…Customer Service or Self-Expression?

Have you ever noticed how some organizations or service providers' names and slogans seem to be focused on their customers while others seem to be an outlet for their owners’ self-expression?

The basic argument is this: the idea that organizations are supposed to serve their customers before anything else became an essential business notion sometime at the end of the 20th Century. A logical consequence was that everything related to the firm –including its identifiers—ought to also contribute toward the mission of customer satisfaction.

The mantra of “The Customer is King” was repeated over and over, to emphasize that organizations of any size exist only to serve –if not exceed!—their customers’ needs. Their satisfaction became at some point and for many organizations –universities and other educational institutions included—the major criterion against which every part of the organization was to be measured and its existence justified. For many re-engineering interventions in the 1990s, the extent to which any department or sub-process contributed to customer satisfaction became the main standard to justify its continuation or explore outsourcing or other options.

This line of thought entered into the names and sometimes even slogans of companies offering certain products or services. For example, I just saw a coupon offered by Pizza Roma, a small parlor whose main line of business is… well, Italian food (Italian-American, some of my purist gourmet friends would say)!! Browsing the newspaper, I also found several “X” Auto Rental, “Y” Health PlanBank of Z” and waiting for my daughter at her most recent orthodontist appointment, I noticed that Reader’s Digest and American Cheerleader were among the magazines available in the waiting room. Their line of business is quite evident from just reading the company –or product—name.

On the other hand, there are many businesses whose name suggests that they are a means to their founder’s self-expression. For example, I am typing this column in a Hewlett-Packard netbook; many other large firms seem to have been similarly named after their founders or early owners, like Dell, Matsushita, Ford, or Barnes & Noble. Clearly, this is not a characteristic of their industries, as we also have IBM (which at some point meant International Business Machines), General Electric (the poster company for a diversified company, which you know sells much more than electric appliances), General Motors, or Amazon.

Here the question often is to what extent is the company interested in its customer’s “share of mind”? When the name of the firm is not a direct reference to what it may offer, memorable and meaningful slogans are often needed. Take the example of Sam Walton’s retailing giant, Wal*Mart. At this point in time it’s hard to find a person who doesn’t know what you can find there, but their long time slogan of Always Low Prices has been a very meaningful promise for their target market.

At the end of the day, a healthy dose of promotion will overcome any lack of explicitness that a company or product name or slogan might have relative to what they offer. For a person who did not grow with these brands, who would guess what McDonald’s, Apple, Dior, or Google may sell? In contrast, we do not need a lot of thought to conjecture what products Burger King, MicroSoft, or Toys “R” Us provide. Now, combining the founder’s name –say, Schwab Advisor Services—, or the place of origin –as in Banco Santander—with an explicit reference to the product or service offered, might save thousands of dollars in promotional expense and stay in the public’s mind more easily. Something to keep in mind the next time you’re thinking about opening your own business!

What do you think? I'd like to know your opinion; your suggestions or comments are very much needed to make this column interesting for you, your chapter and your organizations!

¡Hasta la próxima!