As a marketing student, brand management was the most enticing profile I could imagine. We were told that a brand manager is the most important principle driving force behind the brand. How wrong I was!
No, I am not saying that the brand manager is just for the namesake or don’t have the veto at a critical juncture. But working with an appliance brand for almost a decade has taught me that while a brand manager is the director of this movie called brand, the real star (the crowd puller) is someone else.
The text-book defined a brand as a name, term, design, symbol, or any other feature that identifies one seller’s product distinct from those of other sellers. But over the period I have realized that brand is nothing but trust – the emotional connection between product or service and the end-user. One can always glorify this connection from the ad campaigns or PR but spare a minute to understand the origin of this trust. This trust comes from 2 things – the inherent product quality and the brand’s efforts to ensure the customer enjoys the product the way they have promised (i.e. sort out all the jerks, niggles if need be). And who ensures this? Your service vertical!
Be it consumer durable giant or savvy IT solutions provider, service is the first if not the only function that is in direct contact with its end consumers taking care of all the hygiene factors for the brand. And this is just the tip of the iceberg for service vertical.
Have you ever thought that the interaction between the service executive and customer is the only real conversation between an organization & the market? Yeah, there are other regularly practiced avenues (market/consumer research) but aren’t you interested in ‘market reality’? In this sense, the service vertical is a great listening tool for any organization. If the service executives are trained well not only in repairing the products but also in customer handling (just the way the sales guys are), they will be the best brand ambassadors. The celebrities one hires for promotions are maybe a necessity in today’s market condition but they are just the promoters. They might help to achieve financial goals in the short-term but there would hardly any benefit once the contracts are over. But if you invest little time & effort in training service executives and consider them as organizations’ eyes, ears, and most importantly voice, they would be the real image builders.
But sadly & irrespective of the sense above paragraph is making, in reality, the service vertical is not the charming hero (or even a second lead) but one of the extras in a movie. In all of the organizations, I have worked with (read: most of the Indian organizations), service vertical is always treated as a secondary function & someone which doesn’t contribute anything tangible to bottom-line. And just for sake of bottom-line, revenue generation targets are given to service vertical which at the end of some month are even more critical than customer satisfaction index. And precisely this approach is eroding the brand value of such organizations. In today’s fiercely competitive market where the meaningful product differentiation is getting harder to achieve due to technological advancements, an effective service vertical would be the game changer. Organizations must focus on changing this culture and transforming service vertical into a front-end customer-centric function similar to sales.
Why do Indian customers choose Toyota over Maruti, Samsung over Micromax while doing so pay a premium? Shiny products, fancy advertisements? That would not be the complete answer. These brands have not only have built quality products but have imbibed on consumer’s minds that they would go that extra mile to ensure the best user experience and to do so have extremely strong service verticals.
In my opinion, its time that every organization should focus on the service vertical. And one doesn’t need to hire a fancy consultancy to understand the ‘how to’ here. Start with empowering them – build the confidence that they would be taking the center stage and would the brand advocates. Let them have to say in product and campaign designs. It’s good to have a star salesman of the year but better if you have a star serviceman as well. And the basic would start working as units – have combined conferences of marketing, sales & service (this surprisingly most Indian majors don’t do)!
To sum it up:
- Service vertical can be an effective listening tool to understand market reality
- Service executives are the real brand ambassadors & critical in shaping opinion about the organization – they are the image builders
- Organizations should focus on Service and make a star out of them
- Practiced right will generate positive buzz in all stakeholders
Considering service vertical as one of your brand pillars or drivers is a win-win strategy. It would not only give an organization a competitive edge but also create goodwill in all stakeholders – which is one of the most important assets.