Gordon Ramsey. Bully or Brand Advocate?

Posted by on Sep 16, 2013 in Customers Define Your Brand | No Comments

The first time I saw Gordon Ramsey in action, he was screaming at some poor schmuck who’d whipped too much air into a sauce. At least I think that’s what the torrent of abuse was about. I thought he was obnoxious and frankly, a bully. Why would anyone, most of all a restaurant owner, subject themselves to his self-aggrandizing tirades?

Still, I kept watching to the close of the episode and realized something. Yes, he’s impatient and blunt, and maybe playing to his reputation for impatience and bluntness, but what sets Ramsey off is indifference, not incompetence.

It turns out that despite his intolerant, made-for-reality TV exterior, Ramsey is a stickler for quality and authenticity. Which makes him a passionate advocate for both satisfied customers and successful restaurants.

Restaurants facing decreasing sales and increasing dissatisfaction call him when they’ve run out of menu gimmicks or promotional fixes. Ramsey comes in, audits every aspect of the business from the dumpsters to the water pitchers, and then produces a hit list of issues for the owner to address with immediate corrective action.

What Ramsey understands so well is that today, the customer’s experience is the crucial measurement of brand success. It’s also where you’ll find a disconnect between what managers think their brand delivers, and what actually happens once they’re in the door.

Good marketing drives traffic. What stops it?

Let’s stay with the restaurant example, because everyone can relate to the anticipation of a great meal– and the disappointment of a bad one. Suppose your restaurant has just started a paid search advertising program and kicks it off with an offer for a 2 for 1 Tuesday night special of fresh, grilled Chilean Sea Bass encrusted with pecans, accompanied by an appetizing photo.

The ad is so inviting, it attracts a higher-than expected click-through rate. And about 80-% of them decide to make reservations for Tuesday night, and find the process goes smoothly.

At this point, you’ve created two positive interactions with your brand. You’re on your way to making a fresh batch of regular customers.

But when the customers begin to arrive on Tuesday evening, they’re vaguely put off by that layer of dust on the reservation stand. And by a hostess, who while pleasant enough, is chewing gum and sporting ‘Lil Wayne ink on her neck.

Worse, no one was informed about the digital campaign at the prior week’s manager meeting. So the kitchen manager only ordered enough sea bass for 5 entrees, and the night manager only scheduled enough help for 10 seatings. Now 15 couples have arrived within a span of half an hour, all with fresh, pecan-encrusted Chilean sea bass on their minds.

No Siri, this isn’t going to end well.

The customer is the medium.

Now it’s easy to read this and think no one could survive in the restaurant business and be such a poor communicator, or so out of touch about the appearance of the physical plant or the employees. But disconnects between the brand promise and what customers actually experience happen all the time, and managers usually try to solve the problem with marketing.

Sales start to slow, and their first thought is “how can we increase volume?” If they check online reviews at all, they blame disgruntled customers posting bad reviews for the slide in their dinner business. The smart ones stop and ponder when the food quality began to slip and why it escaped their notice.

Of course, all brand leaders love good reviews. It’s human nature to downplay or dismiss the negative posts. But annoying as complainers can be, if their complaints form a pattern, that pattern might signal a problem that could taint your brand and put your business at risk.

The days when brands could combat poor execution with mass ad impressions are over. Customers, enabled by mobile technology, can easily and instantly share their impressions on a variety of social media platforms. Obviously this is a dangerous capability when many of them consider it their duty to warn others away if they’ve had a bad experience with your product.

On the bright side, negative reviews posted in a public forum are excellent opportunities to correct issues, resolve complaints, and improve the customer experience. And the ubiquity of social platforms make it simple to stay abreast of what your customers are saying about you.

Then again, not every owner or manager wants to know when customers are dissatisfied. They’re either too busy trying to increase profits or get their next promotion to bother with complaint resolution. But brands who discount the importance of customer experience won’t be able to count on price promotions to bring dissatisfied customers back.

Or Gordon Ramsey.


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