You get to rent anything you want from their inventory of stylish furniture, which they deliver and set up — it’s more of subscription service versus the good old-fashioned Rent-a-Center model. Everything happened on a sleek app. When I signed up, there was a credit card issue. I got an immediate phone call from a real person who solved the problem. I received follow-up calls to check in and offer help all throughout the process. When a delivery went wrong, they made me feel like fixing it immediately was a priority to them. They even honored a promotion I received after signing up.

As a global brand strategist and a picky consumer of luxury brands, I’ve seen it all, and I promise that old-fashioned customer service isn’t going to stop being important any time soon. Fabulous brand events and other cool experiences you create are quickly forgotten when someone has a bad check in experience at a hotel, or the internet doesn’t work in your Airbnb rental, or a luxury car dealer makes a busy executive come into the dealership to sign paperwork. Never, ever underestimate the basic and fundamental human experience along every touch point of the customer journey.

Author: Rum Ekhtiar

Rum Ekhtiar, founder of Rum and Co, is focused on brand strategies that work, ideas that are creative, new businesses pitches that win, and teams who work toward a common goal. With over 20 years of experience, he's worked with companies like Novartis, Citi, MetLife, and others, helping them transform their business, their story, and their engagement model. In this blog, he'll advise marketers on ways to break through creative and strategic blocks, methods to navigate client relationships, and how to ultimately realize the full potential of their capabilities. Reach him at rum@rumandco.nyc and connect with him on LinkedIn.

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