Two Lessons in Services Communication from ITSMA 2011

Service Excellence is not complete without strong branding and communication efforts. To accompany innovation and customer satisfaction initiatives, the story must resonate with the target audience. It sounds clear enough, but it’s remarkable how many times companies fail to heed this advice.

The two areas where I have consistently witnessed missteps include

  1. Failure to understand the target audience or potential target audience.
  2. Cross-cultural communication breakdowns.

These observations were reinforced at the Information Technology Services Marketing Association’s (ITSMA) annual conference in Cambridge in late October:

  1. Don’t fall for the niche play. Scott Griffith, Chairman and CEO of Zipcar, discussed his company’s growing pains during its early days. Back then, the company focused specifically on the young, environmentally-minded urban dweller. While they espoused a noble message of sustainability, they were leaving out a substantial population of potential Zipcar customers: those who are eager to get rid of their car to save on fuel, parking and insurance costs. By rebranding all communication and targeting a wider audience, the once stagnant Zipcar service began to grow exponentially and eventually went public in April 2011.
  2. International differences are not an afterthoughtAnja Langbein-Park, a German-born cross-culture consultant, walked us through how to acknowledge cross-cultural differences and communicate accordingly.  We went through an exercise which centered on how various cultures would react to a troubling scenario:
  • Scenario: You are in the passenger seat in a car with your friend who is driving way too fast (50 mph in a 25 mph zone.)  This friend strikes a pedestrian. Since you will be a key witness at the trial, should your friend expect you to give false testimony, saying that he/she was driving at a more reasonable speed?
  • For the record, most in the room (largely representing one culture) said, “No good friend would expect me to lie on their behalf.” Well, we were surprised to learn that not all cultures would react in the same way. Many survey respondents from different countries indicated that they would come to the aid of their friend and would not hesitate to give false testimony. The point here is not that our answer is correct.  The point is that culture and background have a large impact on our decisions.

Whether you are evolving an existing service to include a broader audience or rolling out an international campaign, the story not only has to be crisp and concise it must also resonate with different cultures.  The most brilliant services portfolio will not reach its full potential without a compelling and relevant story.


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