Customer Control Creates New Phase of Apologetic Marketing

In a customer-centric marketing ecosystem, brands need to be more self-aware than ever before. Brands must accept that customers control their reputation, and customer satisfaction should become a top KPI for every company.

In a customer-is-in-control ecosystem, brands need to be more self-aware than ever before. They need to open up honest, meaningful conversations with their customers — and understand that we no longer push advertisements to customers through media, but rather engage and communicate with them. Brands must accept that the customer controls a brand’s reputation, and customer satisfaction should become a top KPI for every company.

For years now, customers have controlled the way brands are perceived in the marketplace. Today, that leverage is only growing. Companies can no longer hide behind big brand campaigns, just as marketing can no longer put a good spin on a problematic or dated company. If they try, consumers will either ignore it altogether (because they recognize the idealized corporate-speak) or, worse, they’ll attack in social media. Then, what started as a small problem can get out of control quickly.

Marketing executives need to work with the entire c-suite to make sure brand promises and customer experiences are consistent throughout the entire journey. They need to ensure the brand pillars are not only communicated, but also embraced across every component of the organization. And they have to make sure every team in the company can live up to the vision presented in the marketing.

Over the last year, we’ve seen the disconnect play out on a grand scale for companies like Uber, Wells Fargo, Facebook and unfortunately many more. By not aligning the brand platform with their internal values and customer experience, these companies have had to publicly recognize their faults and apologize for missteps. They each faced distrust among their customer base and, even though that trust was lost in a second, it often takes years to gain back.

So How Can Companies Learn From These Brands?

In today’s marketplace, companies need to do three key things:

  • Be transparent. Customers don’t expect companies to be perfect. But today, customers aren’t just immune to, but are also appalled by corporate-speak and over-hyped, insincere brand promises. Customers want brands to be real, to mean something and to associate with their beliefs and values. Companies today need to be humanized so customers can connect with them.
  • Align departments across the organization. Customers perceive companies as one entity and they expect that, whether they’re in a store, on the site or calling customer service, they’ll have the same experience across the board. Companies, however, are made up of different departments, with different bosses (who have different beliefs), and are often measured against different (sometimes opposing) KPIs. Today, corporate structure needs to embrace customer expectations. Politics and personalities have to take the back seat to the unified brand vision.
  • Companies need to embrace their customers. They can no longer lay out their corporate vision and marketing plans without fully understanding what the marketplace needs — both today and tomorrow. They need to understand what customers are looking for and shape their products and their company accordingly. Most companies hate hearing this, but they also need to narrow their audience and focus their company. Very few brands can and should appeal to all consumers. Too many brands try to satisfy everyone, remaining conservative so they don’t alienate any prospective customers. In doing so, however, they don’t resonate with anyone. Brands that take a stand, know who their audience is and what they want, and mold their company around that always win. Even if they outrage a part of their base, they inspire and resonate with their core, turning them into passionate advocates who reinforce the brand and allow more organic growth.

What Can You Do When It’s Too Late and You’ve Lost Consumer Trust?

While it’s a situation nobody wants to be in, companies need to be honest, fall on their sword and open up to the gaps they have. Just like Facebook’s WSJ ad and Wells Fargo’s TV campaign, they need to promise to do better. But again, it needs to be more than a marketing promotion; it needs to be a genuine re-set, one that all departments and the entire c-suite embrace. If it’s not, it’s only a matter of time until you’re back in the hot seat.

Wells Fargo Fiasco: The Downside of Upselling

If the recent Wells Fargo fiasco is any indication, the sales and marketing culture at Wells Fargo (and many other financial institutions) should be taking an abrupt left turn — and none too soon. As a long-standing Wells Fargo customer, here are a few ways they can ensure my continued loyalty:

wells fargo upsellIf the recent Wells Fargo fiasco is any indication, the sales and marketing culture at Wells Fargo (and many other financial institutions) should be taking an abrupt left turn — and none too soon.

Early in my career, I was working for a large financial services company and we would have long strategic planning sessions on how we might be able to generate new accounts through in-branch and direct mail upsell and cross-sell techniques. Applied for a home loan? Since the bank ran a lengthy credit check, why not offer a credit card to help furnish that new abode? Carried a higher balance in a non-interest bearing checking account? Push the customer to add a savings or money market account to their portfolio.

The ideas were endless, and we were all measured by our success rate: the number of net new accounts each month. Luckily, no one ever pressured me (or anyone I knew) into doing anything even remotely close to the fraudulent behavior Wells Fargo is accused of perpetrating.

But that said, why did Wells take a simple cross-sell / upsell concept, “you want fries with that?” and turn it into a high-pressure sales mandate? Aside from the obvious greed-based factor, Wells forgot some of the loyalty basics I learned many moons ago.

As a long-standing Wells Fargo customer, here are a few ways they can ensure my continued loyalty:

1. Treat me with respect, concern and understanding, and I’ll be loyal for life: You don’t need me to own eight products in order to remain loyal. If you have my checking account and I make regular electronic deposits of my paycheck, you’re my primary bank. If you can help me with anything, it’s figuring out why the ATM will NOT take the 10 checks I try to deposit collectively after carefully ensuring they are all lined up together EXACTLY as the instructions indicate, but spit them back every single time.

2. Play fair: When I call occasionally with a complaint, stop and really listen. Show some empathy and be willing (and ensure your front line is enabled) to waive a fee here and there in order to make amends. Sometimes it is actually YOUR mistake, and if it’s not, show me you understand that we all make mistakes now and again and waive the fee anyway.

3. Be helpful. Truly helpful: If I want you to “review my accounts,” I’ll ask. Don’t offer every time I step into the branch or try to make a large deposit. It does feel intrusive that you know my balances or if I’m overdrawn while I stand in front of you like a dope.

4. Give me online security questions that I can actually recall the answers to: First pet’s name? Well, I owned a dog and a cat and who’s to say which one I was thinking of at the time I filled out the form. Where I was born? You mean the city? Or the city and county (since I was not born in the US, perhaps, you could be more specific with the question)? Mother’s maiden name? (While this was not a challenge for me, a colleague noted that she was adopted and couldn’t remember if she supplied her birth mother’s maiden name or her adopted mother’s maiden name … yes, really). And yes, I have been locked out of my account for not knowing a few of these off the top of my head.

And one more thing — can you pay a little higher interest rate on my funds in your care? I think you’d have a bit more to give if you didn’t give one of your most senior employees a $124 million payout.