Oh dear, I wonder if I’ve just discovered the fatal flaw in my thinking

Actually, I think I may have had a bit of a road-to-Damascus moment – but in an entirely bad way, as any experience involving roads going anywhere near Damascus tends to be at the moment.

Exhibit A:  the universally-held belief held by people in my kind of line of work that brands in service industries like financial services are overwhelmingly experiential, and so are built in people’s minds out of the sum total of their experiences of the brand in question.

Exhibit B:  my own empirical observation, that while some financial services businesses provide good service, some are mediocre and many are terrible, hardly any provide a kind of service which could in any way be described as distinctive or specific to what their brand is supposed to stand for.  (There are a few exceptions to this, but not many.)

Exhibit C:  the observation by my old friend Christopher Brooks, agency man now turned customer experience consultant, at a Financial Services Forum event on this subject yesterday, that in his experience when FS businesses are working on aspects of their customers’ experience, “invariably brand simply isn’t at the table.”

Hmm.  Taken together, these exhibits are distinctly alarming.  At worst, they suggest that no-one important on the client side has ever bought a single word of what I’ve been saying for the last god-knows-how-many-years:  they simply don’t seem to accept that designing customers’ experiences in a brand-minded way is worth the bother.

Why is this?  Is it because they don’t accept that service-sector brands are indeed very largely experiential?  Is it because they just don’t care about their brands and can’t be bothered to build them?  Or is there a third reason which makes me feel a bit less miserable?

I think there might be. Imagine if you will a four-box grid about service quality, with the south/north axis going from “Bad” to “Good” and the west-east axis going from “Generic” to “Distinctive.”  My proposition – much confirmed, I must say, by the discussion at yesterday’s event – is that at most organisations, most of the time, the overwhelming priority seems to be to move up the bad/good axis, ironing out some of the truly abysmal service failings that are still endemic in our industry.

For as long as that’s the case, no-one is much worried about moving positively along the west/east dimension, building experiences which are distinctive, hard to copy and specifically designed to build the intended brand perceptions.  In short, when your inbound calls are waiting an hour or more to be answered, no-one’s too bothered about the tone of voice of the poor sod who eventually picks up the phone to another infuriated customer.

I get that – it makes perfect sense.  But, in my brand-centric terms, it’s still not ideal.  My preference – in heading towards that top-right box where we all want to be in four-box grids – would always be to move diagonally upwards.  Yes, move from bad to good by all means.  But, at the same time, move from generic to distinctive too.  In my book, brand considerations are always part of the agenda, even when you are dealing with abysmal service failures in urgent need of improvement.

It looks, though, as if those currently responsible aren’t seeing it that way, and this discovery gives me a useful sense of a focus – or a proposition – for my customer-experience-oriented activities.

And at the same time it gives me a nice clear objective for my lobbying on the subject – trying to find a place for that chair marked Brand at that Customer Experience table.

3 thoughts on “Oh dear, I wonder if I’ve just discovered the fatal flaw in my thinking

  1. These financial service providers should take a leaf out of BMW’s brochure. I was drawn by an internet ad the other day to find out more about the new BMW 7 Series. You could even opt to receive a paper copy, so I did.

    I was then rung three times by a Canary Wharf dealership. The third time, I took the call from my secretary even though I was in the bath. I regaled the chap about my time working on BMW-dealership marketing materials in the late 1980s at a bright, crisp design agency attached to WCRS, mantra: “Lots of white space, Simon, don’t write anything.”

    I told him about my tiny press ad on the Londoner’s Diary page of the “Evening Standard” for a new dealership in Bow, East London. Their name was Hunters, so the headline was:


    If you hanker after the prerequisite new “H” registration, the copy sauntered on, make an appointment with one of our advisors in the new loadsamoney East End.

    “Couldn’t do that now with all this brand ‘elf and safety,” I belaboured the lad in the Wharf with. I was tempted to use the phone’s film facility to shoot a certain part of my anatomy and say, “‘E’s got a few stories, I can ter tell!” but by this time the salesman had guessed that I was not in the market for BMW 7 Series, “Too long for the street,” I had told him. About the car.

    But the close attention of BMW to their prospect was as precision-engineered as ever and I congratulated him on this.

    They are true to their word.

  2. That’s very good about ‘ankering for the H reg. 1991, I think that would make it – an ugly economic climate, and a time when superior creativity would have been necessary to sell any 7-series.

  3. Maybe, but I had a company 318i in Charcoal Grey metallic and proudly stood 4 feet tall grinning like that Hamster bloke from “Top Gear”. Come to think of it, the tax I paid on it could have bought Bavaria.

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