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As Good As Their Word

KD Mural

Kamal Dimachkie discusses the complex relationship between brands and consumers.

September 16, 2013 12:26 by

People’s experiences with brands are like rollercoaster rides. And although the rides at fairs often leave us with a feeling of exhilaration fueled by an adrenaline rush, brand experiences can leave us feeling the exact opposite, quickly driving us up the wall. Many brands are so notorious for overpromising and under delivering that they are often the butt of jokes on social media. Others’ promises may be vague, or brands may be transitioning between one communication platform to another, and then their behaviour colours people’s views so much that consumers formulate equally unarticulated promises for the brands in return.

Perhaps people have become cynical. Perhaps they have suffered too many disappointments, or perhaps, these days, expectations are stratospherically high. But, then again, brands often bring it upon themselves when they make promises with the best of intentions, yet fall short in delivery due to an inferior product, bad management, poor execution, or a consistent string of uncontrollable circumstances.

Take the case of Emirates Airlines; I have tremendous respect for this airline that built an incredible product of global standing. Being a Dubai resident, I often fly and travel on Emirates. Most of the time, I look forward to my trips with them. Of late, though, I started worrying whenever I come across their ‘hello tomorrow’ slogan, as I am often reminded of the unexplained delays I have had to endure. Often, the length time I spend squished into my seat on the tarmac exceeds the duration of the flight itself.

I realise I am not alone in expressing my frustration of being a victim of this huge expectations gap. Although, individual experiences and personal accounts vary. Perhaps for every bad experience, there will be at least ten who have had positive ones, which may have sealed their loyalty to their brands and vice versa. However, the point remains that brands keep on building, fueling and growing our expectations of them. Perhaps because all are under pressure to grow, to generate more profit and do more of everything to increase value. Therein lays their quandary, for with every word, every step and every action we stand to judge and either condemn or advocate.

Whether it is the laundry detergent that makes absolute claims about stain removal or cleanliness then fails the test, or the telephone operator that promises you the moon and the stars but simply fails to deliver on basic connectivity, or the civil service that is, by default, our arbiter and last resort, yet doesn’t pick up your calls or simply falls short in an emergency, all of these are just pushing their constituents away because they cannot deliver the goods. In some cases, we just shrug it off – perhaps the stain was too stubborn, the area was too remote, or our area reception too weak – but often the failure can be so gross that we cannot excuse it.

However, consumers are not heartless. Just as we do not expect perfection from those around us and from anything living, we do not expect it from companies and brands. Although we are sometimes unable to excuse, we are often prepared to pardon, assuming there is justification and assuming that brands take the initiative to own up – or at the least are prepared to do so. The trouble is that brands are either unaware that an apology or compensation is required, or they simply do not offer any. This is where relationships often turn sour and head towards a breakup. Ultimately, it is their behaviour that will forever be under scrutiny.

Nothing builds affection better than people being as good as their word and nothing strengthens loyalty to a brand more than for that brand’s actions to be in sync with what they say. That was one of my recent experiences and while there was opportunity for a big gap between word and deed, the brand in question delivered every step of the way.

My bank account was recently hacked and a significant sum was withdrawn. That development unleashed a sequence of events that put Citibank through a series of extreme tests, of which the failure of anyone would have been possible and could have spelled disaster for me. If ever a relationship with a brand was tested, this was it.

With an overdose of anxiousness and alarm, and after fumbling through my contacts and phone numbers, I ultimately managed to reach Citi Phone Banking. Waiting to reach a human was torture, but I eventually did, and I went through the questions and answers, preceded by verifications and confirmations. We ultimately got to the heart of the matter, and from there on, the process was fast, controlled, determined and purposeful. In a situation such as the one, the call centre is the first place where the relationship can falter, but in this particular case, this fundamental interaction was properly carried out, and at this level, the brand delivered.

In a case of emergency the call centre is never enough. I needed to reach someone higher up; a person who can give me more personal attention. Although I did not know anyone – my account manager had recently left and I was still waiting to hear from the bank – I did manage to reach someone senior, whom I did not previously know. Wonderfully, on receiving my call, this person picked up, listened carefully, attended to my needs, made promises and, lo and behold, returned my calls and messages. Although this couldn’t have been in the script, this behaviour was akin to the bank literally holding my hand through this distressing time.

Less than 24 hours later, I received a call from Citibank, in which they advised me that the transfer was stopped, the transaction reversed and the money was safely back in my account. What an impressive, swift and decisive turn of events. Looking back at where we started, this was an unlikely, although highly welcome, conclusion. Evaluating the experience through the prism of my relationship with a brand, this was a case of delivering on a promise of safekeeping and being trustworthy.

I am not sure of the last time Citibank used the tagline: “The Citi never sleeps.” It really doesn’t matter, because as a consumer this is what I think they stand for. Importantly, when tested, this is what Citibank delivered. The drama of the test and its emotional resolution has amplified both the promise of the brand and my sentiment towards it. Citibank is certainly one brand that has earned my loyalty and advocacy. This is one brand that has been as good as its word.

By Kamal Dimachkie, Leo Burnett

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