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The most Beloved Brands create a brand experience that lives up to even over-delivers against the brand’s promise. I always like to remind myself that the customer is the most selfish animal on the planet, and deservedly so, because they have given you their hard-earned money. Brand Leaders are always fixated on driving demand to increase share and sales. Yet they usually only reach for marketing tactics like advertising, special promotion or new products. It takes years to get customers to change their behavior and move away from their favorite brand and try yours. Yet it takes seconds of bad service for you to lose a customer for life.

Here’s 10 things you can Stop Doing:

Bad Service Rule #1: Stop It with the attitude of “I’m in shirts not ties”.  It can be extremely frustrating walking up to an employee of a store who has no clue about anything but their own little world. And even worse when they just point and say “go over there”. The better service is those who take the extra step by jumping in and helping and those know what’s going on in every part of the brand–not just their own world. Try asking someone at Whole Foods where something is and they will walk you right over to the product you’re asking about and ask if you need anything else.

Bad Service Rule #2: Stop It when you make the customer do the work. The airlines have been shifting all their work over to customers for years–boarding pass, bag tag and now even lifting your suitcase up onto the conveyor belt. While it might help you control your costs in the short-term, you’ll never be a Beloved Brand and you’ll never be able to charge a premium price for your services. Instead, in a highly price competitive marketplace, you just end up passing those cost savings onto to the customer in lower prices. No wonder most airlines are going bankrupt.

Bad Service Rule #3:  Stop It when you feel compelled to bring up the fine print when dealing with a customer problem. Last week I had a computer problem, but I felt extra confident because I had paid extra money to get the TOTAL service plan. Yet with my first computer problem I was told the TOTAL service plan did not include hardware,software, water damage or physical damage. With a computer, what else is there? As a consumer, I had gone through the brand funnel–from consideration to purchase–and made a choice to buy your brand. Yet, at the first sign of my frustration with your brand you are deciding to say to me “don’t come back”. I had a problem with my iPod a few years ago and returned it to the Apple store. They went into the back room and got a new iPod for me and said “would you like us to transfer all your songs over?”. I was stunned. Apple took a problem and turned me into a happy customer who wanted to spend even more money with them.

Bad Service Rule #4: Stop It when you send a phone call to an answering machine.  We’ve all experienced this and secretly many of us have done this. Now if you know you’re going to get a machine, it’s OK to say “is it OK if you get their machine”. But willingly sending a caller into a machine is just plain lazy and it says you just don’t care.  Treat them with the respect that a paying customer has earned with you and make sure there is a human on the other line.

Bad Service Rule #5:  Stop It with processes that make it look like you’ve never been a customer before. While brand leaders tend to think they own the strategy and advertising, it is equally important that you also own the customer experience. While the positive view of the purchase process is driven by a brand funnel, you should also use a “Leaky Bucket” analysis to understand where and why you are losing customers. It is hard work to get a customer into your brand funnel, it is great discipline to move them through that brand funnel by ensuring that every stage is set up to make it easy for the customer to keep giving you money.  Step into the shoes of your customers and experience the brand through their eyes on a regular basis so you can effectively manage the experience.  When you find leaks to the brand funnel, find ways to close them so you can hang on to the customers you’ve worked so hard to get into the doors.


Bad Service Rule #6: Stop It with the trying to win every customer interaction. Last year after Christmas I was lucky enough to be 34th in the return line. For some reason they put the most angry person they could find to manage the returns line. With every customer, this guy was hell-bent on trying to break the customer’s spirit so they’d avoid returning the product. As I watched, I felt like I was headed into a police interrogation. On the other hand, if you want to see a comfortable returns policy, try returning something at Costco. They take the stance that they are on the side of their “members” and help you go up against the big bad manufacturers. If you don’t have your receipt, they’ll print it out for you. At Costco, the returns process is where they earn that $50-100 membership price. Just maybe you should start treating your customers like members and see if it forces you to see things differently.

Bad Service Rule #7: Stop It when you are explaining your problems instead of listening to the customer’s problems. When a place is completely messed up, some people feel compelled to tell you how stupid they think this is. Unfortunately, this constantly complaining ‘why me’ attitude can quickly become systemic and contagious within the culture. It takes an effort to turn the culture around–laying in service values, driving process that helps reward good service, and driving personal accountability within everyone.

Bad Service Rule #8:  Stop It with the hollow apologies that seems like you are reading from a manual. No one wants to deal with people who just feel like they are going through the motions. It’s crucial that you set up a culture that is filled with authentic people who have a true passion for customers. TD Bank retail staff does an exceptional job in being real with customers. When you consider that they hire from the same pool of talent as all the other banks, it’s obviously the culture of caring about their customers that really makes the difference in separating their customer experience from others.

Bad Service Rule #9: Stop It when you try using my complaint call as a chance to up-sell me  The only up-sell is to get me to come back again. Last month, I had an issue with my internet being way too slow. When I called my local service provider, instead of addressing how bad their current service was, the first response was to try selling me a better service plan that with a higher monthly fee and a higher priced modem. And then all of a sudden, they tried to sell me a home security system. If a customer is a point of frustration, why would they want to pay you even more money for a bad service. You haven’t earned my business. The best in class service is the Ritz Carlton who proactively look to turn customer problems into a chance to WOW the customer. It’s built right into the culture as employees are encouraged to brainstorm solutions and empowered with up to $2,000. Instead of up-selling, the Ritz spends the extra effort to ensure you’re satisfied with the service you’ve already paid for.

