Marketing can be complicated. But recognizing opportunities to build and maintain a brand’s image is sometimes remarkably plain and simple. Case in point:
This week my wife scanned our monthly bank statement. She noticed a $2 charge that lacked clear explanation. Curious, she called the bank’s customer service number. After a few minutes, a customer service rep picked up. When questioned about the $2 charge, the CSR politely explained it had been deducted from our account by mistake.
She went on to explain that the bank now charges $2 for providing photocopies of cancelled checks on customers’ monthly printed statements. Based on the type of accounts my wife and I have, under the bank’s new policy we should have been passed over for the fee. The CSR apologized and offered to credit the $2 to our account.
So far, so good.
But my wife, a small-town banker’s daughter, felt compelled to ask a few more questions.
Wife: What if I hadn’t noticed the $2 charge?
CSR: It would not have been restored to your account.
CSR: We lack the ability to identify and credit accounts mistakenly charged the $2.
Wife: Will you notify customers, so they can check their accounts and let you know if the $2 fee has been deducted?
CSR: No. Again, the bank lacks the ability to identify customers who were mistakenly charged the fee.
Wife: Yet you had the ability to charge our accounts the $2?
CSR: The CSR didn’t really have an answer for that question. Perhaps because it was phrased rhetorically. And perhaps because the answer, in fairness to her, resides with someone above her pay grade.
A Micro Brand Management Case Study
Never mind that a financial services company making record profits decides it needs to charge $2 per month to help customers with their financial record-keeping by providing photocopies of cancelled checks. I know a certain small-town banker who, if he were here today, would have labelled that idea…well, a word that rhymes with chicken spit. But again, let’s leave the policy aside for a moment.
Leave aside, too, that the reason for providing photocopies is that the bank decided years ago that collecting and returning the cancelled checks themselves was too costly and inefficient a practice to continue.
Let’s just focus on the $2 mistake.
Here’s the Harvard Business Review case study, in a nutshell: You are a bank executive. Your bank has mistakenly taken $2 from some customers’ accounts. Incredibly, your crack IT team is unable to tell you which accounts were debited $2 in error.
What’s a bank — what’s a brand — to do?
I’m pretty sure my banker father-in-law would have recognized this as a brand moment of truth. Come to think of it, he wouldn’t have used the word “brand.” He’d have spoken about the situation in old-school terms, such as “honesty,” “fairness,” and “doing the right thing by customers.”
Then he very likely would have sent out a message — a letter, an e-mail, some tweets — suggesting that customers check their recent statements, to see if by chance they were mistakenly charged $2. Those communiques would have expressed regret for any errors. And they would have encouraged customers to call or e-mail if they see the $2 charge on their statements.
Finally, the letter and e-mail might have noted that, in an era when consumers’ trust of the financial services industry could be at an all-time low, your bank is committed to earning your trust and safeguarding your money.
What Price Brand Image?
It’s possible my bank is taking steps to correct its $2 error. And it’s possible the CSR was not fully aware of efforts underway to correct the situation. Ideally, both of those caveats are the case.
If not, then this scenario illustrates that recognizing opportunities to build and maintain a brand’s image is sometimes remarkably plain and simple.
And yes, sometimes there’s a cost involved. In this case, the cost to maintain a brand image might have been to forgo the $2 fee revenue in the first place. Or, if not that, it might have been the potential expense involved in owning up to an error and refunding some customers a $2 mistaken charge.
But from all indications, at least for this bank, at this particular moment of truth, the number crunching was already done. The value of its brand image has been calculated and set into policy. And that value turns out to be remarkably low and fungible.
Two bucks a month.
Sound like a brand moment of truth to you? What would you have advised the C-suite if you were the bank’s head of marketing and brand management? Does brand image and loyalty really hang on such seemingly trivial policies and interactions? I’d welcome your comments and discussion.