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Published January 28th 2016

Industry Insider: You’re Only as Strong as Your Weakest Customer Facing Asset

What happens when a great, well respected brand uses a less than perfect third-party supplier? Chris Owen tells us what he thinks.

Over the last year or so I’ve had some pretty poor experiences with third party support and/or delivery teams from companies I’ve bought from or have services through.

Among them are some big names, but the common theme is that these third parties simply don’t match the pre-perceived customer expectation of the brand concerned – we buy due to a combination of reputation, experience, word of mouth, quality and of course price; but inherent in everything is the demand that things be ‘as-sold’.

Ruining reputations

First off, earlier this year my fiancée and I bought a marble-topped table from a well-known reputable retailer for our new dining room – it’s a beautiful farmhouse kind of thing, and something which we decided would make a great solid base for rolling out the dough for our homemade bread.

I should add, we’ve not yet made any bread, but the intention is there.

However, it took about two months to get the table, as the third party delivery company broke the marble twice at the depot and then failed to deliver it two further times – a somewhat tedious process to say the least.

The retailer was excellent about it and hugely apologetic and helpful, and eventually – once it was all settled and finally delivered – offered compensation for the experience.

But their reputation was slightly tarnished – we’ll think twice about ordering something for delivery next time.

parcel a price tag wrapped in brown kraft paper on wooden table closeup

Recently we’ve bought a new cooker and hob, via AO.com, which was a fantastic experience initially until it came to the pestering calls from the third party delivery company asking for details about the installation that had already been answered through the online form at AO.

Apparently they don’t have access to this information so have to ring up and ask it again, (“is there a doorframe above your cooker?” remains an intriguing question).

Why silo your information and annoy the customer by ringing for information already disclosed elsewhere?

Finally, we’ve long since stopped ordering from anyone who uses Hermes, after having three years of missing, smashed and weeks-late deliveries.

Sadly, this includes some great independent traders, but I’m tired of finding ripped parcels outside the door or smashed goods in the driveway.

Understanding the ‘whatness’

The importance of third parties as a part of the whole of the customer (and thus the brand) experience can easily be extended to the social aspect of brand reputation – indeed, if there are multiple parties managing your entire customer experience, the management of social platforms becomes even more important.

There’s been debate about whether external agencies can (or should) take ownership of clients’ social channels and for what it’s worth, I think that wholesale ownership is not the way to go.

It needs to be more of a full scale partnership through support with monitoring, analytics and response, thus becoming part of the overall in-house and agency-side team, but it should not be outsourced.

abstract light in city at night

As with third parties taking on customer-side responsibility, the social team need to inherently understand the ‘whatness’ of the company; the company’s quintessence.

These people live and breathe the brand and know the ethos, style and mannerisms associated with it (and thus what the customer expects to hear).

It also allows for long term employees to remain with the company and turn their hand to something new, and refresh their skills in the process.

Companies need to remain focused on what they’re best at – this will always be the case, and the companies I had bad experiences with above weren’t established as logistics operations, but if in bringing a third party on board the overall customer experience is tarnished, then this third party adds nothing.

Brands need to extend this ethos into the social and digital space also if they are to succeed – customer experience online is as critical as that off.

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