Who'll Save Your Brand From Catastrophic Social Exposure?

We live in an age of empowered consumers and their buying journey starts online, not in a showroom; and it's informed by the opinions of others who have gone before them, not with marketing spin and the hyperbole of sales people. They listen to social channels and when they look online at your brand, what will they find?

There are thousands of examples out there of how consumers can create massivenegative impact on a brand without spending a cent. Just do a Google search on 'Uber' and you'll see the disruptive player in the the Taxi industry has some real issues. Here is a case study from personal experience... yes, I bought a Jeep.

I'm a wakeboarder and when I wanted to buy a new vehicle to tow our boat, there wasn't a lot to choose from that was rated to pull the weight of our rig. When I began my search online I quickly gravitated to the Jeep Grand Cherokee Limited but I had two concerns: product quality and handling in an emergency.

As I clicked, I quickly found an empowered Aussie consumer who created a way to get his money back on a lemon with 20 defects and 4 years of consumer hell. He created a Facebook page and got busy on Twitter raising money and awareness of big gaps in consumer rights under Australian legislation. He highlighted that consumers now have a powerful voice on social platforms. Mainstream media picked-up the story and the result was global coverage and worldwide brand damage that has cost Jeep millions of dollars in lost sales.

But all car makers produce lemons and this one consumer experience story was an exception, not the norm. Next I found the Jeep Moose Avoidance Test video on YouTube (main picture). American cars are typically made with softer suspension and the recommended tire pressures are designed for a comfortable 'floating' ride for a trip around the block at the dealership. I knew that running higher tire pressures would deal with the problem combined with my philosophy on never swerving to miss a kangaroo. There was lots of positivity about the vehicle and the Fiat diesel received brilliant reviews. I loved the look, features and compelling value for money. A friend already owned one which I borrowed for a test drive and I was sold. By the time I contacted a Jeep salesperson it was by phone to negotiate and I only walked into a dealership to sign the paperwork. Bought it, loved it.

But all this leads me to the real point of this story. Last year my son had his first car accident driving the Jeep when it was just 14 months old. No-one was hurt but he did $43k damage to our car and the insurance company did the normal things well in procesing the claim and taking the car away for assessment and then allocation to their chosen repairer. But the work was a disaster with the vehicle being handled by two different smash repairers. The communication and service was below standard but after more than 4 months we finally got the vehicle back but there were a number of things not working (I won't bore you with the list). I was frustrated and sent it back for rectification... more inconvenience. I then received a call from their loss assessor, Albert Wilson (pictured below) who shocked me by saying that he had identified more problems than I had listed, most importantly that the paint job was unacceptable... I had not complained about the paint.

Albert went on to say that he had organized for a free rental car this time around and that he didn't want our Jeep going back to us until it was right. I later discovered that Albert had once owned his own smash repair business, so he knew what 'acceptable' looked like. Wow, someone who cares and is thoroughly professional and capable, I thought. Albert works for AAMI (insurer) which is a wholly owned subsidiary of Suncorp (financial institution). These companies invest fortunes in brand building through television, radio, print and social advertising; yet without Albert and the people he trusted to do the job right (Ian MacKenzie the mechanic and Allan Alouf at ABS Smash Repairs), the insurance company was exposed to massive brand damage.

I've only gone negative in social once and it's was the results of decades of frustration... Microsoft hell contrasted by Apple heaven. It was nothing to do with technology and everything to do with poor customer service. Investing in legendary Customer eXperience (CX) is far more powerful than pouring money into a marketing facade. Imagine the brand damage to the insurance company if I'd gone negative in this instance with my Jeep (this post about Qantas has been read by 200,000 people) ... I was without the vehicle for 6 months but legendary CX was delivered by a grey haired artisan who truly cares about his employer and customers. Albert secured approval for a free loan vehicle and made sure the car was like new. This included working with Jeep dealers to get a number of things fixed under warranty which were not Albert's responsibility. When my Jeep was finally returned to me this week, it felt like I was again taking delivery of a new vehicle. Albert (below) turned a negative into a positive.

Think about that. I was without my Jeep for 6 months and couldn't tow my boat over summer on several planned vacations; two repairers, poor workmanship requiring   rectification, massive inconvenience and frustration. Yet I'm writing an unsolicited endorsement about wonderful service. I've also sent an e-mail of thanks to Albert's boss.

Here is the big lesson for those entrusted with a precious corporate brand: Deliver exceptional customer experience through outstanding service with empowered staff who truly care.

Create a culture and systems in your business where you provide a platform for customers, and rewards for staff, where people can become honest brand advocates. You don't need to provide perfect service, but you do need to show that you truly care when things go wrong and that you're committed to constant improvement.

Here's my recommended strategy for protecting and managing you brand with customer who are unhappy:

  1. Intercept issues before they turn caustic
  2. Listen via ALL [social] channels (Hootsuite and other tools are very useful in this regard)
  3. Make sure they know you really care. (70% of the time customer leave or go therm-nuclear negative, it's because they think you don't care rather than because there were problems
  4. Demonstrate genuine empathy
  5. Never argue with someone online or in the real world. If you argue with an an idiot it becomes difficult for observers to distinguish who is who. It doesn’t matter who’s right; what matters is that you have a happy customer
  6. Communicate, communicate, communicate
  7. Deliver on every small commitment

Jeep listened to their market and they fixed the roll-over weaknesses and the short video below shows the results. Kudos to the producers for their balance and objectivity throughout the Jeep Moose Avoidance Test journey!  They provided a valuable community service and although Jeep did not like it, they responded and now have an even better product.

If you ever go negative in social, make sure you never cross the line to become a troll. Here is a post I wrote about social media negativity and dealing with personal attacks. If Microsoft had bothered to contact me to improve my experience or their service, then I would have written positively about it.

Suncorp and AAMI: Thanks for standing by your insurance product and for employing great employees such as Albert Wilson! Now it's over to you... who are the heroes you've seen save a brand from social media damage?

If you valued this article, please hit the ‘like' and ‘share’ buttons below. This article was originally published in LinkedIn here where you can comment. Also follow the award winning LinkedIn blog here or visit Tony’s leadership blog at his keynote speaker website:

Main image photo by Flickr: Jeep Moose Avoidance Test by Teknikens Värld