Do brands really understand the needs of customers? It seems not

Ryanair boss Michael O’Leary’s comment that “we should try to eliminate things that unnecessarily piss people off” in the wake of a series of damaging brand reputation blows has been well aired.

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Never mind the observation that the volte-face by the master of the brutally dismissive bon mot (he once called passengers “idiots”) is prompted by a weakening in Ryanair’s sales – the essence of the quote is pure customer-focused marketing.

A strategic approach that avoids annoying potential customers should include the right choice of engagement channels for customer service. In this issue, we have intriguing research that shows marketers may be missing a trick by trying to be too cutting edge.

One finding in the latest Marketing GAP Tracker research highlights the difference between how marketers think customers want their queries dealt with and what channels customers say they prefer. Marketers are underestimating the need for ‘traditional’ customer service channels in favour of social media.

The study, which surveyed 1,000 consumers and 350 marketers, finds that marketers believe only around half as many people favour email customer care contact than actually do (17 per cent versus 32 per cent). They also underestimate the proportion of consumers that want to use the phone (21 per cent versus 28 per cent).

This is not to suggest that marketers should pursue a Luddite agenda – there is scope for social media interaction, live online chats and Q&As or explanatory videos online.

But the research is a good reality check to remind marketers that all channels should be given consideration and the new shiny thing that excites the marketing team may not be the way a frustrated customer wants to raise an issue or give feedback.

Everyone will have their own pet example of a poorly targeted and downright annoying communication. Mine is the current TSB relaunch outdoor ad that reads ‘Hello {inset name of town}. Welcome back to local banking’.

I appreciate the attempt at localisation but not the fact that the Lloyds TSB branch in my town has now become Lloyds rather than TSB, which makes the poster at my railway station more of a taunt than a call to action. Maybe a little cross-checking on poster sites and bank locales might have avoided this daily distressing signal – and yes, you can guess which brand I bank with.

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