Brand Rx: The Call Center
Diagnosing opportunities for experience-based brands
28 April 2022
How much does your call center cost you?
A friend of mine recently asked me how important I thought it to tie call center operations to brand, marketing, and experience strategy. On one hand, I thought the answer self-evident. Then I paused and realized it took me a decade and a half to figure this out.
I began my career in the corporate world at Procter & Gamble, where I learned the craft of brand management from the organization that invented the function. P&G’s “brand building framework” teaches us to assess the competitive landscape; understand our consumers’ needs – met and unmet; define what your brand stands for; and then create a business and go-to market strategy to meet your goals. This framework operates under the assumption that building the brand rests on strong performing products, with effective marketing, and sound advertising. In other words, the brand trumps marketing of which advertising is only a part. I call this the “marketing continuum.”
However, after nearly a decade in the healthcare space, I see the world differently.
In consumer packaged goods a brand can so dominate that it owns the entire category, like Kleenex. In the digital experience world, we have seen similar dominance where we don’t conduct an internet search, but instead “Google” an answer. We don’t ride-share, but we “Uber." No such analog exists in the healthcare space. I won’t go into the many reasons here, but I will say, healthcare is not about the brand but the experience. How long do I have to wait…to book an appointment, in the waiting room, to fill my prescription? Do I understand the jargon or the bill or the explanation of benefits?
I now work with a client that helps their clients set the right foundation for brand “owned” assets. In other words, does your online presence help consumers find you easily? This means ensuring your website renders properly on a smartphone; that your product, service, or solution finds itself naturally at the top of search results; that you have produced content that consumers want; that influencers care about your brand, because you go to market organically, authentically, and efficiently. Like a website or social media account, the organizations “own” their call centers.
I have learned the “experience continuum” trumps the “marketing continuum.”
When we look at the world through the eyes of experience, we again see three levels: transaction, engagement, and relationship. Here at the beginning of the MLB season, we understand it must be easy to buy and share tickets and enter the stadium. That’s transactional. If done well, it won’t increase my affinity for the team, but if done poorly, it will deter me from coming back. Likewise, a team can help me engage. Maybe a Veterans’ appreciation or Star Wars night will cause me to attend one more game that season. Maybe special content in print or online will cause me to read the story and think about the club beyond just the box score. Finally, if a team really understands their purpose, and activates it well, I’ll have a reason to form a relationship with that team causing me to buy and give merchandise, to attend more games, to get a tattoo.
To be clear, entertainment brands have a much better chance of capturing our imagination – from the Cleveland Guardians to the Disney princesses. However, we can all aspire to get our transactions right, to try to get to engagement. The higher up the experience continuum we go, the easier it is to sustain business results.
Which gets me to answering the question.
Like many business executives, I understand that we often view call centers as cost centers. We would much rather have our users, consumers, members, and patients serve themselves via automated tools rather than call in to speak to a brand representative. However, as a consumer of cable and internet service, I can personally attest to a four-hour afternoon on the chat function and then on the phone with a belligerent customer service representative that so soured me on the brand that I looked into competitive offerings.
In other words, the call center is the brand.
Businesses that understand every touch point is either brand-building or business-destroying set themselves up for success while organizations that look at operations and marketing as cost centers rather than investments might make their quarter, but create headwinds for the long-term.
C. David Minifie, operates as a well-seasoned, Fortune 500 executive leader, and change agent, having spent nine years in the C-Suite at Centene Corporation, including roles as Chief Marketing Officer, Chief Experience Officer, and Executive Vice President for Corporate Strategy. Dave learned the craft and discipline of brand management throughout his twelve years at Procter & Gamble, the company that invented the function. He sees his personal point of difference as the leadership skills and philosophy he developed at the US Naval Academy and during his six years of service in the US Marine Corps.
Now the Principal at MinifiesTake.com, Dave adds value to organizations looking to articulate their purpose, mission, and beliefs to create competitive advantage; to drive corporate and brand strategy; and to create an organizational culture that unleashes the full potential of employees by activating their sense of fulfillment and endures over time.
Married for over 25 years with two children and two dogs, he and his wife affirm the recipe for success in life: a commitment to candid communication, mutual respect in personal development, and dedication always to move forward. The family loves US National Parks, fly fishing, and travel. Ducens Semper.