Let’s get this right from the beginning: I am a brand cop. For more than twenty years I have dedicated myself to helping my clients tell compelling stories that elevate their brands.

My secret? Ensuring that their brand is understood and viewed consistently no matter where or how it is presented.

That is who I am, and that is what I do. I protect brands’ reputations by making sure that no matter where someone engages with the brand, the message is consistent, authentic and tells the story of who the brand is, what makes it unique and why the targeted audience should care.

To that end, I find myself writing this article to help brands protect themselves. To not only demonstrate why they should be aware of how others perceive them, but also to warn that bad customer experience can kill a brand’s reputation.

Corporate brands have big digital footprints.

It is amazing how many ways customers attempt to engage with brands, and how often they are ignored.

Ignoring customers goes way beyond the info@companyxyz.com email address that is never looked at, let alone responded to. That may be a huge offender and a source of much frustration for would-be customers, but it is far from being the worst offender.

Blog posts that have comments enabled and are ignored can drive people to competitors, as do the after-hours comments left on “chat now” bots that never get returned.

It is a mystery to me why companies set up listening devices when they have no processes in place to monitor them. It is like having voicemail and never returning messages. What is the point?

If your prospects or customers are reaching out to you, they have the desire to utilize your services or buy your products, so why would you ever ignore them?

Social media can be another offender.

Most brands have little to no understanding as to why they are on social media, nor how to use it properly. They do not empower their staff to be champions of the brand, nor they do not listen to their social media feeds – and they certainly do not respond to all inquiries and comments.

Many brands have little understanding of how powerful social media could be in terms of their overall communication strategy. Again, there frequently are no processes or procedures to listen, understand and communicate with those who wish to champion the brand.

Those who attempt to engage with a brand on social media then feel ignored or slighted, and this is a disaster waiting to happen.

Brands need to listen and respond.

Brands that do not listen to what their customers are saying about them and fail to respond in real time are doomed. Case in point is the Dove fiasco of October 2017.

It was not so much the initial outrage over the commercial itself, it was the fact it was allowed to snowball without Dove responding to the situation quickly and effectively.

This is a significant example, but people talk about brands every day, and many brands are unaware of what is being said either positively or negatively about them.

Brands need to stop thinking of social media as a nice to have, or something an employee can do part time. Employees need proper training: They must have the right tools, authority and be actively engaged with their audiences on a full-time basis.

If employees are not trained, then all those people who are ignored will vent about the brand online and destroy the brand’s reputation – without the brand even being aware it is happening.

Artificial Intelligence can help – or hurt.

The last place brands are not paying attention to customer experience is in the new age of Artificial Intelligence (AI). Large and small brands are investing heavily, thinking that AI is the savior of their customer service issues. I am here to say only if they do it right.

AI does not care about customers. It may not say it is sorry, and it may not be able to make things right. People may be required for that.

What AI can do, if developed correctly, is get the customer with an issue to the right person in the company quickly and efficiently. AI must be designed to route a customer to a human being, someone who has the authority and the capability to fix a problem immediately.

Also, systems need to be designed so relevant customer data is in front of a well-trained customer service agent, and therefore the agent does not have to ask the same questions again.

The current system of passing irate customers from department to department and making them explain themselves over and over again is inefficient – and creates nothing but animosity for the brand.

A better way.

Systems and processes need to be built with customers in mind. Policies and procedures need to be developed so they support the person trying to spend money, and not hamper the process.

It is the poor use of technology, technology used without understanding how it affects customers, which will eventually drive customers away.

However, none of this needs to happen. Customers simply do not want to be ignored, or feel they are nothing more than a number in the system.

It is so easy to turn them into loyal champions of the brand. The solution is to hire people who care, train them and give them the authority to help.

The single best thing any brand can do is set up systems and processes where they can actively listen to their customers, understand what their issues are and be responsive.