Krulak’s Law

I’m a bit of a science nut. Most would say I’m just a nut – but they are (mostly) just being unkind. Which is unnecessary and unhelpful. See here for more on that. Anyway, I loved science from a very early age. I used to love learning and memorising as many laws, theorems and axioms as as I could. Although looking back on it now, it does seem a tad geeky (and may help to explain a fair bit of schoolyard angst), being able to recite Pythagoras’ Theorem was a source of joy for me. (The square of the hypotenuse equals the sum of the squares of the other 2 sides, in case you were wondering #stillgotit!)

An even greater source of joy was my 5 year old boy telling me last week that he loves science and then treating me to an almost accurate rendition of photosynthesis. I always used to joke that nothing would ever give me greater pride than when he goes on to play centre for the St George Dragons. But this came close, real close!

My attraction to all things scientific means that I become extra curious when I see some new kind of theory or law. So it was recently whilst reading “Linchpins” by Seth Godin that my interest was piqued by a chapter titled “Krulak’s Law”. Turns out it has little to do with science – but a lot to do with customer experience and customer service.

The law (such as it is) is attributed to a US Army General Charles Krulak who “theorised that in an age of always-on cameras, cell phones and social networks, the lowly corporal in the field would have far more leverage and impact than ever before.”

Krulak wrote that:

“In many cases the individual Marine will be the most conspicuous symbol of American foreign policy and will potentially influence not only the immediate tactical situation, but the operational and strategic levels as well.”

From this the application of Krulak’s Law to business has been derived:

“The closer you get to the front, the more power you have over the brand.”

It interested me because it touches upon something I’ve been talking about for the past few years – why is it so often the case that little emphasis is placed on motivating and incentivising employees who are seen to be at the bottom of the food chain (think call centre staff, customer service reps etc) when they have so much more actual contact than any C-suite member will ever have. As Seth Godin points out – “One errant minimum-wage cog in the machine can cripple an entire brand…” Godin uses the 2009 prank-gone-viral by two Dominos Pizza employees in the US to illustrate these two front line employees “…did more damage to the brand than any vice president ever could.

In one of my past lives looking after direct to consumer travel insurance sales in two Asian markets, I saw the practical application of Krulak’s Law (although I didn’t have a name for it at the time). We ran an internal call centre that was the first point of contact for customers who wished to purchase over the phone; had enquiries or wished to make a claim. The staff employed in those call centres were, as you can probably imagine, not well paid, not well trained and not particularly engaged. They certainly were not properly incentivised to make sure that each and every interaction with a customer was awesome. So it wasn’t. But I could not for the life of me understand why the tail wagged the dog in such a way. It was obvious that our call centre staff had primary and sometimes the only interaction with our customers. If they didn’t perform, it carried direct and tangible risks to the brand (via Facebook and other forms of social media). In my view, they needed to be super engaged, and even moreso, super incentivised to deliver superb customer experience and interaction.

Having witnessed the disproportionate amount of time and effort that needs to be diverted to resolve cases of customer dissatisfaction; not to mention the brand damage that can be caused via social media, I absolutely see the logic behind Krulak’s Law.

It’s not just negative experience that carries magnified implications for brand. A positive customer interaction even when something has gone awry can have great benefit. For instance, recently purchased some socks on-line from Bombas. Great socks, BTW, if you happen to be in the market for socks. Anyway, I ordered a bunch of socks and when the order arrived one or two pairs were missing. I jumped on-line to make a complaint and see what could be done. Within a short space of time, I had received a very apologetic reply with a promise to send the missing pairs express and free of charge and also offering me a US$100 voucher for my next purchase. Sure enough, the missing socks turned up 2 days later and my feets have never been happier.

Although my very first impression of the brand was slightly negative. Their reaction to the mistake was so efficient and effective that it restored my faith and then some. They really showed they cared and they followed through. It wasn’t the CEO or the COO or some other C-person. It was a customer service representative. That person was a pleasure to deal with and single-handedly kept and retained my loyalty to the brand.

So, when you’re thinking about who has the most power over your brand, it’s not the CEO or even the CMO. It’s Cathy and Peter in Customer Service. You better look after Cathy and Pete – they have the future of your brand in their hands.