You Can't Be Half-Pregnant

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When it comes to Social Media, Customer Service and Marketing, you have to do it right, and it has to be done as a fully committed core business value.

Here’s a true scenario (with the names protected to spare the guilty): With two offices, over 100 employees and my personal rigorous travel schedule, you can well imagine what Twist Image spends annually on things like flight and hotels. We’ve also spent a fair amount of time creating relationships where we have corporate rates with a handful of brands that we respect and like giving our business to. A business meeting popped-up that required me to be in one of the cities that I regularly visit. When I called the hotel, I was told that they were sold-out. They asked if I might be interested in another one of their hotels nearby.

That’s when the wheels came off.

They made two recommendations, and when I asked if that was their corporate rate, I was told that even though these hotels fall under the same brand banner, that I would have to negotiate a corporate rate with each of the other hotels, individually. Consumers don’t think like that. Why can’t a corporate rate at one hotel be extended to another one under the same corporate umbrella (they’re quick to share a whole bunch of other cost-saving stuff on the backend)? On top of that, why wouldn’t the person making the reservation put me on hold, call the other hotels and let them know that they can’t accommodate a very frequent guest and would that hotel be able to work something out for the sake of the brand and the relationship?

People don’t see beyond their jobs enough.

The brands that win at great customer service and great Marketing tend to be the ones that can see the predicament not as a flow chart of answers to questions, but rather with a human perspective and desire to not only resolve a situation but make the consumer feel like their business is wanted and important to them. We’re frequently reminded by how backwards Marketers engage in the job of customer service. The people paid the least are usually the ones we put on the front lines to engage and (hopefully) figure out a solution. Helping consumers get what they want (and, in turn, giving brands their money) has become a commodity.

Nobody wants to feel like a commodity.

Marketing needs to remember that Customer Service is the key to real marketing. Bad customer service is going to ruin your business even if you have the best and most innovative product. The only way to overcome that hurdle is to really think long and hard about what you want consumers saying about you in the marketplace, because not only can they share their stories in text, images, audio and video, but they are… everywhere (Blogs, recommendation sites, Twitter, Facebook, YouTube, etc…).

There aren’t many brands who really live by this edict, and most brands fail to realize that all of the Facebook pages and followers on Twitter in the world still won’t change that terrible interaction from taking place and from the brand, ultimately, becoming a total failure.


  1. Mitch, you’re 100% correct! I used to work for a Hilton hotel a couple of years ago, and each hotel does negotiate their own corporate rates. But, depending on the brand, they sometimes do develop brand-wide rates on a corporate level.
    Addressing the issue about thinking outside of your job, so many of these lower-level employees just don’t care. They will do their best to get you what you need inside of their own hotel but they won’t try to help you out for the sake of the larger image.
    It is something large enterprises need to start considering in an age of constant communication and transparency.
    Hotels normally fall under a franchise, and it’s up to the franchisee to make many of the local marketing and sales decisions. Consider finding the owner information and contacting their regional sales!

  2. I’ve always considered front-line customer service to be about money, empowerment and respect. You can’t force people to be something they’re not when management doesn’t follow through by modeling behaviors. Look at the whole Cold Stone Creamery thing, where the employees were supposed to sing and dance when you threw a tip in the bucket. I’ll bet none of the store managers or higher ups ever danced for a buck. Pay people badly, tell them to do as I say, not as I do, and you get people who simply don’t care. At that level, the message from the brand doesn’t matter as much as the message in the store. It’s easier to ignore the behavior than correct the larger issues.

  3. This isn’t restricted to social media. Looking after your customers and making the user experience the best it can be every time is simple smart business practice for any company, online or offline.

  4. Excellent Title, and great post today.
    I gravitated towards the third point: People don’t see beyond their jobs enough. This is such a critical part of corporate Canada, or the world, and so many businesses are letting the ball drop.
    Businesses need to have buy-in at every level, and as many of the comments above have mentioned, with managers not showing this – It’s even harder for a 16 years old to. However, we are all masters of our own selves. (Thinking of the book Linchpin) what if that front line worker at the Hotel had gone above what was expected. He/She calls the other hotel, and get you a room for the same rate if not better because of the trouble. You may have written a post about that, or contacted her boss. Better yet, being so overwhelmed, you may have gone out of your way while in town, and thanked her in person.
    Taking much inspiration from my life, and people like yourself – I have stared a podcast program around this very topic – I would be thrilled (but not expected) if you check it out Mitch.

