Truth Will Out: A Brand Is As A Brand Does

20 Nov

eBay illustration

"Your business is important to us."

Wonderfully funny post this morning by Gene Weingarten of The Washington Post about his recent customer service encounter, “written entirely while on hold with eBay customer service.” You can probably guess the gist of the piece from the title alone: “The Last Auction Hero: Gene Takes On EBay.” To resolve a minor issue, Customer Gene waits on hold, listening repeatedly to the “Your business is important to us” message, to talk to a rep in India, who claims he’s “John” from San Jose, but certainly isn’t, who puts him back on hold, and on and on. If you’re anyone but an eBay employee or investor, you’ll for sure get a chuckle. If you do have links to eBay, not so much.

All of us have had this experience, if not with eBay than with some other company, probably more than once. It’s easy to rant against outsourcing. But honestly, outsourcing can be a sensible solution to a business problem. And there are some great outsourced call centers. The real problem exposed by Mr. Weingarten isn’t about outsourcing or Indian call centers, it’s the pattern of lies he uncovers: “It was in the middle of the 285th lie when you picked up and told me your name was John, which I am thinking, from your voice, is a 286th lie.”

If there’s one crime that will damage a brand faster than any other, it’s lying. (OK, you’re probably thinking that dumping a bazillion barrels of oil into the Gulf of Mexico was petty bad for the BP brand. True. But that could have been a mistake, albeit a disastrous one. Wasn’t it worse for their brand that they LIED about it for months?)

So here’s a piece of advice for anyone who cares about building their brand: unless your actually building the Pinocchio brand, don’t lie! Ever. Not in your marketing communications. Not on your web site. Not even in the recorded messages on your customer service line. If you DO find it necessary to save money by underfunding customer service, fine. Just don’t tell us it’s about “caring for (your) customer.” People recognize that for what it is and your brand will suffer.

In fact, here’s a worthwhile exercise for anyone who cares about their brand. Go through every piece of literature, every script, every recorded message, and mark everything that may even be remotely construed as a lie. Then either change the words to reflect the truth, or change the truth to reflect the words.

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