Branded Customer Service by Janelle Barlow and Paul Stewart - Read Online
Branded Customer Service
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Branding is an integral part of modern business strategy. But while there are dozens of books on branding products and marketing campaigns, nobody has applied the logic and techniques of branding to customer service -- until now.

Branded Customer Service is a practical guide to moving service delivery to a new level so that brand reinforcement occurs every time customers interact with organizational representatives. Janelle Barlow and Paul Stewart show how to infuse an entire organization with brand values and create a recognizable style of service that reflects brand promises and brand images.
Published: Berrett-Koehler Publishers, Inc. on
ISBN: 9781609943233
List price: $22.95
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"Branded Customer Service packs the punches about really great customer service. It gives the reader an insight into how to differentiate through service and how to win. If you are really committed to getting the most out of your brand, read this book!"

—Mark Bergdahl, CEO, Customer Intimacy, Limited

Any business that applies the on-brand ideas in this easy-to-read book will create a significant competitive advantage by converting its customers into apostles who will preach the gospel in the marketplace for that company.

—Dr. Tony Alessandra, author of Collaborative Selling and The Platinum Rule

Barlow and Stewart have told the stories of some great customer service companies that have set the benchmark for their respective industries in building and delivering great brand promises. They get to the very essence of these customer service branding strategies by telling the how and why. A great read for anyone who is interested in customer service differentiation.

—Ralph Norris, Managing Director and CEO, Air New Zealand, Limited

Barlow and Stewart reveal the secret of consumer loyalty. Consumers and companies alike should rejoice at the insights they offer.

—Rod Oram, business commentator

"I’ve always found effective branding to be as difficult to articulate as it is to do. For me it is a complex mix of creating an external perception that is also an internal reflection of who you are and what you stand for. Branded Customer Service is a great practical read for others who similarly wrestle with such concepts. It passed the get-real test for me and is certainly on-brand for what I want from TMI."

—Barbara Chapman, Head of Retail Banking and Marketing, ASB Bank

The future of branding is here now, and it requires a complete reassessment of your communication. This book opens your eyes to how simple it can be to assess and how powerful it can be to fix your branded customer service. This new level of brand building can become a long-term competitive advantage for your company.

—Jim Wagner, Senior Vice President, Mattel

All too often we assume that branding is purely through the eyes of the customer. This book creates a refreshing perspective that our staff are the key to a successful brand. A straightforward and powerful interpretation using some great examples.

—Nigel Roberts, Managing Director, Langham Hotel, Hong Kong

Extraordinary review and junction of branding approaches in the fields of products and services. This work can be done only by cooperation between practitioners on both sides of the table—branding products and branding services. Barlow and Stewart show how to brand services to match your brand promises.

—Uros Mocnik, General Manager, Business Knowledge, Croatia

"Branded Customer Service provides a road map to genuinely transform the customer experience that is accessible to all people within organizations—the concepts, language, and examples make sense whether you are a CEO or someone interacting with the customer moment by moment."

—Sonia Stojanovic, Head of Cultural Transformation, ANZ Banking Group

"What makes Branded Customer Service so powerful is that it’s about action, not theory. Janelle Barlow and Paul Stewart get to the heart of how to make your business thrive by building a powerful brand and give you the steps to take that make it real. Buy this book now for every employee and take your company to the next level of competitive performance."

—Joe Calloway, author of Becoming a Category of One

"Branded Customer Service is a must-read for anyone in business committed to not only communicating what their brand is but practicing what their brand is. Barlow and Stewart unlock the processes for differentiating your business through branded customer service and then give you the key for attracting and retaining customers."

—David Lewis, Managing Director, VantagePoint Marketing Limited

Brands create value if standards of performance are met every time the customer uses them. They cannot be dependent on the customer being fortunate enough to receive service from the best professional in the firm. Regardless of who serves the customer, a consistent quality of service must be provided and experienced for the brand to flourish. Janelle and Paul’s groundbreaking research on this subject is essential for business success.

—Tom Grissen, CEO, Daon, former President and General Manager, MAXIMUM

Too many organizations are overpromising and underdelivering on their brand promises. Read this book for a foundation on which to base your customer service, for practical tips to shore up your service deficiencies, and for sustainable advantages you can shout about!

