8 Ways Brands Have Used Customer Service to Build Loyalty and Commercial Resilience in Times of Uncertainty
Customer service is a critical part of how a brand delivers to its customers to ensure a resilient, profitable business. It’s often a moment of truth in terms of how a brand lives up to its promise, purpose and ways of doing things underpinned by its brand values (or not, as the case may be). Uncertain times can also really put customer service to the test – but that is why it is even more important.
The truth is, we can all think of and talk negatively about brands through which we’ve experienced lousy, perhaps shockingly bad customer service. You may have been so frustrated by repeatedly poor customer service that you’ve dumped that brand and proactively moved your business elsewhere.
Here we’re sharing eight ways in which brands have unleashed the power of customer service to build loyalty in uncertainty.
Related: Top 10 Brands for Customer Experience and What You Can Learn From Them
In Uncertain Times, Excellent Customer Service Helps Your Brand Stand Out
When the daily world in which customers find themselves seems chaotic, a sense of certainty, security, and reliability becomes more important than ever. That is something we can all relate to from our own experiences. It reflects the pyramidical cascade of needs captured in the sociological concept “Maslow’s hierarchy of needs”.
To stand out amidst an uncertain set of circumstances, a brand doesn’t need to deliver amazingly sophisticated customer service. It can sometimes succeed with very simple, empathic customer service. The key point is to understand what people are looking for at such moments. That can include things such as reliability, constancy, human engagement, reassurance, and hope. Delivering such emotions through your brand can engage customers and improve your brand’s commercial results. 
Related: Use Psychology in Your Brand Strategy to Create Irresistible Brand Experiences and Increase Sales
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Strong Customer Service Promotes Brand Loyalty
Customer service is a bit like holidays: everyone raves when they experience a good one, yet it’s surprising how often it can still disappoint.
Even if you don’t see customer service as pivotal to your brand, there is no brand for which positive customer service doesn’t help improve brand perception. That’s why it is important for every brand owner. Customer service helps promote brand loyalty by articulating and creating a living experience of your value proposition in action, and helping customers articulate to themselves and others why they made a good choice in choosing your brand.
A case study is Admiral. The pandemic saw many insurers get into disputes with their customers, for example, about what was covered by policies and what wasn’t. In the U.K., the car insurer Admiral proactively rebated customers during a period of lower car usage, sending them £25 of vouchers. That is a simple but powerful example of how to improve brand loyalty. It is consistent with the Admiral brand’s emphasis on treating drivers based on their actual driving patterns, not just in the abstract.
Related: 10 Brands with Phenomenally Innovative Brand Stories That Attract and Retain Loyal Customers
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Your Brand Mission can be Powerfully Articulated through Your Customer Service
Leading powerhouse brands tend to have a brand mission or missions: essentially the what, why, and how for a brand. Brand mission stretches across much of what a brand does, including guiding its customer engagement and go-to-market activities and motivating people in their work.
Customer service is a subtle but helpful way in which your brand mission is brought to life. If you’ve got a clear, easily understood, impactful brand mission and design your customer service with that in mind, it will be clearly evident to your customers.
Related: How Your Brand Mission Enables You To Achieve Your Commercial Objectives
Customer Service Represents a Brand to its Customers
A core part of brand strategy is deciding what you want to stand for in your customers’ minds and hearts. That is delivered in different ways, but an important building block is customer service. For many brands, customer service may indeed be the only way customers draw their impressions of your brand. That is why getting customer service right is central to getting your brand strategy and implementation right.
That isn’t just about avoiding disappointing customer interactions, either. It is also about seeing each customer touchpoint as an opportunity to live up to your brand values, and subtly reminding your customers why they chose your brand in the first place.
“I really appreciate Lorraine’s energy and passion. Although good branding includes so many facets, Lorraine is able to simplify the process and make it so much more tangible for any company to put into practice.”
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Are you a business leader, manager, or entrepreneur who wants to re-evaluate or build your brand strategy, so you can optimise your customer service for the changing market to increase your sales? Are you curious about how to build or scale a highly successful, standout brand? Join one of our branding masterclasses because they empower you to build your brand, enhance customer experience, expand your market impact and create higher perceived value, so you can command a premium and achieve higher revenue.
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In Uncertain Times, Consistent Customer Service Fulfils Your Brand Promise
A brand promise is an important part of the bond a brand seeks to form with its target customers. But much of the time, a brand promise is not tested. This is why it is even more important that when it is tested and under pressure, the brand delivers. The fact that times are strange or uncertain is no excuse to fail to deliver on your brand promise. Indeed, it is exactly during such times that the ability to rely on a brand promise will likely matter even more to your target customers.
