We’ve all been there. You are the long-standing customer for an established brand or business. Over time, your loyalty was rewarded with better service and perhaps a discount or two. Because of this relationship, your expectations for a quality experience are high. And, when you are disappointed, the relationship suffers. Before you know it, you’ve moved on to a competitor. The culprit? Bad planning and poor execution. The challenge with losing long-term customers is not only does your bottom-line feel the impact immediately, but you also lose out on future sales. This may be the most damaging aspect. For example, Case Western Reserve professor Scott Shane recently wrote of his experience with Brooks Brothers: “Ever since my father took me to Brooks Brothers on Madison Avenue in Manhattan to get my first suit at age 10, I have been a loyal customer. Over the years, I have probably spent $200,000 on clothes from the company. That several decades-long period of spending ended last week because of my inability to get a hold of senior managers at the company to complain about a bad promotional strategy.” Shane describes how, when buying a suit, he asked the salesperson if there were any promotions. “No,” the salesman told [Shane], “there were no discounts on the horizon.” Just before he was to pick up the suit, however, Shane received a discount coupon in the mail for 40 percent off any single item; in this case, a $500 savings on the suit he just purchased. When he mentioned the coupon, the salesman balked and then consulted with management. Days passed, and Shane heard nothing from the salesman. He contacted the Brooks Brothers corporate office via email, but heard nothing back. His conclusion? “The end result of all this is I have vowed to buy all my clothes at independent small businesses from now on. Small businesses simply can’t survive if they do what Brooks Brothers did.” What was now a regular Brooks Brothers customer has become a potential windfall for a small competitive clothier. Why? This is an example of how all elements of a marketing program have to be in sync with customer service. The salesperson should have been aware of promotional coupons and mailings that may be in play, as well as how to apply them to an order. The corporate office should have an obvious and customer-friendly way to respond to this situation. This is especially true for a business like Brooks Brothers, which relies on personal service, on traditions and on reputation to justify a premium market position. One breakdown in this chain can send customers quickly looking for other options.
Gary Pageau is principal of InfoCircle LLC, a marketing communications company based in Michigan, serving local and national clients.