If Brand Experience and Brand Promise are not aligned, you are instantly exposed in today’s marketplace.
I can’t emphasize this strongly or frequently enough with our clients.
Too often, the activity of creating an identity — and the promise of the Brand sits squarely at the center — spins off into its own orbit. The conversation loses accountability to the actual experience of the business.
All it takes is one conflicting experience to put the consumer off your brand.
I had such an experience with AmeriGas, the largest provider of propane in the US.
We ran out of propane in our new house. We clearly weren’t on an automatic delivery cycle. The consequence: no stovetop, oven, hot water or clothes dryer. When I called the regional AmeriGas office, I was offered the option to leave a voice mail or call a national emergency number. I left a message at around 4 in the afternoon. When I hadn’t heard in an hour or so, I called the national number. They took a message and told me I would hear back in the morning. By 10am the next morning, I hadn’t heard about a delivery, so I left a couple more messages on the regional office line. At the end of the day, I called the AmeriGas national line again and asked one question.
“How long should I expect to get a return phone call from the regional office?”
“Within three business days,” the representative told me.
Right there, my relationship with the AmeriGas brand took a big blow.
The representative was informed, cordial and helpful. In fact, when I told her that that was too long to wait, and that I would look to another source for propane in my area, she got the regional office on the phone and scheduled a new delivery.
Any assessment of the customer experience would log this interaction as being satisfactorily resolved and handled effectively.
But when you ask whether the AmeriGas brand promise aligns with my experience, you identify a big gap.
Americas: Reliable, Safe, Responsive.
In today’s economy, a three-day turnaround time to return a call is not even close to responsive. While AmeriGas has a web infrastructure that allows for direct contact — although with nameless individuals — the only information available to a customer about the most important relationship, his local office, is the address and phone number.
The concept of Responsiveness is expounded on as AmeriGas tells its story. They present themselves as having a focus on “friendliness and personal attention.”
With AmeriGas, you get more than just a propane supplier – you get a propane expert and partner. Since 1959, our mission continues to provide you with the most reliable, safest, and responsive propane service in the nation. Over 2 million customers just like you use AmeriGas propane services in all 50 states. That has made AmeriGas the largest marketer of propane. We use the size of our organization to your advantage every day, retaining our focus on friendliness and personal attention found only in a “corner store”. Today, that attention to your needs continues as AmeriGas is the only major propane company offering you easy access to online payments and account management.
You can count on AmeriGas propane for a variety of uses, including home heating, space heating, water heating, pool and spa heating, drying, cooking, grilling and motor fuel. Learn more about propane, the safe fuel. We value our current customers and look forward to serving everyone’s personal or business needs.
AmeriGas is publicly held as AmeriGas Partners, L.P. (APU) on the NY Stock Exchange.
When we assess our overall brand identity and our strategies around telling the story in order to attract and retain customers, we have to be disciplined about determining whether our processes and priorities align with the promise we make and the experience we deliver.
It matters for every single company today because every consumer has the tools to search, compare and change.
Virtually no customer relationship has switching costs that are so extreme that they can overcome the disruption of a brand that is not aligned with actual experience.
For AmeriGas, promising friendly responsiveness and having a scripted statement of “expect a return call within three business days” creates a ruinous brand trap.
This could be avoided by either changing the emphasis in the promise or changing the policy.
AmeriGas can communicate that its customers get the benefits of scale in terms of price, knowledge, resources and experience, but not promise immediate responsiveness. Or it can change its internal expectations to make returning customer calls a priority.
AmeriGas did a satisfactory job resolving my customer issue. That’s not the issue. My relationship with its Brand has been damaged. That is the real issue.