How to avoid wrecking your value proposition
Why so many companies detour customers from their well crafted value proposition - and how to avoid it.
Do you think a company's value proposition is something the founder, CEO, or board creates?
Sure, a leader can state what the value proposition is supposed to be.
But a value proposition statement is a little like a company's core values. If we say one thing while while we do something else, we've created the illusion of a thing instead of the thing itself.
The policies and practices we cultivate (intentionally or otherwise) have the greatest positive influence or negative impact on a customer's experience of the value proposition we say we offer.
Don't believe me? How about a recent example. Sadly, it's one of several that illustrate the point.
I guarantee the time you invest here will be worth your time if you're interested in building a brand that delivers on its promise of value. If it isn't, let me know and I'll buy your next coffee.
I needed an adapter for my new computer. Since there are lots of options on the market, I used some simple criteria to guide my decision:
UL or CE Certified and compatible with my hardware
Lightweight, portable, well designed, and with good reviews
Made in the country where I live (I like to support "local" where I can)
Priced competitively but not necessarily at the lowest end
I found a company who's advertising indicated they met all the criteria.
They're a family company out of Georgia. Even better - they advertise "Quality in Every Detail".
Quality in Every Detail aligns with a personal core value. And, since it ticked all the boxes, how could I buy anything else?
A couple days in, I noticed some performance issues with the dock.
I've been a hardware and software test manager along with running call center and support operations. I know things don't always work perfectly. I wasn't worried because I thought I bought Quality in Every Detail.
The customer support agent promptly answered my ticket and quickly decided the unit I had was not functioning properly. They told me I needed to return the dock and they'd replace it.
The company verified my registration and proof of purchase information. Then, they gave me a case number and told me to ship the failing unit to them in Georgia.
Since we were just a few weeks after the purchase, I remarked that I was surprised I would have to pay even more money for a defective product.
The first (and second) response was, sorry, you'll have to pay the shipping.
"Quality in Every Detail", right?
To add a little stress, I had a client presentation in about a week.
I was going to have to project my computer screen in a conference room. Without the dock, there was no possible way I could do it.
The company couldn't guarantee when I'd get my replacement. They said they needed to receive it, test it, verify my eligibility (again), and ship me a replacement.
We both agreed there was no realistic chance of that happening in a week.
I explained both challenges to the agent - paying even more than the premium price for failing equipment AND the fact there wasn't enough time to get a replacement.
The Policy (aka - the Detour)
The support agent agreed it was a challenging situation. "Unfortunately, there's nothing I can do. Our policy is…."
And that's where the entire brand value proposition fell apart.
I didn't buy a policy.
I bought a product. One with Quality in Every Detail. And, it came with the promise of "faster customer care".
I certainly didn't need to be told it was my problem. Of course I didn't read the warranty and replacement policy in advance. It was inside the sealed box - and probably on some obscure page deep in their website's terms and conditions.
The company acknowledged I shouldn't have to pay extra money for a product that didn't perform as advertised. They sent me a pre-paid label I could use to send the failing dock back.
I was still without a solution for my meeting in a few days.
I bought a second dock. From some other company.
What's the value proposition the front-line customer service team actually delivered to me?
Quality in Every Convenient Detail
I'll likely never buy another one of their products. I'll also likely never recommend them to anyone without a big caveat. I
And, I think I'm telling the story accurately - with integrity.
How could this company have preserved the value proposition they worked so hard to sell?
Policies are important. I recommend them regularly. I even create them. They're really valuable when they're done right (like the Kohl's "Yes, we can" policy).
Kohl's gets it. They understand two critical facets of policies:
Policies that restrict people's ability to respond damage the value proposition.
Policies that give people decision-making freedom deliver the value proposition.
This company could take a valuable lesson from Kohls: recruit, train, and trust your team to use their best judgment.
Sure, there are lots of scammers out there.
So glad you brought that up. How might we design a system that's a little more resilient?
One option (and one I would absolutely have taken if it was offered) is to collect a valid credit card number and the authorization to charge the card if the failing product doesn’t come back in time.
Here's a process that would have emphasized Quality in Every Detail:
Is the customer registered with what appears to be legit information? Great. If not, let's get them registered.
Does the customer have a verified proof of purchase? Great. If not, let's find a way to verify their purchase.
Should the customer have to pay return shipping? No, if our premium product failed, let's not add insult to injury.
Is the customer able to wait the standard "faster" time we promised? Great. If not, let's trust our carefully vetted front-line team members to choose an expedited process.
Let's send a replacement part while we are waiting for our broken one to arrive.
If we don't get the part, let's check with the carrier (remember, we provided the tracking information) and sort out a missing shipment. If they didn't send the item back, let's find out why or use the charge authorization we have on file.
Once everything is done, let's close out the support ticket with an actual personal comment from that same front line person (or, a note from the CEO apologizing for the failure might be a really nice touch).
(one quick comment here.... If you're worried you won't have time to do all that, may I invite you to consider some adjustments in your product or service that will make these events a little less likely?)
What would happen to the customer's stress level if the support agent had a system like this?
More importantly, what would happen to the brand's ACTUAL value proposition?
I can tell you that if this company had a policy like this, I'd probably be a customer for life. And, I'd tell the Quality in EVERY Detail story for them - to anyone who would listen.
The Rest of the Story
I sent them their failing device in its original package with all the original paperwork.
The last interaction I had with this company looked like this:
I got back an electronic device wrapped in bubble wrap and shoved into a padded envelope...
Which detail got the "quality" treatment?
It's your turn now...
Every company's value proposition is defined by the front-line employee or contractor.
I didn't buy a policy. I bought a product. One with Quality in Every Detail. And, I bought the promise of faster customer care.
Who's taking care of yours?
How have you set them up to succeed in delivering advocacy, delight, and the actual value proposition of the brand you're working so hard to build?
If you're a founder or senior leader who is building a business and you're worried about people taking advantage of you, we should talk.
I'm an executive coach and business consultant who can help you worry less. We can build the systems, processes, and people you need to succeed in delivering your value proposition.