A fundamental of a successful brand is building trust. You build trust when other individuals who experience your service, product and brand offering trust that you will deliver on what you offer to do thereby achieving what I term ‘Brand Fusion™’. In turn this builds loyalty, that much sought-after, but rarely achieved status. But, it can be won. It just takes effort and making sure you do in fact deliver on what you offer.

It seems so obvious doesn’t it? Why would firms not do this? However, it is surprising how few organisations and professional service firms deliver; those that do, you will notice, achieve lasting success based on sound fundamentals with a trusted brand at the top of the list.

Always deliver what you offer. So, if you say ‘contact us’, make sure your website and links actually make it easy and intuitive to do just that, ‘contact you’, and make sure it is a person at the other end! If it does not, don’t offer it, as you will simply annoy actual and potential customers and lose their trust, respect and this will hammer their loyalty.

Let’s consider one very simple and obvious example where countless organisations slip up. Ever had an issue with a product or service and tried to communicate this with the company or organisation concerned? Ever tried to get hold of a real human via their ‘contact us’ link? I bet you have! I have, often, and sadly I must say most companies come up wanting, particularly the bigger, most ‘successful’ ones. The reason is simple: ‘contact us’ in plain English means you can get in touch with a person in our organisation in this way. The reality of experience proves all too often this is not the case.

While I have the feeling that most law firms don’t perform badly on this example (mainly because you can in fact get hold of a human being when you have an issue and more often than not even the head of the firm). For the sake of the profession, long may this continue. But you need to remain keenly aware of getting even these simple things right and all the other stuff that you ‘promise’ to potential clients and recruits. You then need to test everything else that you ‘offer’ and make sure this is experienced at every touch-point by everyone who comes into contact with your organisation. The truly great organisations do this, even the big ones. That is why their brands engender trust and loyalty. Remember, people who trust a brand ‘buy now and ask questions later’. 

I have recently experienced two encouraging exceptions to this:

  1. I recently bought a MacBook Pro Retina precariously close to when I was heading off overseas on assignments in South Africa. Not a wise move, proven to be correct when they supplied me with a non-Retina model, a serious issue. I hadn’t even noticed it when they called to say ‘sorry, we’ve mucked up, what can we do to sort it out‘. Long story short – they offered to replace it and set it up as I transited through Sydney. They guy who made the error came in from leave to make sure I was sorted out. He also got one of his outstanding colleagues to make sure all went well. They finished at 9pm at night. In a nutshell they went beyond the call of duty. This from the world’s most valuable company. No evidence of arrogance or complacency there, unlike so many other ‘large companies’ one is forced to deal with. They are human (which is nice), they have my trust, they will have my loyalty.
  2. At Avis, despite early issues, they went out of their way to address these – all in a very personal, forthright way. It left me thinking ‘they no doubt have their issues, but do seem to want to try a bit harder‘.

    I recently hired an Avis car in South Africa – at the end of their emails they say “At AVIS People will always be More Important than Cars” (note the capilisation)Unfortunately my experience didn’t confirm this – a new Toyota car that sometimes wouldn’t start, conked out at intersections (in South Africa! Not a good idea!) and then when I searched to find a depot to drop it off in Johannesburg it was nigh on impossible to easily get addresses. When I did, the phone number was wrong. I called another depot and the address they provided didn’t make sense. When I called the lady she gave the wrong corrected address. When I dropped off the car a guy in a pink T-shirt with no Avis insignia came across and offered to take the keys and help us with our luggage to the airport train station (not a good thing to agree to in South Africa). Again, long story short, I shot out a quick email on their feedback forum – when I got back to Australia I got an email asking me to supply a copy of my email (even though it had been done via their system). I then got a call from a lady at 9.30pm at night asking for my contract number so they could trace my email and complaint. I later got a call at 11.30pm from a manager who asked me if the time was convenient! You get the drift.  Fortunately they tried really hard to sort it all out and put my mind at rest – after a call in the morning (when I was awake). I have forgiven them and will even use them again. But, how risky for them to play with their brand in this way.

    As always there are lessons for law firms in these simple but all too common examples. For a start bear in mind the key guiding principle for brand, that it is individuals like you and me who determine a brand, it is not slogans or adverts or other stuff that is offered. That being the case we need to carefully consider whether we do deliver on what we say we will will, or what we promise. For instance many law firms fall down in relation to their employment brands; they may offer ‘flexible work arrangements‘ but any past or present employee may know that reality is far from this.

    Another thing I found fascinating when thinking about these examples; Apple do not push their customer focus in their slogans and mantra – instead, they actually focus on highly technical bits and pieces (granted, dressed up in clever catchy phrases like “thinnovation” or “nimble, meet quick“). However, in practice, they focus heavily on the customer interaction. In fact, there is a whole psychology to this and, as one commentator has said, it is almost like university psychology 101. If you have ever bought something significant from an Apple store think about how the sales person or ‘genius’ opened up the package (note, not just a ‘box’) – it is more like a ceremony than a sale.  We can learn lessons from this. We really should too as it is the way a company like this connects with customers’ emotions and heads, hearts and souls and it is after all, they who determine the Apple brand. And this is what causes customers to trust them and be loyal to them and make them the world’s most valuable brand. I believe it is because they achieve brand fusion. Every professional service firm should make this their main goal.

    Sean Larkan, Partner, Edge International, Australia and Asia-Pacific