Update: Lots of people responded here and on Facebook that the receipt deal is to keep the cashiers from skimming the till. In one commenter’s words “using the customer as the cop.” It makes a lot of sense. But you know what? I like it even less now. Using customers to make up for your inability to hire and train good people and create an environment that is rewarding and beneficial enough to them to keep them from skimming $5.29 a plate off the register is untennable. Don’t use me to make up for your culture vacuum.
It’s even worse this way.
In my mind it was just marketing tinkering where they could. Now that I understand it, the whole practice is a “brand promise” that is really in place to keep the people that they trust enough to interact with you their customer, but that they don’t trust enough to interact with their money. Nice to see where their priorities are.
The other day while dining at Panda Express I noticed a small sign near the cashier that read “If we don’t give you your receipt at check out your meal is on us,” (or something to that effect) and it got me thinking about all the ways companies hurt themselves with marketing. And I’m not talking about the epic failed product launches (New Coke anyone?) or spectacularly poor ad campaigns and PR debacles. No, I’m talking about a more subtle infliction. The one that comes with failing to deliver on small promises that are often unrequested by the customer prior to its introduction by the brand.
More simply, setting unnecessary expectations.
A look at the Panda example
Panda Express’s no receipt, free meal policy is the ultimate in setting unnecessary expectations. When I go to Panda Express it is for a variety of factors from reliable quality, convenience and unique menu. Nowhere in my consideration set is the value of receiving a receipt at the conclusion of the buying process. NOWHERE. My experience and expectation is centered on my above considerations, not on transactional minutiae incidental to the prime reasons I’m in the restaurant.
Panda Express unfortunately amplifies this meaningless transactional courtesy (getting your receipt without asking) into a key success factor for your visit. As you stand in line waiting for your turn to pay, you read the sign and the relevance of this ridiculous promise pops on to your radar. Suddenly getting your receipt takes on a great importance. Will I get my receipt? Will I get a free meal?
You start to root against the brand. You root for failure because the benefits far outweigh the inconvenience of this service failure. Free meal vs a few minutes collecting on the customer service policy.
Marketers have unintentionally pitted the customer against the service provider over a mundane, unimportant portion of the transaction; changing the dynamic of the experience, the expectation set and attention of the cashier. Now the cashier is making sure that you get your receipt but is ignoring other, arguably more important, aspects of the transaction.
Why would marketers intentionally create this environment?
Marketers realize that the best marketing is word of mouth referrals from existing customers. That word of mouth is generated through the delivery of amazing service and experience in the buying process. Unfortunately in many companies this is the role of operations and is under minimal influence from the marketing department. So delivering the brand promise as architected by the upfront marketing is in operations hands and leaves little control of delivery to the folks who crafted the promise and set the expectation.
Now, in great companies these two work hand-in-hand to create a memorable experience and a loyal customer and advocate.
But back to the Panda example. Tasked with operationalizing the brand promise the ops team looks to create processes that fulill the promise across the organization. The complexity of rolling out these plans to thousands of outlets is difficult an ensuring consistency is critical. Therefore operations is often hesitant to change core aspects of the delivery if it meets brand standards, sales growth, customer satisfaction , etc. Because of this marketers are left to tinker on the edges of the delivery process rather than experiment with ways in which to improve the core experience.
And the receipt or free meal initiative is born of this reality. Marketers tasked with delivering a brand promise, unable to influence or change the core brand promise delivery mechanism, and tasked with delivering on that promise, focus on easy edges where they can exert influence and implement policies that arguably are in support of improving the experience.
It’s a dangerous reality which has real consequences on the overall impact of the brand perception by the customer. Suddenly getting my receipt is important, it’s become a KPI for the visit.
So the question becomes which unexpected expectations are you setting in your customer service processes or marketing promises? Are you unintentionally damaging your customer experience with guarantees outside of your core offering?
Look for ways to eliminate tangential promises that don’t help your brand (but still take real effort to fulfill) in favor of improving your core process. Stop focusing on the receipt or free meal and more on refining what’s really important.
There’s no need as a marketer to implement policies or procedures that are tangential to the core offering and that are lose-only propositions. In the case of Panda Express the receipt policy is lose only for them. I didn’t care about it until they told me about it, if they execute flawlessly it doesn’t improve my experience, and if they miss it costs them revenue and amplifies the service miss. That is the definition of a policy that needs to go.
What do you think? What are some of the policies that unintentionally damage brands? Do you have them in your business? Can you replace them with policies that improve your core offering instead?