Six Pixels of Separation - The Blog
January 5, 2012 2:17 PM

Scenes From The Frontlines

A post Christmas story that is worthy of your attention...

I was in the market for luggage. Not the usual business travel, but a luggage set for the family. We decided that we were looking to invest to get something of quality. I went over to the store the day after Boxing Day to see if there was anything left and/or anything on special. I found what I was looking for (sort of). It was a little pricier than what I was looking to buy, but it seemed worth it. Here is a paraphrase of the conversation that took place...

  • Me: Is this on special?
  • Sales Rep: No.
  • Me: Do you have any Boxing Day specials happening?
  • Sales Rep: Boxing Day was yesterday.
  • Me: Did you have any sales?
  • Sales Rep: Everything in the store was 20% off.
  • Me: Is there any chance I can buy this bag with that same offer?
  • Sales Rep: No.
  • Me: What if I wanted to buy two bags, could you do something for me?
  • Sales Rep: I can't make that decision, you would have to speak to the owner.
  • Me: OK, can I please speak to the owner?
  • Sales Rep: No. The owner is on vacation and even the manager won't have the authority to make that decision. Plus, even if you did speak to the owner, he would still say, "no."
  • Me: OK... let me think about it
  • [exit stage left].

This isn't about me being cheap.

I like a great deal as much as the next person. The thing is that this business has a Facebook page, they're on Twitter and they're constantly putting up videos on YouTube. On the surface, it appears like they care... really, really care about travel and their consumers. I'm not frustrated that I walked out of this store without the luggage or a deal. I am frustrated because the interaction with the employee was not helpful. There was no effort to show me a similar product that may have been cheaper or even a thinly veiled attempt to speak to a manager (the sale might have happened had they come back and said something like, "while I can't make you the same offer as we had on Boxing Day, we're willing to save you on the taxes," or something). In fact, the sales rep simply didn't care one way or the other.

Our efforts fail when the frontline fails.

I can only imagine the time, energy and money that this business has put into their Digital Marketing and Social Media efforts. This doesn't include the traditional advertising and PR efforts and then - in the end - when a potential customer makes it through all of the clutter, noise and competition and walks into the door, they're faced with this type of sour puss. That's not the brand. That's not the desired outcome of the efforts that they're making in marketing. It's a lesson that speaks to the fragility of marketing as it moves through the brand ecosystem.

This happens all of the time. This happens everywhere.

My story is not unique. Just look at the customer service diatribes you can see on Twitter, Facebook, Yelp and beyond. In more cases than not, it's the human factor that is causing the most friction. From passive/aggressive responses to mis-informed/uneducated reps to those that are downright rude to customers (mostly because they're simply not all that thrilled with their own lots in life). Those people on the frontlines aren't your last line of brand defense... they're the first. If they don't buy into the brand (and everything that it's doing to get customers into the door), everything else is lost. We can talk about community managers and a better Facebook or Twitter presence as much as we want, but when the cash is in hand and the people who interact with the consumer don't align with everything else, you may as well go back to having minimum wage employees prowl the streets wearing sandwichboards.

The frontlines shouldn't be this ugly... they should look a lot more like the promised land. 

By Mitch Joel