Friday, February 20, 2009

Hewlett Packard shows way to win back customers on the brink

It’s been a few days since the last blog - basically because my computer stopped working. Well, that’s not quite true, the internal modem just seemed to disappear from view. I’ve only had my HP Pavillion for between 2 and 3 years, so I was a little miffed to put it mildly. The first phone calls I made to HP were not an example of good marketing and sales. However, despite the fact that Hewlett Packard is having to tighten its strings, I was eventually blown away by a call that showed real customer service and ethics.

The biggest problem in my experience of HP was the number of people I talked to who were not educated sufficiently for their positions. Rather than put me through to someone who could help they confidently told me things that turned out not to be true, or they omitted some pretty important information. For example, the tech support person I called (in the US), confidently told me my motherboard was fried with very little investigation. They apparently forgot to tell me that HP had issued a notice on my model because of recurrent internal modem issues. (That would have saved the next calls).

Nowadays it seems impossible to operate for too long without a computer, so I decided to see what I could buy from HP in the way of another Pavillion laptop. I think I called about 4 or 5 times after I was “advised” by my US tech-support person on what to buy. I was put on hold several times for 15 mins or more. None of the people could answer some basic questions on components.

At this point, I decided to forget HP altogether and emailed their CEO on the webpage form. Rather surprisingly I got a pretty swift reply from Customer Service. I gave HP sales one more shot, and spoke to a representative who actually was educated in the computers he was selling. He got my business and I’m typing this on a new Pavillion laptop.

BUT that’s not all!! A few days later HP called out of the blue to inform me that I should have been told about the notice on my last computer. They sent a Fedex box and it’s currently at HP, possibly about to be repaired for nothing, as the only issue seems to be with the modem. It’s unfortunate that they didn’t tell me about this before I spent money on a new computer, but I really appreciated their proactive honesty.

What lessons can we learn for the recession/depression? Those companies that take a proactive ethical stance and value customer care are the companies that will emerge with loyal, satisfied and even tolerant customers. Education for the sales and tech support teams would have avoided my frustration but my own experience shows even large mistakes in these areas can be rectified with proactive customer service. It would have been easy for HP to forget me, and it costs HP to bring in my laptop to fix it on their dime. The temptation to avoid good service was considerable, but kudos to you HP. You did the right thing, and I believe these principles will stand you in good stead.

Wednesday, February 4, 2009

"We" or "You" in International Marketing

Gunnar Brune recently highlighted the increased use of "we" and the increased used of the familiar form of address in international advertizing (AdAge 1.28.09). But how do we make marketing more effective through use of language?

Those who are sharp (or not American) will notice the date in the first sentence. This immediately confuses or puts off most of the world, as America seems to be the only country which puts the date month/day/year. This highlights that there's a lot more to international marketing than a word or two. Not that Brune says there isn't. He does however seem to give one factor a little too much weight in my opinion. He rightly states that the growth of social media has greatly accelerated the move to the "one world family" feeling. He then cites recent ad campaigns which either include "we" or familiarize" ("Du" in German, "Tu" in French/Spanish, etc.) he appears to suggest as the "way to go". This is the conclusion I would clarify.

I believe it certainly helps with branding if one can gain the dominant image in a country or community. Imagine if it was as natural to the average Greek to identify "Greek" with your product in the same way he or she identifies "Greek" with the national Greek Orthodox Church. But how can we get there, or is it even desirable to get there?

There are many cultural issues that need to be confronted for the marketer. "We" and "Du" won't work by themselves. For example, what do you do in a language and society that is very highly structured with many different levels of address? This would be the case with Korean. In Korean younger siblings still address older siblings with great respect. How would this "instant familiarization" play out there? What image would your brand have? What effect would that have on sales?

Another area to consider is the growing "primary culture" or less technical world market. "Group think" already exists and does not need to be reinvented. However, there are generally gatekeepers who still demand certain protocols. This may seem foreign in the West but the same is true here too. Consider the fashion industry. The Fashion gatekeepers decide what's "in". They have to be addressed in the right way. Fashion conscious buyers still adhere primarily to these gatekeepers' opinions.

Lastly, if our brands follow everyone into the "melting pot" what will set it apart. It's a balance to be sure, but as well as recognizing the present, we need to plan for the future.