—Bruce Scheer, Founder and Principal, FutureSight Consulting

In a world where it’s too easy to default to the tried and true, the generic, the same, this book makes a welcome stand for where brand needs to go. A wake-up call to companies worldwide—your customers are well and truly over vanilla.

—Mark Di Somma, Pusher, Audacity Group

"The strength of Branded Customer Service is in its clarity and pragmatism that sets out the map to think, feel, and act on a road to differentiate and to build much stronger brand equity. This book impresses me with more depth and significance on inside-out branding than any other I have previously experienced and stimulates thinking on what our organizations could become."

—David Walker, Executive Chairman, Walkers Advertising, Director, ICOM

"Branded Customer Service is not only well written, it shows in a very clear fashion how to incorporate brand into service delivery. This is easier said than done for all of us trying to build a service organization that takes advantage of strong brands. If you want practical advice that makes you think, this is the book for you."

—Sirish Mani, National Customer Service Center Operations Development Manager, Toyota Financial Services

"Just when I thought there was nothing left to say about branding and customer service, along come Janelle Barlow and Paul Stewart to prove me wrong. Filled with impeccable research, entertaining stories, masterful insight, and—most important—clear steps to follow, Branded Customer Service covers new and important ground. Read it, internalize it, and put it into practice—your customers will love you for it."

—Steve Farber, author of The Radical Leap: A Personal Lesson in Extreme Leadership

branded customer service

branded customer service

The New Competitive Edge



San Francisco

Branded Customer Service

Copyright © 2006 by Janelle Barlow, Ph.D., and Paul Stewart

All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced, distributed, or transmitted in any form or by any means, including photocopying, recording, or other electronic or mechanical methods, without the prior written permission of the publisher, except in the case of brief quotations embodied in critical reviews and certain other noncommercial uses permitted by copyright law. For permission requests, write to the publisher, addressed Attention: Permissions Coordinator, at the address below.

Berrett-Koehler Publishers, Inc.

235 Montgomery Street, Suite 650

San Francisco, California 94104-2916

Tel: (415) 288-0260, Fax: (415) 362-2512

Ordering information for print editions

Quantity sales. Special discounts are available on quantity purchases by corporations, associations, and others. For details, contact the Special Sales Department at the Berrett-Koehler address above.

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Berrett-Koehler and the BK logo are registered trademarks of Berrett-Koehler Publishers, Inc.

First Edition

Hardcover print edition ISBN 978-1-57675-298-2

Paperback print edition ISBN 978-1-57675-404-7

PDF e-book ISBN 978-1-57675-886-1

IPDF ISBN 978-1-60994-323-3


Copyediting and proofreading by PeopleSpeak.

Book design by Designsmith Limited.

Composition by Beverly Butterfield, Girl of the West Productions.

This book is dedicated to long-suffering customers who have had the courage to remind companies that matching what they do with what they promise is not just a way to keep their business. It’s a matter of common courtesy.


A brand is not just a logo, an advertising slogan, a product, a service, a building, an airplane, great leadership, or profitability. A brand is all of these. It is the fabric of the organization woven together purposefully over a period of time. And it doesn’t just happen, as Janelle Barlow and Paul Stewart so eloquently point out.

I had the opportunity to be the second CEO of Southwest Airlines when it was a fledgling company serving destinations in Texas. My role was to position the company with solid people, products, and a financial foundation for future growth with deregulation about to be enacted. One of my first priorities was to engage our senior management team in a visioning process. It was a small team of nine, including Chairman Herb Kelleher.

We went off-site to a conference room at a local university in Dallas, Texas, and I facilitated the session. The objective was to agree on a direction and pathway and distill down to a hundred words or less what we were going to be when we grew up. After ten hours of spirited discussion, we were all drained mentally and took the evening off for a cookout at my home. The following morning we started refreshed, and within an hour it became clear to all of us. We were not an airline.

We were in mass transportation, a totally different business, a different model, a different brand. We could create new fliers and markets with low costs, low fares, frequent service, and great people, competing with the automobile, the bus, and the living room—not other airlines.

We then wrote a mission/vision statement that was only fifty-two words long and easily understood by all our stakeholders. Taking the next step—developing a culture to support the brand—required spending a lot of time the following year spreading that gospel, oneon-one, one-on-two, wherever we could find an audience.

