Corporate Messaging & the Growing Loss of Credibility

Or, perhaps I should have titled this blog post – how too many organizations seem to believe their customer’s experience does not have to match their corporate messaging.

(Ed note: Warning: The following is a long post. But, anything dealing with showcasing the truth – or lack thereof – deserves some space.)

There are four enterprises whose messaging I have paid strict attention to recently – a bank, an online general merchant, a satellite TV company, and a major airline. These four organizations are the epitome of where business storytelling and messaging is succeeding – and where it is failing.

They are: Zappos, DirecTV, Wells Fargo, and Delta Airlines.

For more than a decade I have been applying some methodology to the magic of storytelling and messaging for clients. A bit of a formula exists. To be powerful, stories and messages have to be compelling, truthful and differentiating.

For years, I found the hardest part for organizations was trying to differentiate themselves from competitors.  In short, they weren’t very good at making themselves sound unique.

Today, we have another problem. And, it is the worst kind. We are steeped in a business world that is struggling with the truth.

As illustration, let’s pick on the bank. It was my last foray with Wells Fargo that I finally realized too many enterprises today are struggling with the truth in their messaging.

For instance, two days before Thanksgiving, as I was sitting under a Wells Fargo poster at my bank manager’s desk that read “With you when you want a head start on next year’s goals” I couldn’t help but ask why it was going to cost me $35 to get $51 wire transferred to Sweden. Or why it costs $16 every time a client wire transfers a payment to me. After all, they seemed to  have a lot of posters around that carried the “with you” theme. Their answer? “That’s just the way it is and we can’t do
anything about it
.” So much for the “being with me” advertising theme being more than a vacant slogan.

It made me wonder how much money they spent on posters, signs, copy and messaging, especially in light of the recent merger with Wachovia. Then, I noticed another interesting sign Wells Fargo seemed particularly proud of given the sheer size of it:  “We have one very powerful business rule. It is concentrated in one word: courtesy.” Hmmm. The definition of courtesy goes beyond just “being nice.” It means giving respect and consideration.  You know, like “being with me?”

Compare this to Zappos.com, an online retailer that started out as the Amazon.com for shoes. Now you can purchase clothing, jewelry, eyeware, household items and more.

Their tag line is “Powered By Service.” This is no empty slogan, as demonstrated by an order I made one night at 10:30 p.m. They wrote it would take a few days to receive the order. However, it arrived, via UPS, at 10 a.m. the next day. They also included instructions on how to return it – for any reason. Oh, and the shipping was free (both ways), and I had up to a year to return the item if needed. A year!? Unheard of. I would not expect this kind of service if they didn’t promise it. But, they do promise it in their messaging and they deliver.

Then, there was messaging I encountered on my business trip a few weeks ago. I was flying Delta Airlines between Richmond, Virginia, through Atlanta, to Louisville, Kentucky. As anyone who travels a lot, via air, will tell you, it takes all day to get  from point A to point B, even if it is only a state or two away. It also too often includes delays, security harassments, and bewildering rules. During this particular trip, as I found my way down a crowded jetway to get on the flight that was three hours delayed due to aircraft mechanical trouble, I had time to read the Delta posters.

It read, “We’re not just building a bigger airline, we’re building a better one.”  I had seen their commercials with this messaging over the last year. But, it didn’t really hit me until I was truly annoyed. After all, I am hours delayed. But, they were admitting they hadn’t figured it all out yet. And, you know what? It works. Their tag line, “Keep Climbing,” basically says they are trying and have a ways to go.

The next day I found an apology e-mail in my in-box because as they wrote, “someone in this industry still has the passenger’s back.” A day later they sent me a survey. Yes, the emails were both forms. But, they were actions of an enterprise at least trying. Another of their messages states “the next time an airline asks for your business, ask them first what they’ve done to deserve it,” and you know I just might do that.

Delta’s messaging and my experience with them is in stark contrast to my fourth example. Sorry, DirecTV, but you get an “F” in powerful storytelling and messaging. Despite their messaging that states “don’t just watch TV, DirecTV,” and “experience TV like never before,” if you can’t access the signal, get someone to show up, or get answers quickly and succinctly, no one is
directing anything.

Over the last three weeks, as my husband and I moved into a new house, we had two DirecTV in-person visits (after much begging and pleading) and six “phone sessions” (some lasting more than an hour) with technical support, yet only about 10 hours of service (at the writing of this blog post). It got to the point we had the local technician’s cell phone number, which we had to call many times because the service would just quit, and sometimes he just didn’t show up when he said he would. (I would tweet our frustration occasionally just to see if anyone from DirecTV was listening. They weren’t.) Add to the fact that we were outright lied to about what channels we would receive and would not, well, you are not even on the truth scale at all. Yet, they advertise that they are “the #1 in customer satisfaction of all satellite and cable providers.” We will see. We will see when we get the bill.

If you are going to advertise a message, be sure you can deliver. No matter how much money you spend on advertising, public relations, social media or clever storytelling techniques, if the customer’s experience does not match you have lost credibility. Nay, you have killed your credibility.

Comments
  • Steinar Knutsen November 29, 2011 at 9:35 am

    Great post Suzanne! There are probably some stats somewhere that illustrate that companies that execute well likely spend less on external customer service promotional advertising. The real investment should be on corporate culture, operational excellence and internalizing customer feedback.

    • Suzanne Henry November 29, 2011 at 8:21 pm

      Thanks! I would love to see those stats sometime. I agree with you wholeheartedly – companies that worry more about their customer experience and less about quippy advertising must do better overall.

  • Christine Hohlbaum November 29, 2011 at 4:21 pm

    Brilliant post, Suzanne!

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