Just recently, I heard a tale of how Uber Eats had refunded the entire bill amount due to a delay in the promised delivery time. The beneficiary was raving about the brand’s integrity, narrating the tale lavishly online and offline. A classic case of how the sincere resolution of failure becomes a far-greater talking-point than the diligent delivery of success, considered routine in modern times.
An appropriate, though far from deliberate, illustration is how Taj Hotels emerged from the Mumbai terror attacks. The tales of heroism, often at the cost of life, led to an HBS case study, focussing on the age-old values of the group that led to such actions. Focussing resolutely also on the training and hiring policies that persuade an employee to rise above the call of duty, circumventing selfish instinct. The brand became much stronger as a result of this well-orchestrated recovery strategy, unlike say the equally-affected Oberoi Group. Elsewhere in the world, and in other categories, such debacles have even led to bankruptcy, like Pan Am, which never quite recovered from the Lockerbie crash.
We have all experienced the failure of service and product brands, renewing or severing our vows based on the outcome. It does massage the ego when an institution, of emerging or established stature, compensates the individual for an apparent transgression. The feeling is invariably positive, purportedly from a sense of justice but truthfully from an enhanced feeling of self-importance, always welcome in a critical world. An emotion that is totally impossible to achieve from ‘regular service’, a routine activity, however discerning be the experience. It is true that brands talk to customers one-on-one when there is a dispute resolution and create unconventional delivery propositions — both extremely endearing to the modern-day sensibilities.
So, instead of waiting for the failure to happen, why don’t we deliberately create failure, however devious it may sound? Welcome, thus, to the universe of designer failures, marketers inducing insufficient delivery in order to quickly give exceptional compensations, leading to extraordinary word-of mouth. Since this is a brand engagement activity, a portion of the marketing budget will be allotted for this, as a structured and not ad-hoc exercise. Due care must be taken to ensure its accurate duration, with specifically-crafted objectives and careful diligence, never at the cost of ethics or endangering health and security.
It’s honestly quite easy to imagine if you try. Just like Uber Eats, other food-tech brands which offer a time-bound service can delay the same by a few minutes, offering an instantaneous sop. Hotels delaying a check-in or preponing a check-out can apply a similar technique quite like a bank delaying the delivery of a credit card. An inconsistency in the service of a food order or a table resulting in a free drink can be beneficial as can any online commerce site adding a freebie on top of a less-than-perfect delivery. Travel companies adding a surprise destination in a package tour will be blessed while a mismatch in a turnkey project contract being placated by an additional feature will be quite appropriate. In the advertising industry as well, imagine a service-level failure leading to an additional windfall idea, the client delighted instead of being enraged.
Such initiatives will have to be masterfully handled, to ensure that the outcomes are inspirational and not distorted. For starters, using AI and other techniques, they must be inflicted on social media users and positive commentators, to ensure both rapid and high-quality response. The timing is crucial, most useful to forge early impressions or to reinforce a competitive advantage, at times of pressure. Agencies responsible for PR across media must quickly amplify the responses and ensure that they work for the brand. Finally, we must recognise that such designer failures can play a stellar role in shaping the value proposition, by simulating scenarios that validate the successes.
Brands are constantly in search of innovative techniques to forge alliances and designer failures certainly qualify in this category. Operating from a basic insight that delightful dissonance resolution builds strong customer relationships, when used selectively in tandem with routine delivery. It will certainly succeed when we are intelligent, creative and never evil.
(Shivaji Dasgupta is the Founder of INEXGRO Brand Advisory and can be reached at: firstname.lastname@example.org)
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