Companies are complicated entities. They have many divisions, products and offerings.
Customers are generally less complicated. They buy a product, often with all it’s trappings, accessories and such, and that’s it. One transaction and they’re done.
When a customer does this, they are buying the brand and not all of the complexities behind it.
That being the case, why do so many companies insist on imposing their corporate structures on their customers?
When a customer buys a product from you it is a sign that they are buying into your brand. In B2B transactions for capital equipment, this is even more of the case since they are often also buying a manufacturers service contract, financing through the manufacturer and even purchasing education classes for their employees. The transaction is not over when the equipment contract is signed. In fact, it’s just the beginning.
In simple terms, the customer is literally buying into your brand. They are putting their money behind their belief in you and trust that you – the brand – will deliver on your promises, fulfill your commitments and help their business run better. And unless you’re a very, very small company, they are forming a relationship with your entire organization, not just the sales and account management people they deal with. Your brand strength is made up of the sum of the contacts the customer has with your organization, not just a few front-line employees.
So why do so many companies make customers feel as if they are dealing with a series of unrelated entities? Different sales teams for equipment, service and education. Different billing systems and billing cycles, different contracts, contacts and conditions. And in some extreme cases multi-nationals have been known to bill in different currencies depending on what the customer bought. Look, the customer really doesn’t give a damn about your accounting structure, internal politics or organizational intricacies. So why do you so often make your brand feel like a fragmented group of businesses who happen to have the same name?
I’ve seen this behavior at a number of different companies and am constantly amazed that customers put up with this crap. Maybe the better question is why are companies willing to force their own internal structures on customers instead of presenting a more coherent brand face and structure.
In heavily process driven companies, it seems that often the answer is because the internal systems and structures will not allow it, (there are rules after all). In companies that grew through acquisition they’ll tell you it’s because of incompatible systems (“Our division ERP doesn’t talk to the corporate CRM so we have to do it this way”). And in some the answer is as basic as “this is the way we have always done it.” Seriously? This is symptomatic of organizations that are more inwardly focused than customer focused.
Remember, your customer has bought into your brand, not a bunch of internal systems or corporate history lessons.
If you want to make things easier for the customer, wouldn’t it make sense to find a way to present as coherent a brand experience as possible. Streamlined systems. Centralized billing. Single point of contact for questions and issues. Emphasis on customer success. And continuous employee training and communication that focuses on the customer. I know these things can be difficult to implement in large organizations, but it is possible and can lead to some astonishing successes (see IBM’s evolution under Lou Gerstner).
All of this goes back to the central idea that your brand is the collective perceptions of your customers, employees and stakeholders. If the customer has the perception that they are not dealing with a coherent brand then you are at risk of losing their trust or loyalty to the competitor who can deliver a consistent brand experience. Despite the fact you may be delivering better equipment, service and education, if they perceive that the experience is less than optimal for them they will consider alternatives.
As a brand you need to be aware that what your customer thinks about you is as important, if not more, that what your products and services are objectively delivering to their business. It’s not rocket science to deliver a consistent, positive brand experience, it’s brain surgery. Positively affect the way they think, and you’ll win almost every time.
How does your brand look from a customer perspective. Is it a single coherent presence, or are you forcing them to deal with a number of different entities all operating under the same name?