Are people loyal to other people or to brands?
In Creating Customer Evangelists (2007), Ben McConnell and Jackie Huba state:
"When we set out to understand what created evangelists for our case-study companies, we discovered a simple yet undeniable truth: People are loyal to people, not necessarily brands. That's the magic bullet about word of mouth and how it spurs evangelism." (p.3; emphasis in original)
The authors go on to describe how companies like Southwest Airlines, IBM, Build-A-Bear Workshop and others are enjoying the benefits of customer word of mouth.
While Creating Customer Evangelists is a great book, and I'll be talking more about it in this blog, I couldn't disagree more with the authors on their conclusions about branding. I say, people are not loyal to the customer service representatives they deal with. They are loyal to the BRANDS that those customer service representatives represent!
This is definitely true for consumer packaged goods, where there is no customer service aspect to the buying situation. And it is true as well for service brands, although trickier to see because you're dealing with service provided by people.
In my view, people REMEMBER a good customer service experience and ESTABLISH a relationship with the BRAND not the person they deal with. I'll go to any Starbucks coffee shop, not just the one on the corner where I recognize the people who work there. Every Southwest flight attendant has a humorous attitude; every Build-A-Bear workshop attendant provides a "heartfelt" experience to a child buying his or her bear for the first time. The service they provide is not spontaneous but BRANDED...and I think most people recognize that. You pay for the brand and expect the brand's promises to be fulfilled, whether by a product or by a person...that's it, end of story.
Coca-Cola, Pepsi, Microsoft, Johnson & Johnson, Nike, Google, GE, Nokia, Toyota, Intel, McDonald's, Mercedes...people go where the product and service best suit them.
Believe me, all those little girls walking around in princess outfits at Disney are not loyal to a person, they're loyal to a brand fantasy that exists only in their heads.
Other points of view are welcome, of course.