When Texas-based cloud storage provider Rackspace was launched in October 1998, the three founders were so wrapped up in developing their technology that they gave little attention to their customers—to the point that management frowned on employees picking up the phone for tech-support calls. Why? According to longtime chairman Graham Weston, they considered their “real” work to be programming.
Of course, clients didn’t much like this, which gave the managers the revelation that customer service shouldn’t be ignored; in fact, it should be prioritized above all else. Enlightened, Weston and his colleagues decided to make “fanatical customer support” Rackspace’s brand promise. It would be what the company was known for in the marketplace.
It seemed like a great idea. But it wasn’t good enough.
That’s because everyone else in Rackspace’s industry was promising great customer service, too. But no one was really doing anything to deliver it. Clients had, understandably, grown skeptical when promised top-tier service—after all, they’d been given no reason to believe these promises were anything but empty. In short, Rackspace’s brand promise was meaningless.
A great brand promise is much more than words on the company letterhead or a plaque in the lobby. It complements not only what your customer needs, but also what they value. It communicates both why customers should choose to buy from you and exactly what they can expect once they decide to do so.
Over the years, I have found that most companies have a relatively easy time coming up with an effective brand promise. The challenge comes in the execution. Too often, companies don’t have clear measures in place to deliver on what they’re promising. As a result, their brand promises amount to little more than hollow rhetoric. Is it any surprise that clients find this off-putting?
So, how can you tell whether you’re losing customers to a bogus brand promise? Here are five signs:
1. Your employees don’t “get” your brand promise
Like all things, change starts from within. Ask your employees to explain to you what your brand promise is, and why it’s a market differentiator. Can they answer with absolute clarity? If not, how do you expect them to deliver on it?
2. Your customers don’t “get” your brand promise
Survey a dozen clients, asking each what they think your company is known for. If their responses are inconsistent and/or differ wildly from your promise, it’s a clear sign that you’re not delivering what you think you are.
3. Your brand promise isn’t what your customers want
Just because you think your brand promise is relevant to customers doesn’t mean it actually is. Say your brand promise is based on service. That’s all well and good—unless your customers are driven primarily by price. Sometimes what you think sets you apart isn’t something the market wants; you must factor this in when developing your brand promise.
4. You don’t have processes to back up your promises
No matter what your brand promise is, it’ll be ineffectual unless you have some processes and systems in place to ensure you’re delivering on it. As the famous saying goes, “What gets measured, gets done.” You should develop key performance indicators (KPIs) in areas that support your brand promise (more on this below), and you should learn to systematically and objectively measure them.
5. Your employees aren’t engaged in the process
For a brand promise to be effective, every employee must understand the role they play in delivering on it—right down to the task level. Perhaps the best way to achieve this is to share the KPI data you gather. Let your staff know how the company is measuring up in crucial areas, and link their own performance to those results. And do it often—daily, if possible.
Once you know the problem areas and take action to resolve them, it’s not difficult to create a brand promise with some teeth. Back to Rackspace: once management realized their brand promise of “fanatical customer service” was ineffectual, they created clear, measurable KPIs to resolve it. Every Rackspace employee would now answer the phone in three rings or less, transfer each caller to another rep no more than once and solve problems within an hour.
Rackspace started reporting on its KPIs weekly, then daily. The entire company was relentless in their pursuit to improve these metrics. In doing so, management not only defined what the brand promise meant for staff and customers alike, they also established means to accurately measure the efficacy of that promise.
This, above anything else, set Rackspace apart from its competitors; from the first support call, customers knew they were dealing with a company that really put its money where its mouth is. It’s forever changed the firm’s business. In 2012, Rackspace reported revenue of just over $1.3 billion and an operating income of $172 million. Not bad for a firm that, not long ago, was losing customers at an alarming pace.
Former FedEx CEO Fred Smith put it best when he said “Two words drive the business: the promise and the process.” Your brand promise is only the tip of the iceberg. It is your processes, measurable KPIs and constant communication that will turn a banal guarantee into a true competitive advantage for your firm.
Andy Buyting understands what it takes to be a successful entrepreneur, having owned several businesses during his career. Developer of the Hiring Right Recruiting System and a Certified Gazelles International Business Coach, he provides strategic direction and growth tools for companies looking to go from good to great.