Well before the social media age, we all learned that trust and reputation are important currencies in this thing called life.  That's why our parents, professors and parish priests have taught us to be honest and honour our promises.  And most of us try and do just that.  It doesn't always work like we want, but largely we get by.  Or if things go wrong, we apologise and try to make amends.

As a company, this is a bit more difficult. Not in the least because the promises are typically made in one part of the business (marketing), while the actual delivery against them happens somewhere else (in production, logistics, service, sales, ...).  Along the way, just like in the best of families, things are bound to go wrong.  The question then becomes how do you deal with that?  Because, just like in real life, the brand trust you have taken years to build, can evaporate overnight.

A little case of how HP printers lost my trust

An example of this happened just the other week.  I won't bore you with the frustrated customer details, but HP seems to be unable to provide any of its dealers in the viscinity of Belgium with a particular printer drum cartridge for at least another month (starting already weeks ago).  Without the drum I can't print, hence no printed invoices, no customer presentations, no recipes for creme brulée.

Not delivering on what I understood to be the promise of a printing company (i.e. we ensure you can print) was bad enough.  But things got worse when the HP small business help-desk sent me around to various dealers after which it transpired that the service agent full well knew they didn't have inventory (to which he just mumbled an apology).  In addition, it became clear that he actually knew more about the situation than his dealers yet had elected not to tell me at first.  I think you can understand my frame of mind.

But what if it had been done differently?

Now some may say this is about "one guy living in call-centre hell" and "one type of drum cartridge" in a world of HP people and products which generally get it right.  That's probably true, and either way I can't judge, because I don't have all the data.  But I can't help wondering what would have happened if HP had pro-actively developed a broken promise plan.  What if:

    * on my very first visit to Staples, HP had already informed them of the difficulties and offered me to buy a temporary small printer to tie me over (note: a drum costs € 164 +21% VAT which is the price of a small printer). 

    * HP had pro-actively gotten in touch with me to inform me of the delivery issues and offer alternatives or at least information clarity (as a registered user they have my email address and know the type of printer I own).

    * the call center person had immediately come clean to me on the phone, rather than give me the run around. This would have challenged the tyranny of the get rid of complainers quickly metric (aka. first call resolution), but it would also create room for real conversation.

    * set up a mini-website to explain the situation to the people affected by this (and from the empty shelves in store, it's not just my drum that went AWOL).

I might still have been annoyed for a moment, but probably would be thinking well, in the end they took care of me ... s*** happens.  I might even have bought an extra printer which my son could play with after mine was sorted out.

Food for thought

The morale of the story is that broken promises happen in every relationship, but if they are dealt with in the right way they can be an opportunity to strengthen the bond with your brand. 

As marketers are typically the promise makers of the company, I believe they should also look at the ways the business deals with promises that are broken, and pro-actively establish systems that kick in, if not everything goes to plan.  

Oh yes, and I am switching back to Dell.

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