My Mom is a legendary high school English teacher. I took three classes she taught, including one where we studied Oedipus Rex and the difference between seeing and perceiving, which has widespread business and social media implications.
Sometimes our brands write checks our operations simply can't cash.
I was in New York last week to visit with agency clients. Stayed at a new (to me) hotel. I was instantly struck by its panache and wit. From the tongue-in-cheek signs explaining the chronically delayed elevator, to the super fantastic pillow menu in the room, it appeared to have done an excellent job at developing a clear brand "voice" that appeals strongly to lovers of irony and companies outside the mainstream.
But then I looked a little harder.
Parked haphazardly outside my room for 2.5 days was a procession of housekeeping carts in various states of disarray. Evidently, the staff just parked them right in the hallway, outside my room.
When they finished their duties each day, they left the carts in place, like a mobile hobo camp. The good news I suppose is that if you needed dozens of boxes of Kleenex, you could just help yourself.
Neither heat nor air conditioning in my room worked. I called the front desk to inquire. To their credit, a maintenance and front desk representative appeared at my door almost instantly. However, their assertion that the unit in my room wasn't actually supposed to work, and that I should just use the window for my temperature control needs seemed a bit half-hearted. Although I did appreciate the physical demonstration of precisely how to open a window. Always good to have a refresher course.
I never did see any shampoo during my stay. The first day I presumed it was an oversight. By the third day, I began pondering the operational prowess of this establishment. Musing turned to wonderment when I also experienced a lack of hot water, a missing doorman, a mishandled bag, and M&Ms in my room that may have been Reagan-era. Mmmm. Cold war candies.
(Note: A hotel PR representative reached out to me on Twitter when I checked in at the hotel via my Tumblr travelogue, and evidently contacted the General Manager about some of my difficulties - which I had relayed through direct message. The hotel GM left a nice apology message on my hotel voice mail. I don't mention the hotel by name in this post because it's not relevant to the point, and I don't use my blog as a weapon.)
A Thousand Tiny Cuts Leave a Scar
I'm no diva, and not a single one of these issues were anything other than a minor inconvenience. But, that's all it takes to change the perceptions of your customers. The great fallacy is that businesses must avoid the colossal screw up that draws an angry complaint. Instead, they need to avoid the tiny and much more common missteps that don't cause people to grab torches and pitchforks, but do cause them to spend their dollars elsewhere.
Execution Trumps Ideas
Social media and business operations are about winning hearts and minds a few at a time based on your deeds, not your words. You earn repeat customers through your operational excellence, the same way you earn your audience in social media by being a helpful, honest broker that shines the light on others beside yourself.
And in our zeal to adopt sparkly social media programs that connect with our customers, and humanize our brands, and generate "likes" and "check-ins" and other metrics of dubious merit, are we missing the larger picture - which is that big victories are actually comprised of lots of tiny wins?
So before you spend one more second on your Facebook strategy or next YouTube idea, make sure your operations are buttoned up. Is your email program everything it can be? Are your on-hold times sufferable? Are your most popular products in-stock?
Because you can be the most responsive and human company in the world on Twitter, but if you can't get the shampoo right it all rings pretty damn hollow, doesn't it?