It takes years to build brand equity, and just an instant to tarnish it. The best brands know the brand must drive every interaction with stakeholders, including investors, the media and the public. Failing to “lead with the brand” may result in lost opportunities to create loyal ambassadors.
One crucial make-or-break moment for many brands is how they respond to customer complaints.
For retail companies, this should be Brand 101. Healthcare companies, meanwhile, are only now starting to consider patients as consumers, due in part to the greater share of the cost of care being borne by patients through higher deductibles, co-pays and coinsurance.
As patient/consumers have more “skin in the game”, demand is rising for a consumer experience that is more like what the best retail companies offer. Healthcare companies would do well to pay attention to best practices—and pitfalls–across the retail industry. So here is a “Tale of Two Brands”.
Recently, my friend Eric and I had wildly different experiences with two popular consumer brands.
First, my experience: I bought a set of pajamas from disneystore.com featuring the character Maui from the Moana film. When my toddler saw the pajamas, he squealed “You’re Welcome!” (Maui’s signature phrase) with delight. But the shorts and the top were two different sizes, and the bottom was too small. Here’s what happened next:
Within an hour, Brandon had turned a customer with a complaint into a brand ambassador, offering to send another pair of pajamas, no questions asked. I did share my positive experience with friends and “Mom” networks. Also, Brandon suggested that I donate the mismatched pair of pajamas to “spread the Disney magic”, and since I have such a great feeling abut the company, I’m happy to do so. In fact, my opinion of the company is considerably higher than before I ever had this complaint.
Contrast this with my friend Eric’s experience with a popular shoe brand that was initially less than “keen” about replacing a pair of sandals that had ripped apart after a couple of months. This pair was a replacement for a first pair of sandals that broke after just a few weeks. The company has a one-year warranty in place, but they initially refused to honor it, saying it doesn’t cover replacement items. Here’s Keen’s initial response to Eric’s warranty claim:
Your warranty claim #WKUS0181563ES has been denied.
KEEN’s warranty program covers manufacturing and materials flaws for one year on original items purchased from KEEN authorized retailers. This warranty does not extend to items that were purchased from www.keenfootwear.com with promo codes awarded to satisfy previous warranty claims.
We have included a discount code for www.keenfootwear.com below as an accommodation. Promo Code: WR-HP53-MZDP-L4Discount: 20%
Brad KEEN Warranty Specialist
Brad, Thank you for your response. I’m disappointed, frankly. What I’m seeing in your policy is that your company wants the benefit of SAYING you offer a warranty, without actually standing behind your products. Would it really cost you THAT much to make this right for someone (me) that really wants to be your customer?? I believe that your company can do better. Who can I talk to that has the power to make this right for me? Regards, Eric
Eric, You are certainly welcome to contact the KEEN Fan Services supervisor or manager at 866.676.5336 to plead your case. We stand by our inspector’s verdict on this claim and cannot offer any additional accommodation for this pair. Our warranty terms and conditions state quite clearly that items obtained with warranty promo codes from previous claims are not eligible for replacement consideration. The warranty department at KEEN considers this matter closed and we apologize for any inconvenience that this causes you. Best regards, Brad KEEN Warranty Specialist
Eric then started posting on his own Facebook page about his experience, with photos of the broken shoes. Then he reached out to the Keen Facebook page. Finally, four days later, the head of customer service reached out to Eric, asking him to order a new pair of his choosing to replace the ripped sandals.
Assuming this next pair is good quality, Eric says he’ll remain a Keen customer. But his opinion of the company is damaged by the experience. It’s a tremendous missed opportunity because—though Keen doesn’t know it—Eric is an outdoor educator who interfaces with hundreds of kids (and their parents) each year.
He runs a Pioneer camp in Florida which couldn’t be more “on brand” for Keen, as both emphasize the joys of “unplugging” and enjoying nature. Moreover, Keen has a enlisted a number of brand ambassadors who each “represents a convergence of KEEN’s values and interests”. Eric would be a great addition to that group. But, initially, Keen’s customer service operation failed to lead with the brand, and didn’t take the time to understand its customer and his concerns. Instead, it stuck to a blanket rule, and referenced Eric as a warranty claim number, not as the brand fan he was before the incident.
So, what can healthcare companies learn from this Tale of Two Brands?
1. Speed matters
Resolving a problem quickly is a key to maintaining brand loyalty. Disney is known for their lightning quick responses to customer problems, and my experience was no exception. Brandon responded to my query within an hour, while Eric had to wait four days before getting a satisfactory response from Keen. Now, to be fair, Disney is a much, much larger company, with many more employees, so it’s understandable that Keen’s response would take longer. Unfortunately, Eric did receive an initial response quickly, but the response did not seek to understand or resolve his problem.
2. Personalize the response
Disney was able to mail me a new set of pajamas with nothing more than my Facebook name and town. They knew exactly who they were talking to, when I had bought the pajamas, what size, and my address. This kind of sophisticated contact center is rare. But smaller organizations can ask questions to get the personal information and understand the particular needs of the customer, rather than refer to a warranty claim number, which was off-putting in Eric’s case.
3. Empower employees
Disney’s approach to gaining and maintaining brand equity is to give employees the power to solve problems, not to just enforce the rules and say no. Once someone higher up the chain at Keen understood that Eric was not trying to game the warranty system, but in fact had TWO pairs of shoes fail in the space of weeks or months, the company agreed to replace the shoes. But if Brad—Eric’s first contact at the company–was empowered to ask the details of the story, and then respond based on the specific situation, it could have been resolved more quickly and positively
4. Ask your critics to be your fans
Since my Disney issue was resolved so quickly, I immediately offered to share my experience. But Brandon asked me to go one step further and share the replaced pajamas – which were good quality, but simply mismatched sizes. This may give the company the opportunity to earn another fan who becomes a customer in the future. It’s clear, at Disney, that the public relations and brand teams drive all interactions with the public. This creates a unified, top-to-bottom messaging experience, applied to anyone who interfaces with the company. Keen still has the opportunity to turn Eric into a brand ambassador. A great PR operation might seize this chance to engage Eric and his campers, since the camp and company missions are aligned. They could, for instance, give sandals to a small group of kids, then take photos of the campers for the Keen website or other marketing collateral.
The takeaway for healthcare
Healthcare organizations can become more like the best consumer brands by taking a proactive approach to patient complaints and concerns. By responding quickly to patient concerns, seeing patients as individuals, empowering staff to solve problems and asking newly-satisfied patients to refer their family and friends, healthcare organizations can help to create and retain brand equity. This, in turn, can help drive up patient satisfaction scores, which can have a positive impact on the bottom line, in new value-based care arrangements.