Experience Integrity

Some time back, a news channel carried a report on data privacy weaknesses. The news report pertained to a female news reporter’s personal records, from two different service providers, being made available to just about anyone who could pay. The report then went on to describe how easy it is to obtain bank records and indeed anything! The ease with which this information could be sourced worries me as an individual and also as a professional who works in the area of brand essence. While the company may not be to blame as most of them work through partners and several critical processes are outsourced, my first thought was what does a company do to protect the privacy of its customers? While I would say that most companies have privacy policies in place, i dont think they are enforced or even enforceable given the state of processes on the same. So the forms, documents and web transactions – all the information that a company asks a customer to fill is essentially available for misappropriation. This may be available from either within the company or its partners. A single incident of information misuse can have potentially catastrophic consequences for the customer. Does anyone care ?Other than the financial consequences of potential litigation, there is negative long term impact on the brand. In today’s competitive scenario, a customer is likely to not give the company a chance to redeem themselves. The impact of lost sales through friends and family is huge. More importantly the news travels. How is a brand going to recover the lost sheen. I think before a company – bank, financial institution, hardware/ software vendors – seeks to talk about building relationships and trust, it needs to demonstrate to its customers that it is a company that has integrity. It is tough but the only standard to follow. It should be followed not because it is nice to say in corporate boardrooms but because there is an inherent belief in it. Integrity is demonstrated at each interaction and touchpoint. It gets reiterated in our promises, communication collateral, behaviour of staff and partners towards customers and them some more in our processes for service recovery, managing information, relationships with partners.
A customer recently placed an order for a notebook computer. Before the order was placed the sales person commited to a timeline and a cost in the proposal . The order was confirmed to this sales person who promises to come in the next day and take the purchase order. The next day, however, he informs the customer that the prices have changed as their principals have changed pricing. It was a shock but it was observed by the customer. He gives a new purchase order but then gets a call three days later stating that the same cannot be delivered for one additional month. This when the timeline given and confirmed after supposedly checking inventory was three days. The customer was then supposed to understand. It didnt end there. They mounted a “service recovery” operation wherein the customer was asked to pay a still higher amount and supposed to confirm this by an sms. By this time the customer had completely lost faith in the vendor and requested for the specifications. To his horror he realised he was being given a machine that had reached end of life status internally and was a lower specification machine than the one ordered. Having lost all patience, the customer sends a communication requesting for the direct intervention of the ceo of the parent company. Needless to say there is some intervention and the customer gets the machine he had ordered. This story doesnt end here. The vendor makes the customer feel that it was unfair of the customer to have not understood the “situation”. The brand in question is a very high end brand of notebook computers. It could have been treated, by the customer, as a one off bad moment. The reality was that this particular vendor was the better of three or four vendors!!!. The customer had concerns on the pricing, service and to top it all one of the vendors even suggested that the customer neednt buy any software as pirated software worked just as well!!!. This was the case when the customer hadn’t even been interested in such shady deals. The entire sequence of customer interaction needs to be looked at by the big brand company and broadly they can be classified as :
1. Selection of vendors – Vendors should be selected on the basis of their vision of integrity and commitment to customers. Increasing business through false promises is not a good method.
2. There should be checks and measures in the internal processes and technology to ensure promises are made and kept.
3. All communication to the customer is transparent and without giving the feeling that there is a catch. This refers to brand communicatiom, offers and service descriptions.
4. Service recovery, if required, is transparent and quick. The customer should never be allowed to be unresolved.
5. Customer information is vital and precious. This has to be adequately protected. A customer should clearly know about the partners with which information is likely to be shared for special offers.
6. When third party process providers handle key business tasks they need to be properly audited at period levels. This should be in addition to regular reports on data usage. While a lot of companies have these processes it is important that regular monitoring is strictly enforced .
On a related note, recently while discussing with the CEO of a very large retailing brand we came across a core issue that affects all companies and yet nothing much has been done on this issue. It is the issue of the woman customer who transacts with the brand. The CEO highlighted that there core customers were women who transacted in large amounts for their families and yet the members of the loyalty programme were all men! It is not surprising to know this. After all no woman would like to share her contact details etc simply because the fear that it will be misused is very high. Most of which i believe to be very real. It did get highlighted yet again in the example of the lady reporter. What steps should a brand take to ensure a secure, private and engaging experience for its lady customers. What is the measure of the integrity experience for a lady customer?

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