  5. You haven’t made the connection here between customer service and business presentations so I will–nobody wants to feel like a commodity also means that audiences: 1) don’t want to be given the corporate overview; 2) have someone deliver a prepackaged presentation that’s been approved by Marketing; and 3) never once hear the speaker talk about the issues that are important to that audience.
    The rationale for all these audience-unfriendly behaviors is always about “us” the speaker’s company and never about the audience. Get over how important you are and start acting as if the audience is the most important part of the speaking/presenting equation–because the audience is.

  6. I was (re) reading Roy H William this morning (Secret Formulas of the Wizard of Ads) and in it he quotes Gary Wortman ” When you meet the right person, hire him. Don’t worry if you have a position available… Always make room for a good employee”. This is so true. The right employee can make or break your business.
    One of my friend’s wife used to be a hotel manager. When she was booked and could not accomodate a regular customer, she would actually book a room (equal or better) at another hotel nearby for him or her and pay for a taxi to get them there. If the room was more expensive than her’s, she would pay the difference. Needless to say that her regular customers kept coming back time and again. That’s the power of great customer service!

  7. Mitch I’m confused. Why not share the company who provided this service? How can we truly make this connected world work if we don’t share the good and the bad of customer service? Do you think companies will change if they don’t receive exposure? I find it interesting in society that the highest paid jobs are the furthest away from the community. Times have changed i.e. TV shows have changed where CEO’s dress as entry level people. Why? CXX have lost perspective in this ever changing world about their perception and brand and until executives get into the weeds they will miss many opportunities of all the new revenue streams before us.
    All we ask is CXX LISTEN! We will share what we want! SIMPLE!

  8. I, too, was curious about what led to the decision to not name names here, when you do name names and endorse the Eagle 22 travel luggage in another post?
    It’s a question we all grapple with in social media, or at least I do. It’s my personal preference to praise in public, scold in private. I will complain directly to a company or to others in private, but generally not vent in comments on websites/social media. Who wants to have ‘jerk’ as a quality of their personal brand. Maybe it’s Canadian, eh?
    From a personal brand building perspective, how do you see these decision – when/what to vent about, when/what to praise, and the impact on your personal brand?
    As a brand coach, I have encountered individuals who lived to regret their rants on Amazon or other sites where that negative digital footprint has hurt their personal brand, when those rants pop up on google searches, just as they’re looking to climb the next rung on the corporate ladder.
    We are entitled to our perspectives and sharing them – and – it’s best to do so with emotional intelligence. And even though our posts/comments are fleeting in the world of social media, it can take effort to surface more positive (and authentic!) digital presence when the raving lunatic rants are surfacing in search, and negatively reflect on our personal brand.
    What are your thoughts?

  9. At the risk of ‘over-dialogue’, your post also points out the need for brand leadership throughout organizations. Brand is a constant co-creation between the company and the customer. And given the new ‘word of mouth’ media, that’s true now more than ever.
    The hotel situation you encountered is no doubt partly an issue of corporate structure and polices, as well as front-line staff recruitment and compensation, all being out of step with the brand. What needs to change is to see that the brand is more than the ad campaign or business contracts. The brand is truly being co-created moment by moment.
    So align the business structures, policies and recruitment with the brand. Fix the front line experience. None of which is easy, and does take a top-down commitment to change – AND – also requires a completely new way of engaging the front-line, with compensation, empowerment and genuine connection with the Brand. Perhaps some brand coaching.

  10. Valid point but 2 things.
    If people are sharing this info everyone why didn’t you. I’m asking because this is always a question for myself and I wanted to know your reason.
    Also you mention that there are few companies who do this well. Can you please send me some names (preferably online companies). I’m really trying to learn from others since I need it for my company

  11. I agree with Tony. Stop blaming the underpaid, underappreciated and poorly managed employee.
    Mitch, you yourself said it in your post: the most underpaid employees are the ones doing the most important work of serving the customer.
    The CEO of this company probably makes millions a year, and has no idea what a customer looks or feels like. And has created a situation where these kind of customer misses happen everyday.
    And yet, the CEO will still get his/her bonus.
    There is most definitely something wrong here. And blaming the employee is just too short-sighted.

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