Bad Service Rule #10: Stop It when it just becomes a job for you and you forget the passion you have for the business. When your team starts to feel like they have no power, they just start to show up as pencil-pushing bureaucrats. There’s no passion left–as it’s been sucked out by a culture with a complacent attitude and a bunch of check in-check out types who follow the job description and never do anything beyond it. Ask yourself “why do you come to work” and if the answer doesn’t show up in your work, then you know that the culture needs a complete overhaul. If you don’t love the work, then how do you expect your customer to love the brand?  

Brand = Culture

Beloved Brands create an exceptional customer experience. They know it’s not just about advertising and innovation. As a consumer, I’ve become spoiled by the best of the brands who raise the bar and continue to surprise and delight me. Think of how special you feel when you are dealing with Disney, Starbucks and Apple. And compare that to how demoralized you feel when dealing with the airlines, utilities and electronics shops. For the Beloved Brands, they understand that Culture and Brand are One. The Brand becomes an internal beacon for the culture—and the brand’s people have to genuinely be the strongest most outspoken fans who spread the brand’s virtues.

As you look at your own customer experience, take a walk in your customers shoes and see where your customer would rate you. Are they with you because they love you and want to be with you or because they have to be with you? Even though they like the product, they may be indifferent to your brand. And they’ll be gone at the first chance at an alternative.  And as a brand leader, your brand is likely stuck on a rational promise, unable to separate yourself from competitors and instead you are left competing on price and promotion.

  • Begin by holding the culture up the lens of the brand DNA and ensure the right team in place to deliver against the needs of the brand.
  • Start finding ways to create a culture that is more consumer centric (customer first)
  • Begin to push the culture to create a unique delivery of the product experience. Use Leaky Bucket analysis to take a walk in yoru customers shoes and to address weaknesses.
  • Set up forums for innovation—that create an energy through the culture and one that starts to take risks on the best ideas.
  • Use a purpose driven vision, with a set of beliefs and values to challenge the team to create and deliver that experience.
  • Begin using power of a loved brand to attract and retain the best. Find fans of the brand who will become your front line spokespeople. They bring that passion for the brand. Just ask the guys in the blue shirts at the Apple stores.

Here’s a presentation on what makes a Beloved Brand:


Beloved Brands: Who are we?

At Beloved Brands, we promise that we will make your brand stronger and your brand leaders smarter. We can help you come up with your brand’s Brand Positioning, Big Idea and Brand Concept. We also can help create Brand Plans that everyone in your organization can follow and helps to focus your Marketing Execution. We provide a new way to look at Brand Management, that uses a provocative approach to align your brand to the sound fundamentals of brand management. 

We will make your team of Brand Leaders smarter so they can produce exceptional work that drives stronger brand results. We offer brand training on every subject in marketing, related to strategic thinking, analytics, brand planning, positioning, creative briefs, customer marketing and marketing execution. 

To contact us, email us at or call us at 416-885-3911.You can also find us on Twitter @belovedbrands. 


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Graham Robertson

Graham spent 20 years in Brand Management leading some of the world’s most beloved brands at Johnson and Johnson, General Mills and Coke, rising up to VP Marketing. In his career, he has won numerous Advertising, Innovation and Leadership awards. Graham played a major role in helping J&J win Marketing Magazine’s prestigious “Marketer of the Year” award. Graham brings a reputation for challenging brand leaders to think differently and to be more strategically focused. Graham founded Beloved Brands in 2010, to help brands find growth and make brand leaders smarter. He leads workshops to help define your Brand Positioning, build your brand’s Big Idea, and write strategic Brand Plans that motivate and focus everyone that works on the brand. Our Beloved Brands training programs will help your team, produce exceptionally smart work work that drives stronger brand growth and profits. We cover everything a brand leader needs to know including strategic thinking, planning, positioning, execution and analytics. Our robust client roster has included the NFL Players Association, Reebok, the NBA, Acura, Shell, Miller Lite, 3M, Jack Link’s and Pfizer. His weekly brand stories have generated over 5 million views.


Doug Brown · November 11, 2012 at 9:55 am

This is an awesome post Graham. Love #10…stop it when it becomes a job and not a passion. That’s the start of the slippery slope. Thanks for this!

dongrgic · November 11, 2012 at 5:33 pm

Incredibly useful post Graham Great advice. Thank you.

Kabir · November 12, 2012 at 4:49 am

great post Graham. How would you suggest a security (guards) company project its enemy?

    beloved brands · November 12, 2012 at 6:00 pm

    it depends where the security guards are. the enemy could be disorderly conduct, confusion or even exposure risk.

Maya Winata · November 12, 2012 at 10:31 pm

awesome Graham. Thank you

Ann Druce · November 13, 2012 at 1:05 am

Thanks Graham, this is so true. And even demanding customers understand that things can go wrong (well, once they have calmed down!) and a great response to a problem can even build a relationship of trust and loyalty better than no problem at all.

A great response gives the marketer the opportunity to prove that: they understand that a problem is not okay; they care about you and want you to be happy; they want to go come back and will go the extra mile to treat you well, even when things go wrong.

And proving it is definitely more powerful and more memorable than simply stating it.

Breean · November 19, 2012 at 10:43 am

Great post! When shopping, I’m frequently asking myself, “Why are you making it so difficult for me to give you my money?!”

    beloved brands · November 19, 2012 at 1:19 pm

    Bree, I’ve even had people turn down my money!!!! Worse yet, there is a coffee shop (Tim Hortons) in Canada who says they throw out the coffee every 20 minutes….promoting freshness. It’s a great promotion because they draw such crowds, they never really need to. But then one day, the guy says “oh no it’s free, we’ve had this pot for like six hours and it’s really bad”. I think he totally misunderstood the promise!!!

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