Branded Customer Service

Barlow and Stewart Promote a Strong Linkage between Brand and Customer Service

September 29, 2005

To excel in any market, your company can’t just offer great customer service, it needs to offer branded customer service—an experience that is unique to your brand. This book educates you about the differences between on-brand and off-brand customer service delivery. Branded Customer Service also addresses the corporate culture change issues that are required to help all employees learn how to be on-brand in their dealings with one another, as well as with customers. This is not a “how to” book. We wish it were! It’s a general awareness-creation book.


Recently, several of our clients have been ask-ing questions about creating brands, extending brands, and migrating brands. In general, these aren’t marketing questions. They’re customer experience questions: “How do we align our employees around a new brand, a changed brand, or a revitalized brand?” “How can we quickly communicate the essence of our brand experience so that every employee knows how to walk the talk?”

The trick is to be able to distill your brand experience into a few rules of thumb that every employee can quickly understand and assimilate. For example, one retail executive commented on the fact that it took his 80-year-old company literally decades to realize that any employees located near the front of the store need to be serving customers. “No matter how quickly a cus-tomer moves through the check-out line, if they see any of your staff loitering or talking with one another, or stocking shelves, they’ll feel that you’re not focused on making it easy for them to check out as quickly as possible.” Now this retailer has a simple rule of thumb: if you’re not waiting on a customer, move away from the check out counters. If staff members are per-forming other tasks, taking a break, or talking among themselves, any of those activities belong at the back of the store or behind the scenes. 

Translating your desired brand experience into some simple (but not simplistic) customer service guidelines isn’t important only to retail service industries. No matter what business you’re in, unless all of your employees and partners embody your company’s brand experience, you aren’t reaping the full benefits of any investments you’ve made in marketing and branding.

Instilling On-Brand vs. Off-Brand Behavior

I came across a book recently that does a good job of explaining the principles of on-brand vs. off-brand experience and provides some exercises to help you instill on-brand customer experience guidelines. The book is Branded Customer Service: The New Competitive Edge, by Janelle Barlow and Paul Stewart.  There are lots of books written about branding. There are many books written about customer service. There are only a few books I’ve found that address the intersection between customer service and branding in a pragmatic way. Here’s the problem this book attempts to address:

“When humans get involved with delivering service brands, meeting expectations created by advertising is …difficult to guarantee. Controlling human service interactions, because of their dynamism, richness, and uniqueness, can be quite elusive. This is the key challenge for companies with products that have a high degree of customer service contact (software, automotive, telecommunications, hospitality, or airline companies) or whose product line is delivered exclusively through people (accounting, medical, legal, or publishing companies)…When service representatives and customers dance together in brand space, it is difficult to predict or control what will happen.” 

WHAT’S AN ON-BRAND EXPERIENCE? Customer service that is aligned with your brand promises is on-brand. Customer service that doesn’t is off-brand. Janelle and Paul sprinkle examples of on-brand experience throughout their book. For example, in the introduction they contrast the brand and sales experiences of BMW and Mercedes-Benz. “Mercedes-Benz is concerned with luxury and solid engineering and focuses heavily on the passenger’s experience. BMW, by contrast, is focused on performance and the driver’s experience…. When you walk into a BMW dealership, you will more than likely be treated to a service experience that is also about performance. Someone will normally be at your side in thirty seconds, focused, and fast in both behavior and speech…..the Mercedes experience is more relaxed, smoother, unobtrusive, and professional.” 

Janelle and Paul are consultants and trainers in branded customer service, yet I believe that customer experience, marketing, and HR executives may find...


Janelle Barlow and Paul Stewart, Branded Customer Service: The New Competitive Edge. (2004). Barrett-Koehler Publishers Incorporated.


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