We say it often enough now that it’s becoming a throw-away line: Every interaction a customer has with a supplier or provider is communicating with the brand.

Perhaps we’re throwing it away too soon. We think we know what “the brand” is — or maybe all too often, we pretend that there’s just one.

As most Americans who have paid cable TV bills within the last three years will tell you, there’s more than one brand at work. There may be the “good news” brand that represents all the cool services and technologies that make channel flipping fun and the “bad news” brand that postpones the service calls and sends customers each other’s bills.

Are your personal banker, your business banker and your home mortgage lender all the same financial institution … by different names? How many intersections do you drive by every day where the franchise owners of three of the filling stations are different brands of the same oil company?

Is there a good reason for a single institution to maintain multiple brands for the same services or products … other than an exercise in mitigating negative perceptions?

'OldCo' and 'NewCo'

A few weeks ago, in Part 1 of CMSWire’s interview with London-based PeopleTech Consulting’s Chief Customer Officer Mike Hughes, we told you how Hughes and his firm have been retained by some of the world’s largest organizations to help them better comprehend the details of their customers’ journeys that are already obvious to customers.

One example involved a product that was produced by one corporate division, that relies upon a service provided by a second corporate division, which relies in turn upon customer support provided by a third.

Perhaps you know of an omnichannel retailer where fulfillment is handled by a different division for each channel.

Hughes relates the story of a UK-based telco (without naming names) which years ago, in a decision that baffled even him, sold off its cellular division and renamed the subdivision that provides infrastructure. It then spun off a pay-TV service in a joint venture with yet another provider, creating essentially another brand, the type of which he calls “fairy dust.”

The UK’s regulatory body for telcos is Ofcom, which may have some hand in how the telco’s current brand structure is organized. Yet as Hughes believes, “it’s partly because, bluntly, marketeers and brand people want to see if they can fix things, in part, by repositioning.

“But I don’t think there’s anybody in this country who doesn’t know that this particular organization – this ‘NewCo,’ ‘OldCo,’ and ‘Outsourced NewCo’ and ‘Outsourced OldCo’ — are all the same company. And when they’re talking about their level of love, or otherwise, for this organization, unless they’re football fans, then they feel either neutral about the organization, or they’re in the mindset of saying, ‘If there were anybody else who could offer me the infrastructure to allow me to connect to the Internet, in my particular area, I’d dump them tomorrow.’”

This brings up a very curious situation: We often speak of perfect customer relationships with brands as though everyone manufactured appliances in neatly packaged units.

If you’re a government-regulated service provider in any country, you are probably subject to rules that will make your service less desirable, or incomplete, or otherwise partly ineffectual, through circumstances beyond your control.

When circumstances conspire to perforate your one brand, how do you expect the world to continue interacting with it with delight and enthusiasm?

That question will never be answered properly, Hughes believes, if by virtue of such organizations’ sheer size, they exude an arrogance that speaks of a customer base to which they think they are entitled.

Such organizations’ plans for retaining those customers they may be likely to lose, said Hughes, are not “anything other than a medium-term strategy — a little bit like applying a sticking plaster.”

'OneCo'

“There’s a difference in philosophy between instructing people on ‘how to serve customers,’ versus, ‘the way to serve customers,’” said Hughes. “And I’m an advocate, wherever possible, of the latter, increasingly as we’re living in this omnichannel world, from both a care and a sales perspective.”

It’s a tricky distinction. Hughes talks about the longevity of a customer’s relationship as standing for the customer, during the process of performing business transactions online.

It makes sense from a practical perspective, but once again, we throw away the line before we think about what it means: Just as the customer perceives “the brand” as being comprised of the history of her interactions with that brand, the company should perceive its customer as though it were dealing with the entirety of the business relationship.

It’s the same strategy that a local SMB uses in dealing with clients day-to-day, only they don’t call it a “strategy” or attach any Dylan Thomas-sounding metaphors to it.

“I’m not of the opinion that face-to-face interactions in retail are completely dead,” said Hughes, “but I’m in a position that says, very obviously, the whole labor arbitrage phenomenon has had its day.”

He’s referring, of course, to the outsourcing of customer contact-related labor to other service providers.

“In terms of designing a service model for a new brand,” he continued, “clearly the starting point is, you avoid a scenario where a human is involved or invoked anywhere, certainly for fairly straightforward products and services.

“But if you are going to invoke a one-to-one relationship with a human being live, be it a chat agent, a voice agent, or somebody in retail, then a smaller number of people who are guided by the principles and values of the organization, have a clear understanding of the company’s philosophy and ethos and can represent that company as one individual person.”

The goal here is for both the human agent, and any digital service that substitutes for that agent, to present as best as possible a unified picture of the company, with one brand that stands for one set of ethics.

If you think about it, having a single organization holding firm to a “customer-obsessed” mindset, as opposed by multiple subdivisions tied loosely by a single corporate parent giving the appearance of “customer-obsession,” is at the very least, less creepy.

Hughes spoke about the influential nature, just in and of itself, of a company that projects the fact that it’s projecting an image of itself as a kind of “OneCo” — a single force, a single set of goals, a collective entity in the best interests of the customer.

“It’s about a controlled way of allowing the positive elements of that startup mentality and mindset, and the clarity and vision of the founders or the CEOs,” PeopleTech’s Mike Hughes told us. “I don’t think it’s about mapping per se processes and journeys.”

Granted, he said, there does need to be enough explicitness to that explanation, or journey map, to succeed their creators once they’ve left the company, or the company has left them. But there does need to be a vision comprehensive and comprehensible enough to be describable using a common language.

Comprehension On Tap

This November 3 and 4, at the W Hotel City Center in Chicago, CMSWire will sponsor two solid days of all-out discussion and introspection on the topics related to digital customer experience delivery.

DX Summit 2015 will feature Forrester’s Mark Grannan, plus numerous other industry leaders in the DX space including: Tony Byrne, founder and CEO of Real Story Group; Tami Cannizzaro, senior director, Marketing at eBay; Mike Gilpin, CTO of Siteworx; Bruno Herrmann, director of Globalization at The Nielsen Company; Deb Lavoy, founder and CEO of Narrative Builders; Meghan Walsh, senior director, Global Marketing at Hilton Worldwide; and Melissa Webster, VP, Content and Digital Media Tech at International Data Corporation (IDC).

Here’s your opportunity to come together as one brand and discover how you can see your customers as “one persons.” We hope to see you in Chicago.

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Title image by Mark Harpur.