You don’t take a commodity, an airline seat, and turn it into a recognizable brand unless all of your teammates buy into and benefit from the proposition. Southwest has always believed in hiring attitudes and teaching skills and sharing the profits with all employees. We believed that if we treated our people as number one, they would treat our customers the same way. As two advertising executives from New York, Simon and Gromes, once said to me: If you just sell a product or a service you will probably be known as a vendor or supplier. If you sell a vision or experience you will begin to develop a brand.

It has worked successfully as Southwest has been profitable every year for nearly thirty years, a record unmatched in a turbulent industry. If you are serious about building great enduring connections between your customers and the brand you represent, then Branded Customer Service will provide you both the road map and the toolkit you need to become an on-brand organization and create the success Southwest Airlines, a brand pioneering company, has enjoyed.

Howard Putnam

Former CEO of Southwest Airlines


Thank you for helping keep us on-brand!

Any strong brand is an orchestration of dozens, even hundreds, of component parts. The same is true of any book. They are never written in isolation, so thanks go everywhere, but responsibility lies with the authors.

We particularly want to thank clients and customers who engaged us in conversation on this topic and helped us think through the tricky conceptual parts of this book. And thanks to service providers, even when they gave us off-brand service, so we could experience at a strong emotional level what happens when a brand promise is authentically delivered—or not.

To all the named, and unnamed, researchers who have toiled over these concepts, crunched the numbers, and bothered to write it all down in business journals, we give you a resounding thank you! This work is not easy, and we are mindful of how the carefully measured thinking of academicians inspired our thinking on the subject.

To the many people who reviewed the text, especially in its early formative stages, we thank you for seeing the genesis of an idea that has the potential to impact customer service for a long time. And to the dozens of people who read the book before it was in its final form and still wrote glowing testimonials, we are totally indebted. To such inspired people as Felicity Stevens, David Walker, Mark Di Somma, and Grant Costello, with whom we have been privileged to work on brand projects over the years, we are indebted to you for shaping our initial understanding around brand strategy and internal branding.

Berrett-Koehler has again lived up to its brand promise in how its staff worked with us. Steven Piersanti, publisher, truly stayed on-brand in his no-holds-barred feedback, necessitating us to write and rewrite. We especially appreciate his approaching us about this book. Once Janelle suggested the idea for the book, Steven held on to the vision throughout two years of telephone calls. Our gratitude also goes to Kerenza Smith, who at the eleventh hour helped us to resolve issues we had been grappling with in relation to the creative design, Beverly Butterfield for final composition, and Sharon Goldinger for her excellent copyediting.

Our TMI colleagues, staff, and friends around the world have been exceptionally generous with their time and feedback. They include Jeffrey Mishlove, Lewis Barlow, Pamela Fedderson, Leah Fisher, Jennifer Schmicher, Bill Oden, Peta Peter, Ralph Simpfendorfer, Judith and Dick Davidson, Elcee Villa, Debbie Schultz, Vic Hewson, George Aveling, and a host of our colleagues. Thank you for your interest and thank you for living the brand TMI. And a special thanks to Howard Putnam, not just for his writing the foreword to this book, but also for participating in the vision of Southwest Airlines to show that branded customer service can be done!

Finally, we want to thank the many organizations and individuals who have asked us to work with them on this topic, either by consulting with them on their service branding needs or by inviting us to deliver keynote speeches on the topic. Every good speaker knows that there is no better way to grasp a topic than being asked to speak about it.


On-Brand or Off-Brand

What is a brand?

At its most basic level, a brand is a unique identity. It is a shorthand way the public thinks about what you do, produce, serve, and sell.

When well conceived and developed, a brand is a vibrant picture held in consumers’ minds. Well-executed brands are worth millions, even billions of dollars, in sales and shareholder value. Brands stand out like beacons of light in a sea awash with high-quality products and services offered to meet consumer-expression needs, as consumers choose brands in great part to tell the world and themselves who they are. Branding is a central element of marketing strategies. The consumer in effect believes, The only way I can be who I am is to have specific products or services. A powerful brand, therefore, creates a must-have quasi monopoly for itself.

So, what is branded customer service?

It’s an additional and huge way to further distinguish a brand’s unique identity. Branded customer service goes way beyond generic service. It even is more than excellent service. It is a strategic and organized way to deliver on-brand customer experiences that magnify brand promises. It adds value to target markets by driving home the 1

essence of a brand. In so doing, branded customer service can become so valuable that it takes on the power of a brand unto itself.

