I’m Sorry I Can’t Help You

IKEA would be a master of the "I'm sorry …" approach to customer no-service. It's tough to get it all wrong like IKEA does, but a global brand can only try.

Here are the five principles of really terrible, awful, no-good brand management.

#1: Produce a catalog and website that advertises products not in stock most of the time, with no way to order them online or by phone.

#2: Stock items in very small quantities in the retail stores so that from the moment the consumer checks stock online, it's going to be gone when the consumer arrives to buy it.

#3: Don't have a system for consumers to buy an item ahead of time and then pick it up.

#4: Program a voicemail system that takes several hours to negotiate until an actual live person says, "I'm sorry I can't help you."

#5: Produce a lot of marketing so as many consumers as possible can have this experience.

There are a lot of retail brands that try their best to be stellar examples of equally really terrible, awful, no-good brand management. This list would include, but isn't limited to Time Warner Cable, Staples, Best Buy, CVS Pharmacy, Home Depot, VCA Animal Hospital franchises, Wells Fargo, Yelp and whatever is on your list.

Why does this matter to those of us who are engaged in intentional personal branding? Because these experiences inure you to what reasonable service really is - and how important it is for you to provide a positive, engaging and fruitful experience for each prospect, customer and referral source.

It's a neuron thing

There is this natural human condition (actually it's your brain's mirror neurons) that steers you toward doing what you see done. For example, you watch a football player celebrate a touchdown and you raise your arms and dance around just like you made it into the end zone from your bar stool.

We experience this mimicry in our daily lives, given that reality television has set all time low standards for human performance. You can watch family members making disgusting, disrespectful comments to each other (Kardashians), drunk people going to the bathroom in places that aren't the bathroom (Jersey Shore), and homely aging women pumping all kinds of goo into their lips and faces while scheming to skewer so-called friends (Housewives of Anywhere). If you're not careful, your life will look a whole lot like theirs - because your brain is recording these responses to life events as reasonable.

In commerce, the truly really terrible, awful, no-good brand management that you experience everyday can make you think that you too can offer, "I'm sorry but I can't help you" no-service and keep your job, your business and your clients.

Check yourself

If you are already slipping down that slope, you feel that the "I'm sorry" is a really courteous alternative to actually doing the job.

This is a little like a student I have in Global Marketing this semester. From her absences during the first three class meetings, it's clear she somehow believes that the alternative to failing the course is not doing the work plus a whole litany of "I'm sorry because" lines: a death in the family in another country, roommate problems, lost computer, and "forgetting" to attach assignments to her emails.

Check again

If you feel the "I'm sorry" line wears really thin with each successive utterance, you are in the small fraction of people who will succeed in business, because you are maintaining reasonable standards of behavior. That's the bar now: reasonable service, which can make you a millionaire. Exceptional service plus dogged perseverance could make you a billionaire.

So, thumbs down to all the brands that are bringing down the bar that leads to our giving and getting positive, engaging and fruitful experiences.

When you see that you make it tough on yourself by making it tough for us: you might have more to say than "I'm sorry."

Author:

Nance Rosen is the author of Speak Up! & Succeed. She speaks to business audiences around the world and is a resource for press, including print, broadcast and online journalists and bloggers covering social media and careers. Read more at NanceRosenBlog. Twitter name: nancerosen