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A Brand Promise should be a Culture, Not an Advert.

Sometimes what the brand believes in and what it promises only circulates in the respective agency and client’s office. Seldom does it filter through to the respective key stakeholders; these would include staff members who are the face of the brand.

I had a very bad experience with FNB towards the end of 2014. I went to the Westgate Mall branch to close one of my investment accounts, but unfortunately, the consultant who was helping me had not processed the notice. A month later, I was expecting money but it hadn’t cleared so I went back to enquire. Long story short: I didn’t get any help, so I had to do a partial withdrawal. This is an emergency withdrawal one does without putting in a notice… At a cost. I paid a penalty fee of R250.

Naturally, I was livid. I wrote about it on Facebook and nothing was done. This led to me paying the branch another visit to meet with the branch manager. To say the least, they didn’t live up to their brand promise (“How can we help you?”) because I was never helped. Instead, the whole time I was there, the branch manager was trying to prove that I was wrong. Imagine that! A brand shamelessly pointing a finger at a loyal customer. I had had it. So I decided to take my business elsewhere. So much for wanting to help. The worst part is that the branch manager fought to prove that I was wrong… When I had a quiet moment to myself and thought about it and realised that she was actually right. I was wrong! I was wrong in trusting the FNB consultant to do her job.

As a disgruntled customer, I went to the Absa Dobsonville branch to open a new bank account. The experience wasn’t very inspiring and it left me wondering if I will ever prosper. I hadn’t been their customer for at least twenty-four hours and I was already questioning their brand promise (“Prosper.”), let alone their product offerings.

I spent six hours in that branch. Ahead of me in the queue was an elderly mama who spent eight hours in there, just to open a bank account. Imagine that, a combined fourteen hours for two people to simply open a bank account – and mind you, there were about three more people there as well… There goes prosperity.

On one hand, you have a bank that promises or asks if they can help but when you oblige and consciously ask for their help, they do the complete opposite. Instead of producing advertisements that talk about helping, perhaps we should look into ensuring that internally, everyone understands and most importantly, believes in the idea of helping. This includes training the staff and creating a corporate culture of “helping” in order to fulfil the brand promise through consistency of brand identity.

On the other hand, you have a bank that promises prosperity but the service provided only brought hardship and was quite disheartening. Instead of talking about prosperity, perhaps more time could be spent on improving the service and ensuring that all staff members understand and believe in providing a context that allows for prosperity in all aspects of the business, not just financially.

We all know that it is more expensive to acquire new customers than it is to keep existing ones. Therefore, more focus should be placed on ensuring that the first hand experience is impeccable. By nature we are storytellers, and great brand experiences allow for great and positive stories to spread. If Absa was a restaurant, we would have all left and went to a different one. Truth is, the attention to detail given by waiters as you walk in should apply across all industries, even in banking.

Perhaps it is the advertising agencies in charge of the two brands’ strategies that exclude other key aspects of the business when dealing with the brands’ purposes and promises. The agencies do all the communication about the brand promise but internal stakeholders (especially at the customer contact points) are excluded and don’t get immersed into the idea. They are obsessed with external communication and disregard internal buy-in.

Who should be responsible for ensuring that internal stakeholders understand and buy into the respective brands’ beliefs? Or do the agencies’ responsibilities end with pamphlets and brochures, print, radio and TV adverts, etc.?

Is your brand promise living in your advertising and not in your employees’ hearts and minds?

PS: I got a call from FNB on the 24th of December 2014, to say that they have reimbursed the money that they shouldn’t have taken in the first place. With the bank charges accrued plus the cost of travelling to the two branches trying to get back what is mine, they should have just doubled the R250 for all the inconvenience.

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