Can terrible customer service be transformed by a rebrand?by
Hermes made headlines recently when it announced it would be changing its name to Evri in an attempt to distance itself from its poor customer service record. But can a rebrand make a difference? We review a number of similar, high-profile examples to find out.
Hermes has announced it will be changing its name and undergoing a major rebrand in a bid to counter its sliding reputation amid “allegations of poor customer service”.
The deliver company, soon to be known as Evri, has been rocked by numerous service failures in recent years. Among them poor delivery management, the mishandling and damaging of parcels by its workers and – perhaps most telling – that staff were often encouraged to lie to customers when things went wrong.
The Times newspaper revealed many of the allegations in a recent undercover sting to establish how poor customer service was at Hermes.
The Hamburg-based multinational was also named the “worst performing company” of its kind in research carried out by Citizens Advice in 2021. The company received a 2-star rating for ‘trust’ and a 1-star rating for handling customer problems.
Jo Causon, CEO of the Institute of Customer Service, believes the move highlights just how vital customer service now is to the bottom line of big businesses such as Hermes:
"Brands build through their actions, so it’s not just about the name. Those that can genuinely deliver on their brand promise consistently will outperform their competitors. Our research shows that organisations that communicate clearly and honestly over the long-term engender the trust required to build loyalty and repeat business.
"It will be interesting to see if this name change is a signal that customer perceptions of service levels are vital to success, and this will be matched with a new service strategy fit for the future world.”
As part of Hermes’ rebranding to Evri, it will launch a major charm offensive that includes a new TV advertising campaign. However the company is also committed to the opening of a new UK-based customer service team, recruiting 200 service experts to be based in local depots.
Whilst the move by Hermes has been met with cynicism in some quarters, it is by no means the first example of a major business using a rebranding and renaming exercise as an effort to reset opinion on its customer service offering. But will it work? Here are 4 examples of brands that have done the same and their respective outcomes.
Visit YouTube and type in ‘Comcast’ and the first two results tell you all you need to know: ‘Comcast: Why they’re hated’ and ‘Comcast's Embarrassing' Customer Service Phone Call’ essentially summarise the years and years of service woe bestowed on customers of the seemingly hapless US cable television provider.
Such was its reputation that Comcast rebranded to Xfinity in 2010, after it was ranked as the worst cable provider in the US. Alas, the rebrand had little effect on public perception. Comcast continues to trade as Xfinity and yet in 2014 the cable company reached a new record low by scoring only 54 out of 100 in that year’s American Customer Satisfaction Index (ACSI) survey.
Writer Petra Ilic perfectly summarised the move for Klint’s digital marketing blog, at the time:
“By changing the brand identity Comcast’s hope was that people would quickly forget their previous negative experiences with the brand. Sadly, bad branding cannot be fixed only by changing the surface. Instead, the brand could also have put more time and energy into improving customer support, company structure, or internal practices.”
Even as recently as 2018 the American Consumer Satisfaction Index highlighted that the collective disdain for Comcast was continuing to grow. And the YouTube video titled ‘Comcast: Why they’re hated’? It was published in February 2020, suggesting the Xfinity rebrand has done nothing to restore faith in Comcast with consumers, in the 10+ years since its inception.
When Irish telecommunications company Eircom shortened its name to eir, it became the “largest rebranding in Ireland in the last 20 years”.
Telecoms companies have historically had a poor track-record when it comes to customer service. The 2020 Customer Service Benchmark Report revealed the telco sector “worse than any other industry on the planet” when it came to service, while 65% of telcos “never respond to subscriber emails”.
However, in a speech as part of his company’s 2015 rebrand, Richard Moat, CEO of eir proudly revealed his company’s attempt to buck this trend: “We have changed and our customer focus is changing. The evolution of the products and services that we offer to our customers continues at pace. The speed of our ongoing network investment brings the people of Ireland closer to each other and brings Ireland closer to the world.”
If ever there were a cautionary tale for Hermes, it’s one from its own sector – Royal Mail. A renowned British institution for almost 500 years at the time, in January 2001 it announced it would be rebranding as Consignia, at a cost of £1.5m. The change of name coincided with the organisation being made a PLC, but also as an attempt to match the superior (at the time) service offering of new US-based delivery companies that had recently set up in the UK – including UPS and FedEx – by breaking from its previous, seemingly-antiquated public image.
The public didn’t buy it. Just a year later the Consignia brand was dumped, with Royal Mail and its half-a-millennia-aged branding being reinstated. Yet the organisation has spent much of the 2010s on a customer service improvement drive which has seen customer satisfaction levels reach record highs and 87% of adults stating their satisfaction with the nation’s postal service overall.
Facebook’s 2021 rebranding to Meta followed in the footsteps of fellow tech behemoth Google, which saw its parent company renamed Alphabet in 2015 in what was largely seen as a public relations move.
And while Facebook leant on its new, all-in approach to the future Metaverse as the rationale for its rebrand, it was also seen as an attempt to break from its old traditions of facelessly shunning users when it comes to dealing with customer service queries.
A 2019 $5bn settlement with the Federal Trade Commission was also the catalyst for making customer service improvements a key component of the Meta rebrand – the penalty coming with a slew of requirements including the hiring of 100s of new engineers to improve its service.
However, many people remain unconvinced. “Facebook is a company that’s infamous for its poor – and at times seemingly non-existent – customer service,” says Joseph Ridout, a spokesman with Consumer Action.
“I would say they’re more than capable of it, but they’re totally uninterested because it’s not a profitable activity.”
It seems the evidence is clear – rebrands alone are not a guaranteed route to customer service improvements.
To echo Petra Ilic’s Comcast comments and as numerous examples, including the four we’ve detailed, highlight – actually improving customer service is arguably a safer bet than rebranding, if your business is looking to improve its customer service. Food for thought for the leadership team at Evri.
Chris was an Editor at MyCustomer from 2014 to 2022. He is a practiced editor, having worked as a copywriter for creative agency, Stranger Collective from 2009 to 2011 and subsequently as a journalist covering technology, marketing and customer service from 2011-2014 as editor of Business Cloud News.