‘Is your brand guilty of cheating?’

We all know customers can turn quickly to social media for ‘public shaming’ when they perceive the rules of their brand relationship have been breached.  

At a recent conference, I heard a great example of how hardwired ‘spite’ is.   Behavioural psychologists undertook an academic study with 4-5 year old children.  One child was assigned the role of a ‘bully’ trashing the toys and sand castles of others in the play space. The same ‘bully’ also made it clear to fellow playmates that he loved broccoli and could hardly wait to get the broccoli treat at the end of the session.  When the ‘bully’ was served the snack last, the other children found their opportunity to punish the cheater.  Without prompting, many began to shove as much broccoli as they could into their own mouths, even gagging in their efforts to prevent the ‘bully’ from getting his coveted treat!

 Spite or a propensity to punish others for ‘cheating’ is of concern to all brand builders.  We have had the privilege of working with brand and customer experience stewards committed to ‘fair play’ and have some tips from that work.

1. DREAM:  ‘Spite’ is hardwired and impulsive.  Cheating is ‘contextual’.  This means the customers' assessment of cheating is driven by their expectations for the relationship. A great starting point for assessing whether or not your brand is 'playing fair' is exploring customers’ dreams for what it should be. We have done this by exploring both how customers frame the desired relationship and how they want to feel.

2. DELVE: Is there a gap between the dream and reality? What is the transactional nature of the current relationship? We have used a blend of sources to develop a relationship narrative that identifies opportunities for addressing the gap. Customer interviews, social media and call centre transcripts are all important sources for identifying the most blatant examples of cheating.  

3. DO: Fix what is blatant.  Delving into the gap will reveal blatant transgressions.  In our experience these will have either bubbled up as ‘unprompted’ evidence in customer interviews, be targets of ‘rage’ in social media or be a key source of inbound call centre activity in complaints and escalation conversations. Once identified, blatant transgressions are often easily fixed.

4. DESIGN: Once fairness is understood, it should be designed into all aspects of the relationship using a test and control approach.  There is always more than one way to ‘play fair’.   The key is to implement a good test and control plan aimed at effecting and measuring meaningful change through a range of actions. 

‘Cheating’ is typically the product of ‘policies’ and ‘politics'. Nothing is more gratifying than sharing the evidence with a senior management team who recognize themselves as the ‘inadvertent’ bully.