When service experiences are aligned with brand promises, a multiplying effect occurs that is significantly more engaging than just a well-recognized brand name. When service experiences do not match brand promises, as so frequently happens, trust is undermined and brand erosion occurs. This gap is costly and can ruin or seriously diminish a good advertising campaign. For all these reasons, branded customer service is the new competitive edge in the service economy.

Some time ago, an Australian bank made a promise that customers would be given $5 if they had to wait longer than five minutes for a teller. The promise (with its well-crafted subtext message that the bank valued its customers’ time so much that they would never waste more than five minutes of it) attracted customers. Unfortunately, the bank failed in its delivery. Employees got so hassled trying to deliver on the unrealistic, maximum-five-minute promise that the bank had to retract its promise. The result? Immediate, widely publicized, and significant brand erosion.

On the other hand, another bank has successfully integrated its brand advertising into its service culture. The bank recently measured the impact of its advertising, comparing reactions of customers with noncustomers. The research concluded that customers who had both seen the bank’s advertisements and experienced its service had the strongest positive associations with the brand’s attributes, which are listed on the following chart.2

Customers who had merely experienced the bank’s service without seeing the ads had a lower association with the bank’s brand attributes. And for noncustomers who saw the ads but did not receive any reinforcement through service of the brand promise, the associations with the attributes were still lower. Conclusion: a combination of strong advertising to let customers know what they should expect and then consistently delivering the advertised service results in the most positive brand associations, as figure 1 illustrates.¹

Figure 1. The power of branded service experiences In reinforcing advertising

This research, based on 780 interviews conducted between January and March 2002, demonstrates that there is a real market opportunity for companies to forge stronger relationships with customers. Such relationships take advantage of the multiplying effect of actually delivering unique service experiences that have been promised in advertising, via public relations, or on the Web. When service is branded and combined with a solid product offering, you have a winning combination that can reduce the impact of your competitors. It will be difficult, in fact, for others to copy you if you continually reinforce and magnify your unique brand position through parallel service delivery.3

Brand promises meet customers’ psychological needs beyond the simple and functional. Even though brands speak to large population groups, customers experience them as personal connections to products and services. This personal connection is what creates brand engagement and commitment. As actor and film producer Robert Redford says, If it’s not personal, then there won’t be any passion or commitment.²

We predict that in a few years, businesses will make a clear distinction between generic customer service and branded customer service. The distinction between old-fashioned, good generic service and branded customer service will be understood in the same way that the marketplace today understands the distinction between generic products and branded products—such as with generic prescription drugs versus brand-name drugs. We further predict that on-brand service, a term we use to describe customer service that is aligned with brand promises, will become the standard that twenty-first-century businesses use to judge service. Once people are introduced to the terms on-brand and off-brand, they immediately grasp the concept and understand how onand off-brand service is not identical to good and bad service.

This book outlines ways to reinforce both the logical and emotional aspects of your brand through service delivery. We consider brands when they are seen through the focus of customer service. We also reverse the proposition and consider customer service when it is seen through the focus of branding. Whichever way you look at it, our ultimate goal is to help you build equity for your brand (increased name recognition, more loyal customers, increased market share, and higher margins) by offering you a standard by which to craft the human part of your customer service so it stays on-brand. You can then take advantage of what branding experts have long known: a strong brand is indeed a very valuable asset.4

Finally, as customers raise the bar on the service they expect, organizations that do not brand their service offerings will be at a distinct disadvantage. We will show you how to align the dynamics of your customer service in Redford’s passionate and committed way with the promises and persona of your carefully defined brand. This book will show you what is necessary to avoid being left behind.

Why this book now?

Despite all the money invested in branding, most brands underperform. The major reason for this is that most branding strategies today still rely heavily on advertisements, marketing, endorsements, and other media-based approaches in an economy that has become predominantly service based. We contend that organizations can gain the maximum return from brand expenditures when everyone—rather than just the marketing department—reinforces the brand.

Service organizations continue to use, without much questioning, branding models that are more appropriate to fast-moving consumer goods, or FMCG. The key element in the chain, the actual service experience, is often overlooked because either advertising agencies and traditional marketers typically do not have core competencies in this area or they do not have the mandate to shape and influence it. The service component of the