This is why customer service in such moments, like times of increased pressure and uncertainty, needs to be consistently good — or ideally great. Consistency here is not in the sense that the service level is unchanged, but in the sense that it matches your brand promise and how customers will understand it at that moment.
People will judge your brand – as well as competitive brands – on how well you keep your brand promises when it is difficult and perhaps costs you to do so, not on how well you keep them when it’s easy. That is why it is important to consider your brand promise carefully when you consider it, and establish the capabilities of your team internally to deliver on it before you communicate it to your customers. But it’s also helpful to follow the example of brands who have gone above and beyond to keep their brand promises, in uncertain times.
A case study is U.K. newspaper the Sunday Post. Its brand promise is built on helping readers get the information they need each week. When the pandemic came, the brand introduced a promotion whereby readers could download the newspaper for three months without paying for it.
This is an interesting example of how customer service can help deliver a brand promise and make good commercial sense. There was some uncertainty about physical newspaper distribution: this promotion allowed the brand promise to be kept even if normal physical distribution channels were disrupted.
Related: Want Your Customers to be Loyal, Super, Raving Fans? What’s Your Brand Promise?
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A Timely Customer Experience is Built Around Customer Service
Customer experience is a central part of how many modern brands communicate. It can be pivotal to a brand identity, as shown by tech brands like Amazon (as shown in this video below of founder Jeff Bezos talking about customer service) and Apple. A large part of the competitive advantage such tech brands enjoy is essentially the customer experience they consistently offer.
What makes for the optimal customer experience in normal times might not hit the mark during disruption. Whether it needs to be dialed up or scaled back, the fact is that there will still be a customer experience that perfectly matches the moment and brings the customer to a closer relationship with a brand.
Such customer experiences are built around customer service. Understanding what your customer wants or needs – perhaps better than they realise themselves – and weaving the right customer service into a customer experience that delivers it – will help to build your brand loyalty, without fail.
A B2B case study is provided by Unilever. During the pandemic, the consumer goods giant announced a range of initiatives to support customers, including extending credit to small retailers.
Related: How to Build a Brand Like Amazon: Technology Branding and Marketing
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Re-engaging Lapsed Customers Can be Easier Using Great Customer Service
Brands sometimes make mistakes or simply lose their competitive edge. In uncertain times when customers may be distracted and brand teams can be working overtime just to make basic things work right, it’s easy for customers to leave a brand.
But the factors which make such circumstances challenging also offer an opportunity. If a brand can deliver the right type of customer service at a time when its customers are distracted and competitors are also facing a tough environment, it can help to re-engage lapsed customers. Customer service is a tool at your disposal that can allow you to start fresh conversations with former customers who have left your brand.
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Brand Building Through Customer Service Can Cut, Not Add Costs
When we hear the phrase “customer service”, many people think of a service that is delivered by people who work for a brand. But the person who knows best what a customer wants is the customer themselves. Customer service can be self-service.
That is good for a brand’s profitability if it enables the brand to deliver customer service at the right level without it becoming a cost centre. However, that is not the same as cutting service levels and forcing unwilling customers to navigate options themselves. Self-service needs to offer customers some benefits, for example, time-saving, a higher sense of personalised control, or customisation.
In this way, the right kind of customer service can actually help to build a brand positively while reducing, not adding, costs. That is good for customers – and a brand’s bottom line.
A case study is sports retailer Decathlon. It ramped up online activity during the pandemic as customers switched to its online platforms when shops were closed. For example, it had fitness sessions led by brand ambassadors and revamped its after-sales website to enable customers to repair items at home.
Related: 6 Brand Culture Do’s and Don’ts for Attracting and Retaining Your Ideal Customers and Top Talent
Customer service is not a topic that excites many brand owners positively – but it should because of the opportunities it offers to grow your business and increase your profits.
Successful brands are obsessive about clarity around key principles such as brand purpose, brand mission, and their value proposition — and they see customer service as a critical tool that enables them to deliver these consistently to achieve their objectives, both commercial and altruistically.
Customer service isn’t seen in isolation, but rather it is woven through a holistic customer experience which helps move ideal target customers through your purchase cycle and beyond. Leading brands, small and large, have used customer service to build brand loyalty in uncertain times, so by applying the same principles, so can you.
Questions to Consider
- In your organisation, how are customer service delivery and brand ownership linked in terms of planning, execution, and review?
- How well does your customer service reflect your brand promise?
- Are there ways you could change your customer service to integrate your brand mission into it more clearly?
- Do your customers see your customer service as reinforcing or undermining your brand’s value proposition?
- Could you reshape elements of your brand’s customer experience to give your brand more pertinence and urgency in the minds and hearts of your target customers?
- Does your customer service from a brand experience, delivery, and process perspective need a brand audit, so you can identify opportunities for improvements?
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