It’s the putting right that counts

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Anyone exposed to local advertising in Wellington a few years back is probably familiar with the line “It’s the putting right that counts”, made famous in the capital by electronics retailer L V Martin and Son.

An odd position to take, I first thought, when I came across it 20 years ago. Admitting you could be wrong as a marketing claim initially seemed like a negative but, of course, in the context of their company, it’s was a real positive. Not selling their own brands, the family business was taking responsibility for the quality of the products it sold, championing the rights of their customers.

As a marketing strategy, it worked on us at the time. Fresh from London and unfamiliar with many of the brands, the reassurance that we’d be okay if anything went wrong gave the promise real value.

What’s the line – “to err is human”? Very true. In a service industry, managing customers’ expectations and the impact of getting things wrong can be a different kettle of fish.

Miss 18 had a less than favourable experience with a hair salon recently. Fortunately for us, she’d always been frugal around ball season but, for her last hurrah, she decided on a bold hair colour.

The colour was badly done and faded quickly. To their credit, the salon agreed to “put it right” when we questioned the quality, but the colour disappeared again as she washed hundreds of dollars down the drain. I messaged my disappointment (terribly politely!) via Messenger – not on a public platform, because my pet hate in the modern world is when people rant on social media without having raised their issue directly first.

The message wasn’t read for days, so we booked a fix-up appointment elsewhere. (Obvious tip – if you’re going to bother having a social media presence, be present.) When we did get to talk it through, their response was neither good nor bad. They were defensive at first, then overly technical and, on the whole, well, just a bit ‘meh’.

The key difference with the second salon was the clarity of the explanation, especially to a young customer. They understood their audience and managed expectations well. So often, we go to specialists for a service because we’re not experts ourselves. We don’t understand the language and don’t have the technical knowledge. 

The original salon implied, intentionally or not, that it was our responsibility to challenge what wasn’t clearly understood. But was it equally their responsibility to make sure their communication did the job?

“The potential damage to your brand by not bringing your customers along with you can be significant, especially if there are plenty of other providers for your customers to choose from.”

In the marketing agency game, having a client look at their ad, video or brochure and say “I didn’t realise it was going to look like that in the end” is a bit of a fail. It’s great if it looks better than they expected, of course! But even then, the fact that you weren’t all on the same page could be a concern in terms of managing expectations between client and agency in the long-term.

How many of you choose a store or a service provider based not purely on price but because of the experience?

If the assistant in the first store shows good knowledge and explains the product well, would you pay that little bit more to buy it from that retailer over the second store where the assistant couldn’t explain his way out a paper bag?

It probably depends on the dollar value but, in most cases, I imagine it would indeed be a factor. And when you want to buy another similar product, the first store has put themselves top of your list.

The days of businesses being able to have the attitude of “if you don’t like it, go somewhere else” must be fading fast. It feels like a horribly ’80s concept that a brand could, when business is sufficiently buoyant, afford to relax on customer care.

Now, business value propositions are overloaded with promises of “putting the customer first”. They shouldn’t be. It should be a given, deeply inherent not a bullet point and the brand guide.

The cynic in me says that some companies feel the need to remind themselves to always be customer-focused out of fear. Fear of the speed with which negative feedback can grow from spark to wildfire that can burn a brand’s reputation within days.

Yes, brands care more about what people think now customers can broadcast their unhappiness through social media before they’ve had a chance to put things right. But great brands care if one person is unhappy and tells no one.

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About Author

Vicki Jones

Vicki Jones is director of Dugmore Jones, Hamilton-based marketing management consultancy. Email vicki@dugmorejones.co.nz